Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Beyond models?

At a meeting today my friend and colleague Peter Ingle argued that in such a rapidly changing educational environment, finding a "model" for an innovation on campus might be too slow. We talk about models all of the time in HE. When we do so we usually mean that we are seeking someone who does pretty much what we want to do so we can copy it. Peter's notion is that by the time you find, copy, tweak, and approve a model, it may no longer apply to the situation.

I like Peter's notion a lot (in an earlier post on scale I wondered about a similar problem--"scaling up" small programs). He suggested that colleges need to do a lot to streamline decision-making and implementation processes. True!

He got me wondering what might take the place of the thirst for models though. What could provide a framework for change, without being as slow at the beginning as models. Here are a few options:
  • Guiding questions--what if a campus decided that there were a few questions that it wanted its work to respond to? The focus would then become--does this new thing respond to our questions, not, is there a model for this problem?
  • Metaphors--an acquaintance at Naropa University once told me that their curriculum was organized around the metaphor of breathing--first year, breathe in, second year breathe out, etc. Are there other metaphors that could provide guidance for new ideas on a campus?
  • Stories--Could a campus have a few stories that served as guideposts for innovation? Could a standard for new ideas be that they must match and extend the story? Sounds far-fetched, but there is lots of evidence that humans are story-making creatures, and narratives are now key components of disciplines as diverse as nursing, psychology, organizational behavior, and theology.
I know these things aren't solutions to the problem of responding to rapid change in a way that remains true to educational mission, but they might be the beginnings of a response...

1 comment:

Peter said...

These ideas have merit. But they continue the focus on a for some structure to the curriculum. From a faculty standpoint I do not see that going away soon.
What I was trying to propose is a change to the structure of the organization that would allow for other aspects to change more quickly- technology, pedagogy, and (possibly) the curriculum.
There will always need to be focus to the curricular side of the organization, but right now we also have staid and slowly changing aspects organizationally that perpetuate that issue and impact other areas (where cost savings might be available).
Have any model of curriculum you want, but develop a flexible and cost effective organization to support it.