There, There – Risk aversion, ambient conservatism and the institutional equilibrium of pedagogical change

16617118976_2aac944368_b

‘An organisation itself is an innovation, but most organisations of the past have been designed to be innovation resisting… To insure reliable repetition of prescribed operations, the organization requires strong defenses against innovation. Efforts to innovate must be relegated to the categories of error, irresponsibility, and insubordination, and appropriate corrective action taken to bring the would-be innovators “back in line.”’

Shepard, H. A. (1967). Innovation-resisting and innovation-producing organizations. Journal of Business, 470-477

This world view, proposed by H.A Shepard in 1967 is a widely cited critique of institutional resistance, perhaps somewhat pessimistic in its outlook, but realistic in the context of a Don Draper-esque era of errant conservatism (especially around gender and racial equality) matched with an unrestrained liberalism, the likes of which we have not seen since. Whilst many universities were founded on liberal principles, as organisations (as opposed to institutions) they are often inherently conservative in terms of change, innovation and activity. The ‘prescribed operations’ that Shepard describes are much as they were 30 years ago; the lecture, assessment, teaching. These are reliable, identifiable and understood practices and behaviours, entrenched in the organisation through inherited tradition, rusted on institutional systems and the ongoing construction and maintenance of facilities and space designed to support their ongoing predominance. People who work outside of those boundaries and practices, or argue for change in the context of a changing world, whilst not charged with insubordination, are often marginalised, locked away in outlying spaces and pejoratively labelled as the techies, the radical few, the people who are doing stuff that might work from them, but is entirely unsuitable for (insert discipline name here). It is a way to ensure that the prescribed operations continue uncritically and without the pesky interference from innovation, change and progress.

I argue that through a perfect storm of factors (demographics of students and staff, government policy, funding and competition) the liberal ambitions of higher education are often (though not always) subsumed into innovation resistance and a barnacled pedagogical practice. The practices of conservatism and risk aversion have been absorbed into the fabric of institutional culture, with structures, rewards and budgets supporting and often defending the status quo. The ongoing challenge to normalise the role of technology, the continued dominance of the lecture as a mode of teaching and the call/response/call cycle of student experience surveys are good examples of where these two practices reside at the core of culture and strategy and make change difficult and traumatic and innovation often impossible.

This conservatism is not political nor even ideological. It is an ambient conservatism that permeates many institutional functions and strategic thinking. There are conditions, both extant and atmospheric (being unnoticed but accepted all the same) that are preventing the natural progressions of pedagogical innovation, the scaling of experimentation and the embedding of innovative, technology informed practice at the heart of teaching and learning. Within institutions there is little mainstream challenging of this slow progress. Arguably there is significantly more mainstreaming championing of it. That by resisting we are in fact defending the empire from the marauding hordes. What was good for us is (plus or minus one OHP) good for the next or even the next, next generation of learners. But what is distilled is made stronger, and what is distilled through certain types of filters changes its composition entirely. So perhaps in reality, what was great for us 30 years ago is in fact not the same as we are delivering to our students today, nor are the students the same, nor are the disciplines and their knowledge the same. And for me, learning is without doubt fundamentally not the same. The filters have changed and the practices have distilled. It is in this context that we make the case for debate, discussion and action around changing and innovating pedagogy, challenging the primacy of lectures, diversifying assessment and feedback and radically redefining our understanding of the power of the massive, collaboration, making connections and play.

Ambient conservatism
I don’t think that this conservatism is solely the sin of educational institutions. There has been a surfeit of examples of what I would call ‘hysteric conservatism’ over the last few years, from the reaction to Bill Henson’s photographs to the ‘scandal’ over the tweets made by Kent teenager Paris Brown. The reactions and responses are value judgements on art, culture, media and youth, applying a conservative framework to fields and debates that are not uniformly conservative and have a history and tradition of changing societal values through practice. This can be represented in academic practices in a variety of way, from the way we ‘teach’ about social media, portraying digital literacy and identity as lessons in stranger danger and your party pictures as a permanent a stain on your record as that prison tattoo to the way we romanticise or transactionalise the didactic broadcast lecture. It permeates change, it poisons innovation by being the mantra for the resistor (take it slowly, people don’t like change) and it challenges those who want to be more radical, ambitious or revolutionary. It makes institutions far more risk averse as the collective organisational experience almost always suggests that we have tried this before and it has failed, returning the organisation to its established equilibrium. This equilibrium is difficult to change as the momentum to swing back to it is often so strong. Change becomes piecemeal, cautious, organic, bottom-up, baby-stepped and opt-in, resulting in the equilibrium shifting marginally, or swinging slightly in the breeze, but never shifting. History is littered with the abandoned carcasses of technological innovations that perished on hard, barren ground. Risk aversion is now an enshrined value proposition within our sector and it is the natural enemy of innovation.

