Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Framework for thinking about Educational Development

Educational development is the concern of anyone who works in education. For us at Otago Polytechnic, we have established an Educational Development Centre which, as with other units and departments in the Polytechnic, is always a risk of "institutionalising" the notion of educational development, so that educational professionals think of it as something "they do".

The disconnect

Over lunch Veronique, Terry and myself had a pretty intense discussion about some of our educational development work. We had just returned from a session looking at Moodle, and Veronique was expressing some concern about an apparent disconnect between some of the things we say and do. Veronique cited the work in open education for an example - where at a policy level we encourage staff to engage with open educational practices, but on the ground it appears to be not gaining as much traction as we might have hoped.

This may come as a surprise to people on the outside looking in, but we still do not enjoy a feeling of engagement and support from other areas in the Polytech such as our marketing team, our IT team, and our human resources team - not a resistance to it, just a question of support and engagement. There isn't a clear understanding of open education and how the detail in it affects the work in those areas for example. There are too many documents such as media release forms, employment contracts, and presentation templates that do not relay the principles in our copyright and intellectual property policies, and the range of software supported by our IT unit (understandably ring fenced) does not offer much support at all for open or popular media. Some Departmental managers are resistant to developing open educational practices, sometimes for good reasons, but largely due to a lack of understanding. And all this is filtering down to teaching staff, who ultimately have a low level of trust and understanding with regard to open educational priorities and best practices, or an insecure feeling about going out on a limb and developing open education only to have their manager real them in.

An understanding
All of this was hotly contested either way in our discussion today, and I'm sure my colleagues around the wider Polytechnic would all have a range of positions on the matter as well (part of the reason for writing this post). As Terry pointed out, it could all be just a matter of time, and that our efforts to develop open educational practices are still very young, have a long way to go and that we need to 'start where people are at'. I can accept that for sure, but that doesn't negate my feeling that there is a lot more we could be doing to ensure synergy and cooperation between our service areas and departments, and in working towards more openness between each other in our planning and implementation. It could be that we are mistaken about the point where people are at!

A framework for thinking about educational development
The conversation went on for some time, with some valuable ideas. One of which Veronique and I worked on a little afterwards. I set out my appreciation for thinking of things in terms of FOUNDATIONS, PRINCIPLES and METHODS. Ever since looking at permaculture design, I've been quite struck by how useful this type of thinking is for designing systems and workflows. I've been thinking for some time that permaculture is applicable in areas far wider than growing food and designing living spaces...

Veronique seemed to agree with this framework being simple to understand and useful for thinking through complex problems, so we jumped in front of a white board and tried it out in terms of educational development.

Foundations
As a foundation for thinking, we considered what are the core things that make up the intentions of the Polytechnic as it is today. Its highly likely that we missed things or that people disagree with what we have here so far, and that's precisely the point of this process - to work out agreement on these foundational things and then move on to our principles and then our methods.

So we had:
  • Vocational training and education
  • through open educational practices
  • producing sustainable practitioners
  • in accordance with our responsibilities to the Treaty of Waitangi
Principles
Using those foundations as our guide, we move on to thinking about our principles.. The things that define our actions, the things we refer back to when deciding on a course of action.

For this we had:
  • Education and training that is relevant to a vocation, industry or vocation and industry development.
  • Small groups with direct access and contact
  • Applied learning in real world contexts
  • Open access and standards
  • Flexible opportunities to learn
  • Culturally sensitive and inclusive learning environments
Remember this is just our start, and will no doubt change. Its here on this post as an attempt to illustrate a process in forming a framework for thinking about educational development, which would hopefully result in a simple, intuitive and usable tool for developing a common understanding about educational development, including an idea of good practice.

Methods
This is where we get quite specific about an endless list of things we do that fit with our foundations and principles. For example:

  • Work based learning is a method we employ for people seeking vocational training while on the job. It is applied and real world, vocationally relevant and can help with flexible learning options.
  • Use media and documents that are in an open standard format and are copyright licensed Creative Commons Attribution or equivalent. This helps us develop and maintain open educational practices and open access to learning, while ensuring sustainability in the work we do sourcing and producing educational media and documents.
  • Negotiated curriculum and assessment is a way that can help us develop a wider range of opportunities for people to advance educationally, relating to open education, vocational relevance even our obligations to the treaty (if I understand that correctly)
  • Online and distance education helps us offer training and education to people without requiring them to relocate or leave the workplace (necessarily), and is potentially complimentary open education.
This is very early thinking, but my point is that this simple 3 step approach - building from a common, all-encompassing understanding of our foundational thinking, and negotiating agreement on principles that define our methods for action, could develop into a simple and accessible tool for people thinking about educational development. You don't have to look far to see the same tool helping to spread world wide appreciation and implementation of permaculture - which is about as equally complicated interaction of systems and ideas as education.

Off home now. Hope others find this note helpful. Look forward to any comments and suggestions on teh idea.



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