Another dot in the blogosphere?

Putting learning before admin

Posted on: June 4, 2015

Yesterday I reflected on how administration that was meant to support or enable higher processes has taken precedence over teaching and learning. I attributed this to administrators realizing that it is easier to deal with numbers than with complex teaching and messy learning.

How might one inject some reality back into the administrative game?

Here is an idea and it starts with this tweet from @justintarte:

It reminded me of my former administrative assistant who would bring a ridiculous fax bill for me to sign every quarter.

Practically every department had a fax machine whether we wanted one or not. The fax lines resulted in phone bills that arrived every quarter. We hardly used the machine, but had to pay for the line nonetheless. Our usage was so low (a few cents, if any) that it cost less than the Goods and Service Tax (a few dollars) for the line subscription.

It was just easier for the higher-ups to keep a legacy system going. Just in case. Everyone would have a fax machine, like it or not. Such thinking wasted money.

I wondered if there could be a central pool of fax machines instead, say, one for every major division. That would allow those who were still living in the past to have their fax cakes and eat them too. That would also have saved the institution a tidy chunk of change.

The important principle is not one of lowering costs or increasing efficiency. That would be an administrative move. The principle is putting people first in the processes of teaching and learning.

Take the mass purchasing of “interactive” white boards and Blackboard subscriptions for instance. (Thankfully the former is on the wane; sadly the latter is still strong). Decisions to adopt and pay for these things are often made by administrators who are sold these items by slick marketers using the latest jargon.

But both the administrators and marketers are not on-the-ground educators and certainly do not look through the eyes of learners.

An administrative decision to adopt a campus-wide implementation is powerful on paper. It helps the vendors because they make money and tell other potential clients who their customers are. It helps the administrators because they can make statements in papers and publications.

But these do not necessarily deal with real teaching and learning needs.

Often what is required is free or low cost, and more open; the vendors provide lock-in cost and walled gardens. Faced with tight curricula and complex teaching demands, instructors often look to simple tools; instead vendors tend to over-complicate things.

Collectively, administrators and vendors do not bring changes to the system that it sorely needs. Administration-focused measures tend to patch over cracks. They tend not to deal with shaky foundations that are causing the cracks in the first place.

Dealing with difficult teaching and learning issues gets to the root of the matter. This might mean abandoning a costly investment like white or Blackboards and tearing down established barriers. Doing this is not as easy as getting rid of fax machines because the tools look sexy or have already been heavily invested in. Doing this does not take a blind budget as much as informed boldness to create change.

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