The three behaviours of risk aversion

Replacement/Replication
Technology is simply a tool by which we replace other technologies or replicate existing practice. We can engage with 500 people in a lecture in a far more effective way by replacing the OHP with PowerPoint, paper hand outs with an LMS/VLE and by replacing the shaky dodgy copy of the John Cleese film you always show with a nice YouTube copy. This is a form of pedagogical conservatism because it does not challenge or interrogate what you are doing, just the vehicle in which you are doing it. It is one step removed from repainting the walls of your classroom. Stephen Sheely labels lectures as a ‘persistent technology’ that have survived for centuries despite waves of evidence arguing against their efficacy and arguing for the one mode that they are frequently not (interactive). These replacement and replication behaviours have hardened the role of technology as one that Sheely argues promotes the translation and preservation of this mode of teaching into other mediums (on-line for example – what do some lecture capture systems do? They don’t leverage the benefits of the media and medium, they record the lecture verbatim, making it an artefact of irrelevancy (at least they provide one benefit, repeatability and repetition for the learner, and that is no small change in a globalised market).

Resistance
The behaviours of resistance are many and varied (I co-wrote an article with my esteemed colleagues Tony Coombs and Monika Pazio which de-constructed individual and institutional resistance behaviours which you can read here. Resistance is both a subtle form of risk aversion demonstrated through experimenting with an inconsequential aspect of pedagogy to keep the wolves at bay, right through to the active resistances we have all seen (funding, shutting activity down, corralling of technology to institutional system level). Resistance is manifestly a form of risk aversion (although not exclusively so). Resistors also attempt to present incontrovertible arguments for resistance (time poverty, student expectations, budgetary compliance, quality assurance, ‘industry’). These arguments position those attempting change as the ones who need to justify the rationales for their practices, as if there is no need to defend what already occupies the territory. The norm is unchallengeable.

Recidivism
Misappropriation of Einsteinian truisms aside (sometimes, doing the same something for the second time in education does produce different results), this form of risk aversion is one of the most difficult to respond to. The reformation that occurs from being empowered enough to not want to re-offend is lost when the technology, the pilot, the pedagogy, the assessment doesn’t work (for whatever reason). I will never try that technology again, the VLE never works, I tried twitter but the students hated it. So, you re-offend, you forgot the redemption that you sought from change and you go back to the way you have always done it. The issue with this type of aversion is that the pool for innovation is finite, and the cascading rings of institutional inspiration (or ‘dis-inspiration’) that occur within peer or collegiate groups spread far wider than the positive messages educational developers or learning technologists can disseminate.

So, what does this all mean?
Our greatest challenge to progress forward institutional level pedagogical change is to understand the impact of ambient conservatism and its influence on the risk appetite of the institution. Start by thinking about how risk prone or averse you are in terms of your practice. What makes great, truly great? It is within the power of the crowd to make change. It requires unique, impassioned and skilled individuals, working alone and collectively. It requires a sense of risk that is not always there. A fear of the unknown that doesn’t result in resorting to the known. As Radiohead croon in the eponymous title track to this post; ‘Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.’ We ask our students to trust us. Perhaps it is time to ask the institution to trust us, to support our experimentation and practice, to link us with others who have played and learnt, collectively forming a rock super group of practice. I will leave the last word to Mr Shepard;

‘It (innovation) requires an unusual combination of qualities: a creative but pragmatic imagination; psychological security and an autonomous nature; an ability to trust others and to earn the trust of others; great energy and determination; a sense of timing; skill in organizing; and a willingness and ability to be Machiavellian where that is what the situation requires.’

