Thursday, 16 November 2017

Do university Business lecturers know how to educate?

If Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Dr Mike Lee's opinion piece , "Done properly, exams stimulate learning" (NZ Herald, 15 Nov 2017) represents the general level of knowledge and understanding of effective education within the University of Auckland Business School, then is seems clear that they need to "get a life" educationally. 

He argues the case for exams, not only for assessment but for teaching too. He's been a course coordinator for nearly 50 university papers and written more than 100 exams so he clearly has extensive experience of conventional teaching and assessment but apparently not beyond that. If he did, he would realize that although such methods may work for the closed university system, they don't produce high quality, work ready practitioners. And that's surely the objective for all graduates except perhaps for the minority who, like him, join the academy.

University Business schools rely on processing large numbers of students, few of whom proceed into academe. Most graduate both as failed researchers and failed practitioners. It typically takes at least couple of years to make something useful of a Business graduate. Maybe that was accepted in the past but not now. 

University lecturers must progress beyond repeating the teaching learning processes of their student experience. That's easily said but hard to achieve because they like us all are, to a greater or lesser extent, prisoners of their experience. They can't imagine much beyond what they've experienced.  

We could exhort them to get out more, risk trying radical new methods. But what's to encourage or push them to do that? The University organisation is essentially a slow-learner; designed to be conservative, insular, superior, bureaucratic, and typically populated by a toxic combination of brittle experts defending their egos and expertise, and rule-bound administrators defending their power and position. 

Dr Lee isn't entirely mistaken: conventional exams do achieve focused learning but not learning for effective collaborative practice.  The artificial crisis created by exams strongly motivates students to competitively cram and retain information long enough to survive the exam. 

Crises are great opportunity for deep needs-based learning that transforms understanding and behaviour but exam crises reinforce compliance and build expertise at the individualistic task of doing exams. I doubt those qualities are useful in contemporary academia. They certainly aren't in NZ Business. That's why 100 major NZ companies have stopped hiring on university qualifications

Dr Lee argues that exams are good for sorting people: that those who do well at high school exams, do well at university. That looks like closed-loop thinking. Of course students who become skilled at doing exams in high school are going to be good at doing them at University. And if the University qualifies people on their skill at doing exams then its all very cozy until they step outside that closed system into the contemporary NZ commercial and industrial world. 

I've taught in Universities and other Tertiary Business Schools and my business is working with privately owned businesses to change and grow. I've never seen a business sort or educate it's people by exams. There are ample actual emergent business crisis-based opportunities for learning. But conventional university education doesn't prepare people for that mode of learning. The opposite actually.

That's why it fails and we need to wake university teachers to that. Which probably means changing the funding model to drive tertiary education organisations to innovate teaching. They will claim that they are already doing it, and no doubt a few individuals are, but Dr Lee's view suggests that conventional methods prevail. So too, do my direct experiences contracting in tertiary Business education during the last several years. 


Friday, 20 October 2017

Opportunity at last to prune tertiary Business Education?

Justine Munro, Director, Z Energy and founder of 21C Skills Lab wrote in the NZ Herald “New work order requires education shake-up.” "On September 26, over 100 Kiwi companies wrote an open letter that made it explicit a "new work order" is here. In this new world of work, many tertiary qualifications are not seen by employers as preparing young people for real world roles.
Increasingly, employers value generic skills, such as critical thinking, collaborative problem solving and global literacy not typically taught or assessed in school or tertiary courses. "

The “New work order” and the redundancy of Business degrees was echoed the same day (7 Oct 2017) by Rebecca Stevenson in The Spinoff.

This is music to my ears. Good even, that self-styled education “futurists” such as Mind Lab’s Frances Valentine are investing in developing education methods that leave graduates with the elusive “generic/soft skills” that make or break governments and enterprise these days.   

I’ve been hoping for over a decade that the employer market would wake up to the inadequacy of tertiary education for business, then demand better and apply market pressure to the insular, self-satisfied qualifications industry that has monopolised and commodified so-called education. 

During that time, I interspersed coaching change in NZ SMEs with spells in the tertiary education sector developing learning contexts and learning management processes that actually, intentionally, and successfully developed the “generic/soft skills” that are now acknowledged as a prime competitive advantage for innovative organisations in the globalised economy. That includes the current new coalition government in NZ.  

However, my efforts to propagate those methods within institutions were, like those of my local and international network of like-minded tertiary educator colleagues, stymied at pretty well every step. Typically, through inability of most managers, administrators and many academic colleagues to imagine or risk anything much beyond their personal memory of tertiary education context and process.  I know first-hand that this closed-loop thinking and practice dominates even NZQA Category 1 (certified self-monitoring) tertiary institutes in 2017. 

Waves of e-learning (read low cost mass delivery of the now discredited qualifications), code writing and open plan learning spaces have washed through, stripping the landscape and adding little of value.  

The tertiary industry focuses on the student market which still chooses providers on brand and NZQA categorization. Especially the international student market. It’s not surprising then that so many international students, seeking work visas and eventually permanent residence, graduate to find that their qualifications win them little more than menial employment. And not surprising either that the newly elected coalition government intends to shut that door. The tertiary industry will do it hard without the easy cash that channel provided, and the change in the employer market will squeeze local enrollments too. Good!

Here’s opportunity for a hard pruning and fruitful re-growth: root out narcissistic managers and sly, sycophantic acolytes, who rode the wave, took the credit and drove quality into the ground.  Time to give the real creatives room to make a difference.