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Posts Tagged ‘administration

Yesterday I recounted two examples of how administration disables when it should enable instead. Today I outline a recent incident and suggest how administrators can change for the benefit of all.

Recently one of the projects I had started working on stopped because administrative issues. Long story short: Old school rules were applied to new and uncertain efforts, and both my client and I have to start from the beginning.

After this happened, I had a chat with one of the administrators involved in the process. Her concerns were no different from the ones I have met before in my current line of work (education consultant) and former work (professor and head of department).

I made a few recommendations and I pick three of the best looking fruit.

  1. Change mindsets of your staff.
  2. Always ask why.
  3. Document meaningfully.

The mindset that needs to go away is the single-minded pursuit of efficiency and productivity, and living only by the letter of the law. It is the mindset of administration that disables by getting in the way. The old mindset needs to be replaced with one that enables by doing what is ethical and logical.

One way to change mindsets is to always ask why an existing policy exists and why someone the administrators are serving is frustrated or wants something done differently. Perhaps the old rules do not apply or the context has changed. Asking why first and taking a stakeholder’s perspective will help reveal the need for change.

Administrative offices are not immune to people that come and go. When people leave, they take their implicit knowledge and good practices with them. One way to prevent this is practising knowledge management, e.g., meaningful documentation.

This means turning what is internal to external forms, e.g., Google Doc records, departmental wikis, video interviews, etc. These references are not just useful for the induction of newbies, they help in the clarification of existing tasks by current staff.

If administrators do these, they might just turn the overused reset or panic button into a power button instead.

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.

Last week I tweeted this:

It was a response to a photo taken off a roadmap presentation by MOE.

I reiterate, if an effort starts with an administrative view, it continues and ends with that view. Its implementation is numbers and efficiency-oriented. It is not about teaching or learning no matter how many cosmetic words are applied over the administration.

To be fair, the photo was of one slide of many and the presentation was probably more about IT instead of ICT-enabled learning, social media-based learning, pedagogical extension, or learning strategies. If you place administration before teaching and learning, only administrators win.

Administration 1 by kersy83, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  kersy83 

Administration is not easy. It includes processes like strategic planning, budgeting, timelining, creating and ensuring standards of practice, and crunching numbers. Lots of numbers. Numbers in spreadsheets, Gaant charts, graphs, lists, etc. There are so many numbers that the people that make up the numbers disappear.

As difficult at administration is to do, it is a walk in the park comparing to the complexities of teaching and the messiness of learning. As a former university don and appointment holder who had to deal with all three firsthand, I know what I am talking about.

How might one inject some reality back into the administrative game? I tackle this question tomorrow.

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