(image used under a Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC 2.0) from id-iom – https://www.flickr.com/photos/id-iom/16617118976

‘I don’t want to change the world’ – a call for a personal revolution (learning style now!)

10922335_10152977900377908_963475187960087205_o


Apologies and much respect to Billy Bragg and Bikini Kill for appropriating their lyrics for the title


Those of you who follow this blog will have seen me explore some common threads around pedagogy and the constraints and challenges of effecting change within the complex construct of higher educational institutions. To some extent, throught course of my posts and the think that goes along with constructing them, I found myself creating the kind of intractable, unsolvable problem that generally gives me a headache. How do I reconcile the ambitions and aspirations I can see for a higher education sector that engages with innovation and transformation and the reality of shrinking budgets, rapidly increasing competition and a pace of change too fast for even the most agile institutions to keep up with? The challenge for me is to find a focus within this chaos. To find what I stand for and how that shapes that way I approach learning and teaching with technology in the post digital age. But equally not expending all my energy on a soapbox built for one.

Recently, I saw an exhibition of contemporary Korean art called ‘Garden’. Through a collection of primarily visual artworks, the exhibition sought to tell a story about how engagement with art can serve a similar purpose to a garden, to sooth, to find focus, relax, reflect and bring together people within an urban community into a common green space. Within the ‘Garden’ exhibition, the artworks were organised into four active process centred themes. Encounter. Pause. Dialogue. Wandering at Ease. These kind of abstract processes resonated for me as I tried to articulate some my thinking around how we address the pinch points around adoption, resistance, innovation and transformation (although arguably all this thinking was not so fun for my wife who knows when to wander off in a gallery leaving me to my own pondering. ?)

2014102102402358319747 (1)

Let’s get down to it. One of the great challenges learning technology faces is the momentum of organisational change. Historically we have ridden waves of change by providing for and then supporting toolkits that supported the transition of practice from one medium to the next, without actively pursuing an agenda for pedagogical change. A VLE simply replaced photocopying and OHP slides in many instances. Lecture capture became the new way to photocopying slides held in the library. These large scale firewalled behemoths required recurrent support, frequent upgrading, are bloated by an ever increasing array of features and have extended their tendrils into a multitude of other organisational systems. Much of our practice has been built from these foundations. And we sometimes approach the new array of learning conditions facing us in similar ways. What is in our toolkit to support emerging pedagogical challenges? How do we better support the existing teaching and learning practice? I think the challenge for us entering 2015 is to look past the tools, the toys and the platforms. There simply isn’t a single out of the box solution for the challenges we face. We can’t rely on growth through systems support and development. There are significant and intractable tensions between the dynamic epistemological shifts that are fundamentally changing the way media is consumed, knowledge is constructed and learning engaged with. The simplest analogy I have come up with is watching TV.

1. Encounter
(a nostalgic remembering of times past warning)
When I was young, we watched TV in very different ways. We waited patiently each week for the next exciting instalment of our much loved shows. IN Australia, this was sometimes month or years after they had debuted in the US or UK. People talked about what had happened, theorised, and then sat up waiting for 8.30pm to tick over. I remember clearly when someone from the US sent me VHS copies of the latest Star Trek episodes in the early 90s months before Channel 9 showed them. Media consumption was episodic. In the modern era, technology has transformed this practice. We add to our consumption practices the ideas of binge and bites. We either binge whole series or shows (there are binge companions for shows like Breaking Bad) or we consume small bites on youtube. Sure, there are still examples of episodic watching (Game of Thrones), but shows now are faster paced, often shorter in duration, wider in scale. I recently watched an episode of the 70s classic ‘Space 1999’. I was taken by how slow the story was, the pacing was so different to the flash cuts and lightning progression of modern TV. These two factors combined have changed the way people consume media. They have changed the business models for producers and broadcasters and they have made starts of new media makers and distributors.

2. Pause
(back to the text)
Higher education is essentially episodic (especially in the context of residential of face-to-face teaching). Students are asked to consume content and then wait a whole week before they find out the next part. Yet, all their instincts and practices on consumption are predicated on binges and bites. MOOCs if they proved anything demonstrated the educational efficacy of education in bite form (or disaggregated for the purists). The significant increases in online education participation seen primarily in the US, especially in the context of work based learning, experiential learning and flexible pathways have equally demonstrated how binge practices can be applied to the pedagogy of higher education. Both of these are effectively fringe practices in HE. That said, new players are moving into the field. They are fracturing content, finding new value propositions for certification and making the case for the end of higher education as we have known it.

3. Dialogue
My assertion here is a simple one. I think we as learning technologists, educational developers and teachers have frequently got our focus wrong. In many cases we have centred on the mechanics of teaching. Toolkits, instruments, vehicles and containers. We have been obsessed with the 3D, widescreen, pixel definition and digiquantics (I may have made one of those concepts up). Youtube is not in itself an innovation, especially when it used to simply replace a badly stretched VHS. Reading list software does nothing to transform the educational experience for learners from that of the era of a printed handbook of readings. Equally, we can make the case that is not just about content either. It is generally accepted that the most innovative, challenging and informed TV shows are often the ones that fail to attract audiences. Arrested Development anyone? So, what is that we should focus on?

Far be it for me to assert what others should be doing. I think that is where the intractable problem rears its ugly head again. This is debate without winners and losers. There is no one right answer. Peoples jobs, identities and esteems can rest on their identification with the job they are doing. This creates dynamics that cannot be easily salved by logical debate or illogical impassioned argument. So, what was the dialogue that was tumbling around my head in that gallery in Seoul? The focus on toolkits and toys only serves to reinforce a number of unhelpful paradigms about technology; that the use of technology is the exclusive privilege of the technically adept, the young or the innovator; that technology is a ‘nice to have’, not an essential, integrated part of the action; that learning has been and always will be the same and new technology simply enhances and builds on the successes of the past. It is the acceptance of these paradigms that provides the paths of least resistance with faculty and institutions. However the past of least resistance leads to the lands of lost opportunities. Learning is changing. We have to understand how it is changing and what that means for pedagogy, teaching and the way our learners engage with their educational experience. We have to work with teachers, students, the community and employers to embed agility, literacy, connectivity and collaboration into practices and understandings about learning, not in the form of kit, but in the construction of curriculum and interactions. This needs to be a debate, a discussion, informed by experimentation, rigorous research and casual, engaging and robust arguments and hundreds of water-cooler discussions about what learning looks like in the 21st century. It has to be more than conversations that start with ‘In my day…’ These conversations need to involve students, alumni, potential students, parents, academics and the community as a whole. And it is our responsibility as learning technologists, educational developers and teachers to facilitate these discussions, to provide the environment in which inquiry, questioning, perspective and compromise can occur.

4. Wandering at ease
For me, this engagement is not a burden. It is the way around an intractable problem. Whether it be time pressure, fear, workloads that crush the soul or not being able to see the forest from the trees, it is far easier to forget that these changes are happening and get on with trialling a new platform, or attending another demo, or leaving that programme redesign to next year. The logical impossibility of challenging the status quo, the fear that perhaps there is not a single solution that we can plug in out of the box can prevent us from even recognising the argument is there, let alone engaging in it to any great depth. The critical question for me in 2015 is not about the rationale for the argument, or for the efficacy of engaging as many voices as we can in that argument, but how we can engage with those who don’t want to hear, those who see no need to speak or change. How do we advocate for change? How do we influence the society of higher education to recognise the need to debate social change? Do we need to see ourselves as a social movement? Seeters and James (2014) define social movements as;

‘(1.) the formation of some kind of collective identity; (2.) the development of a shared normative orientation; (3.) the sharing of a concern for change of the status quo and (4.) the occurrence of moments of practical action that are at least subjectively connected together across time addressing this concern for change. Thus we define a social movement as a form of political association between persons who have at least a minimal sense of themselves as connected to others in common purpose and who come together across an extended period of time to effect social change in the name of that purpose.’

Is this a call to arms? Perhaps. Am I advocating revolution? More likely. There is an opportunity to use the media and mediums we collectively own to shape this debate, to collaboratively experiment, not just locally, but globally. But what is most critical here is that we have an opportunity to engage win what Seeters and James called ‘moments of practical action’. Talk is important. What follows it is critical. And that is action. We need to hear and engage with those who are outside the box experimenting and breaking education as we know it. We need to form a community of those wanting and perhaps demanding change to the way we have done things in the past. We have to hear the voices of those who have resisted the dominant learning technology or teaching paradigms. We can’t be content with simply following the class of 1988. We need institutions to be willing to lead on these changes and not simply be content with keeping up. We need students to be part of a multivariate analysis of action. And we need you, to be the person who questions the why and not just the how. A friend of mine from Sydney sent me this quote from an Italian academic called Gianluca Bocci (2014) who argued;

‘When he does not seek to impose his/her own world on the spectator, but invites him/her to complete his/her own, through the construction of multiple paths. When s/he converses with other arts, with science, with psychology. Herein lies the deep fascination of the work of art: the end user is also a co-creator. This means admitting a plurality of registers and languages. Unfortunately, the myths of the modern era have championed univocality over plurality, both in relation to individuals and the community. Learning to pick up this polyphony of registers and languages is, I believe, one of the most important pedagogical and learning tasks of our planetary era’

To wander at ease means to be free from burden and from guided direction. This is my path. This is my garden. Maybe there is something in this post that helps you find yours, to be the co-creator of your unique take on the social movement of higher education. To help you find collaborators and people to coalesce around or co-opt to the cause. And now, Billy Bragg.

References
Gianluca Bocchi, Eloisa Cianci, Alfonso Montuori, Raffaella Trigona & Oscar Nicolaus (2014) Educating for Creativity, World Futures: The Journal of New Paradigm Research, 70:5-6, 336-369

…like a fool – Sorting the revolutionary change from the merely cosmetic

*apologies to Alvin Toffler for the appropriation of his quote for the title and to Superchunk for the first part*

8420273690_2986550395_k

,

“Once I began thinking in terms of waves of change, colliding and overlapping, causing conflict and tension around us, it changed my perception of change itself. In every field, from education and health to technology, from personal life to politics, it became possible to distinguish those innovations that are merely cosmetic, or just extensions of the industrial past, from those that are truly revolutionary.”
Toffler Alvin. The Third Wave. 1980.

I have spent the last few months presenting findings from the first year of a project (from my previous institution) that was designed to transform learning and teaching with technology. Most of the papers have centred on the notions of institutional resistance to technology and how through a process of encouraging play and experimentation with technology, we believed that the vision could overcome this resistance to change and open up the debates around the changing nature of pedagogy. We kept coming back to the same conclusion, shoulder shrugged. Resistance seemed to be an inevitable outcome of even the smallest and least controversial of innovations. This resistance came in many and varied forms, from the outright to the passive. It permeated all aspects of the implementation. Everything from the hearts and minds exercises to the practical expressions of benefit to the students was seen through the lens of resistance. Both inside and outside the institution there were colleagues who were interested and engaged participators in the debate, whilst there were others who questioned the practicality or even the point of such philosophical musings, preferring a more practical take on technological innovation (DIY or not do it all seemed to the polarised positions).

The more I presented these findings, the more I found myself almost apologising for my views. I became critical of the project and our apparent failings in achieving the aspirational intentions we set out to achieve. I started second guessing many of the insights or broader ideas that emerged from this intense period of research and reflection. I was using phrases like ‘I don’t I want to throw the baby out with the bathwater’ and ‘I am not advocating a revolution’. When in many ways I actually wanted to advocate that so we could have a real, engaged and impactful debate, rather than a question or two at conference, usually prefaced with the words ‘This is not so much a question, more a statement…’. I wanted to be the radical voice, challenging orthodoxy and unsettling the status quo. Not because it felt good to be a rebel but because I honestly believe that innovation comes from challenging your ideas with others and collaborating to do something better. But instead I retreated into saying what I believed and putting my hands up and almost saying ‘sorry’ after I had said it.

Recently I read a book chapter by James G. March from Stanford (published in 1976) called ‘The Technology of Foolishness’ where he argues that organisations and the decisions they make can become wrapped up in a web of ‘received doctrine’ of intelligence and choice. He aligns this doctrine with three assumptions of rational decision making (the pre-existence of purpose, the necessity of consistency and the primacy of rationality). Any e-Learning approach is judged by the objectives and purposes it sets (and not always achieves), the importance of ensuring that consistency is achieved across disciplines and through qualifications usually resulting in the provision of a lowest common denominator service (where the least controversial aspects become the organisational norm) and that the rational expectations of faculty and student experience are indeed more primary to the aspirational expectations of people choosing to innovate, experiment and push boundaries.

March argues that we as adults have constructed a world in which we know what is good for ourselves. We ‘know’ the consequences of any decision we or others make, whilst children are freed from this rationality and predictive intelligence. The result in the case of institutional resistance to technology is a series of common mantras….

#‘It’s a nice idea, but it won’t work’,
#‘It would be good to do if we had more time’
#’I am sure it’s a great thing with the kind of students YOU teach, but with my kind of students…’
#’The lecture has worked for 125 years, why do we need to change it?’
#’Students don’t know what they want, but our employer’s sure do’

So, why do we find it hard to even have these debates without resorting to a series of well-worn defences based on our understandings of what are the almost guaranteed consequences of what is being proposed? March argues that for effective decision making we need to ‘suspend (our) rational imperatives towards consistency’. What does this mean in terms of e-Learning? For me, this is about introducing conceptual and attitudinal behaviours into higher education design, pedagogy and management that will not always embraced, either by staff overworked at the coalface or by management beset by constraints and objectives too often in conflict or contrary to the philosophical intent of the academy.

March describes these behaviours in the context of what he calls the ‘technology of foolishness’. Linked closely to the notions of play, where the usual rules are suspended allowing us to seek out new rules through experimentation and reject the usual objections to rational behaviours or accepted intelligence. Resistance to technology in higher education occurs despite the overwhelming evidence of societal change arising from the internet and social media (technology-change sceptics? Technology change is not man-made perhaps?). People who play with technology in higher education are often seen as zealots, tinkerers, or techies or at best, early adopters. Their work is often marginalised to their own context, shared with the converted and siloed within e-Learning-centric activity and practice. Many institutions still actively separate learning and e-Learning as if the ‘e’ part of this cutting edge experimental state is not really the same as teaching. Comparing online learning and face to face teaching is seen as not comparing apples with apples. The debates around using technology and changing pedagogy are positioned as dichotomous, mutually exclusive and competing paradigms, ignoring the decades of successful and innovative blended learning.

Take the dreaded MOOC debate. This has become rent with almost an ideological extremism bordering on George W Bush’s euphemistic ‘you are with us or against us’ argument. I recently presented at a MOOC conference where I took what I thought was a fairly critical approach to the debates around the impacts of MOOCs on HE. Granted it was to a room of MOOC advocates and providers, so ‘fox in a henhouse’ was probably an appropriate metaphor. But I felt, not through any comments or questions or responses, that I needed to temper my opinions a little, ensure it was clear that I was not a MOOC sceptic or technology neophyte making uninformed observations around a well understood field. What became clear to me after presenting these opinions in a number of places is that there is an accepted and arguably melodramatic narrative that MOOCs will change the world, the education has already passed a tipping point, weak brands will die and strong brands will survive, just like the music industry. Anyone who argues against this is misinformed, ignorant or an idealist pining for the days gone by. And it is easy to portray those who disagree with you as naysayers, luddites or people who just don’t get it. Now, this is not a universal set of behaviours. I have had some engaging and pragmatic debates with MOOC players, and both our understandings are better for it.

As a sector it is critical that we apply the same rigour and criticality to our own behaviours as we do to our students and our research. We need to be able to engage in debates, discussions and experiments at an institutional level. It is equally important that these debates are not just navel gazing or pointless circles of rhetoric and opinion. They need to be centred on questioning the key assumptions made in our delivery of learning and teaching.

Graeme Gibbs wrote his seminal piece ‘Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing’ in 1981, yet 34 years on we are still arguing about it and every word he said is prescient today as it was then. What was the number one song in 1981? Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes.

Are we still playing that song every year saying well, it worked well for the radio in 1981, let’s keep playing it? And by the way, ask an average 18 year old who Bette Davis was? Radio silence for sure there.

Now, we can assume that, for example, the debate around the lecture has been won and the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of the sage (by sheer evidence of activity). We can equally assume that it is harder to change the status quo than it is to accept it. But for me the debate that occurs around the lecture is not interesting. It is like a football game, where one team keeps back passing and plodding around until the other guys get a chance to do the same. March equally agrees that a dichotomous ‘one or the other’ approach will get us nowhere in enhancing and promoting innovative decision making. He argues for a combination of foolishness and rationality that will allow for the development of ‘unusual combinations of attitudes and behaviours supported by an embracing of playfulness and inconsistency. The ability of an institution to embrace and celebrate real innovation is crucial. The ability to reconsider what we consider success and failure and how we let these expectations shape the way we implement and evaluate new ideas and strategies.

“…an education that is understood in complexity terms cannot be conceived in terms of preparation for the future. Rather, it must be construed in terms of participation in the creation of possible futures” Davis and Sumara (2009)

What does this mean for those of us who are arguing for new approaches for teaching and learning? Are we ground down by these resistances, the side-tracking and the endless debates about the same thing? We need to re-examine the way we approach the debates around the efficacy or importance of making change. These are three fairly general observations I would make, that might represent a starting point to the debate. I will note that these could be seen as entirely aspirational or perhaps idealistic. In the light of my previous reflections, I just say, SO WHAT! Debate me!!

1. We must create and nurture an organisational culture that supports innovation. People who experiment and challenge rules and recognised ways of doing things are not rebels, or radicals or crazies. Innovation comes from places that can’t be actively pigeonholed or defined. An organisational imperative to support innovative practice is crucial. The ability to fail in those innovations equally critical. What does it look like? No idea! It will be different from one place to the next. Not everyone can do the 3M model. But what is important is that innovation is not a buzzword, or a work package. Innovation is a culture; it is an attitude to challenging the status quo and actually having the will and support to change if it proves necessary. People doing innovative stuff need to get rewarded and celebrated.

2. We must accept that there is a role of ambiguity, chaos and uncertainty in an organisation. Now, any one of us who has been in HE for any length of time is pretty well screaming at the top of their lungs – WELCOME TO MY LIFE! And yes, that much is true. These factors have often been linked with fear and paralysis to provide a gorgeous and lush motivational cocktail for faculty and staff in HE. But, the ability of staff to dive in without knowing the answer, develop counter-intuitive approaches to learning design, use technology in a way that seems to be against the institutional systems put in place to govern it and share those experiences in an environment of support not defence, will at least encourage them to try again. At best it will be the game changing, epoch making thing that MOOCs will never be. How did we come up with the model of teaching and learning we use now…someone tried something different and it worked. Wonder if they were regarded as pariahs?

3. We must understand how learning has already changed and in what ways do we need to respond to the change. The learners arriving at university are already e-learners, with lives lived in a post-digital world, where there is no real and online world, there is just the world. They have developed skills for living in a 21st century world which are different or at least adapted from those required to live in a pre-digital world. Technology is not class or category of learning. It is a means, a society changing and generation shaping means. It is transformative, emancipatory, democratic (for now), challenging and contrary. Institutions have to develop the skills of adaptation, agility, flexibility and criticality around technology and its impact on learning. The line between learning and eLearning is already well and truly blurred. Perhaps it needs to vanish altogether.

My final quote from March goes a little like this, ‘There is little magic in the world, and foolishness in people and organisations is one of the many things that fail to produce miracles’. I don’t have a magic bullet, or equally bulletproof case studies that prove beyond this will work. This is however, the debate we have to have. The debate that we need to start in order to challenge, reinforce or change the way we do higher education. Do I have solutions, answers, suggestions or models that might help? Yes, of course! You can dig through the archives of this blog for the views of a range of eminent scholars, practitioners and rock and roll victims (I will leave it to you to decide which I am!). But perhaps in a small way, each of us engaging in this debate will go some of the way to ignoring the hyperbole and get to the heart of what learning and teaching will look like in the post-digital age. And yes, it will more than likely have to be revolutionary or at least different from what went before.

References
Davis, B., & Sumara, D. (2009). Complexity as a theory of education. TCI (Transnational Curriculum Inquiry), 5(2), 33-44.
March, J. G. (1976). The technology of foolishness. Ambiguity and choice in organizations, 69, 81.