Monday, May 23, 2016

Curriculum Management as a Supply Chain issue?

I don't often write about my dayjob - as manager of an academic program. There are probably a lot of interesting and nuanced things to study academically in higher education administration and non-profit management, things that I also find interesting (from time to time) - but I tend to spend most of my time looking at EdTech, pedagogy, language learning, and the like (more so than higher ed administration.

Recently I saw a blog post from a friend who is also pursuing a PhD that made me put on my management academician thinking cap, and it got me in a reflecting mood as far as my dayjob goes. It also brought back fond memories of me being an MBA student in a supply-chain management. The successful running of an academic program is a complex dance between various external (to the academic department) actors, such as the admissions office, the registrar's office, the bursar's office, and the room scheduling office (if your program is on-campus). This is also in addition to internal actors such as curriculum committees, admissions committees, faculty, and advisors, and the students (I think of students being "in" the department).  If we look at it from Actor Network Theory, there are also those devices that facilitate (or put up roadblocks) for our efforts. One big actor in this network for me is Google Docs given that I use it to plan for a lot of things.

I've been in my position over four years now and it's been quite an interesting, and educational, experience. Some of our faculty are tenured, and some are adjunct lecturers - although they've been with us so long that we really think of them as one of us.  One thing that really has stood out to me, comparing the then with the now, is really how important those connections are, and the domino effect of the supply chain.  When I was a student studying supply chain management it was fascinating to see how changes in the factory output, the connections between factories, the warehouses, stores, and pricing made a huge systemic difference in what was happening in the end‡.

When I started working there had been a gap in that position for the program, which meant that there wasn't really a day-to-day maintenance that was happening (nor was there systematic improvement). One of the things that had lagged behind (seriously behind) was communications with current students and communications with prospective students.  That for me was a huge domino that had already fallen and we were seeing it's effects - lower than average applications. Why would one apply to a program if there isn't good communication?  Effective, and timely, communication is important not only with your perspective students, but also your current ones in order to ensure that prospective students find the right program for them (even if it isn't yours), and current students are on a steady path to graduation. An internal policy of 2 business days (at most) to respond to inquiries and emails seems to have solved that issue.  Email also became the preferred method of contact. This doesn't please everyone (especially those who like talking on the phone), but with limited resources it's the most efficient.  Phone conversations are available for more in-depth and tricky subjects, not "routine" questions.

Another area where I see supply chain as much more prevalent is course registration.  Course registration is probably the major cause of departmental firefighting (we're all familiar with putting out fires, right?). It's was also a bottleneck for hiring and assigning courses to adjuncts.  In a nutshell, prior to my arrival† students were able to sign themselves up for classes.  This left made course sign up the student's responsibility. There is something empowering about signing up for courses, but even with a late registration fee (if students registered after a certain date) many students would simply wait to register. This meant that we didn't know if some courses would run (you need to have a minimum amount of students in each course to make it viable). Not knowing if something would run also means that you couldn't commit to assigning specific courses to our adjunct faculty, which meant that they didn't have access to Blackboard and the resources they needed to plan for effectively for their courses. It also meant that for the students who did sign up early, there  might be a mad dash near the beginning of the semester to change courses if their courses were axed.  Lots of fires to put out right there!

The solution, which seems to work, is to prevent students from enrollment activity and have us (in the office) enroll them for courses, and to make sure through advising that all advising is accounted for and a month before the current semester ends students have spoken to their advisor and we know what courses they'd like to be signed up for. This gatekeeping activity has been pretty successful thus far.  About 85% of students see their advisor and are queued up for fall courses 45 days before the semester ends, and around 10 days before the late fee kicks in, 94% are signed up.  Not too shabby if I do say so myself!  Having an (almost) 95% completion rate also means that our faculty have a better idea of what they are teaching in the fall so that they can prep over the summer (if they'd like) and the college and HR departments can start processing their fall contracts earlier than before since we have confirmed enrollments. These contracts also mean that instructors gain access to university resources that they need  - such as email access!

Supply chain management may seem to impersonal in a higher education context, but I think that it has applicability.  I wonder what others in higher education admin think about this?

‡ I also hated the grading schema for that class, as I've probably written in this blog before, but the class was pretty interesting all things considered.
† I didn't singlehandedly do this - it was a team effort, but I did initiate a lot of this

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Missed Conversation with Laura Gibbs

A recent hangout I was on talking about online pedagogy with some really cool people :-)

Note to self: Ouroboros as a pedagogical symbol...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hidden Scholarship: reported achievements of academics

It seems like forever ago since I've read this article by Maha Bali on ProfHacker on Hidden Scholarship†. It's actually been on my radar for a while, but between work and class the mind space for this was not available.

In any case, if you haven't read this brief post on ProfHacker it's worthwhile reading. Maha writes about things that go under-reported, or not reported at all when it comes to scholarship by academics.  I think that a lot of things go under-reported, and I think part of it is that they aren't valued as much by our peers out there. One of the things that Maha mentions is peer review.  I am actually pretty happy that an academic social media platform (Publons) is working on this and their social network is based on creating some sort of record of peer review. You can see my profile here as an example. That said, it's really up to the peer reviewer to submit/forward their receipts from peer review systems and then the Publons system will work out whatever they need to work out to verify that you did indeed do the peer review for that article and list it on your profile.  That still leaves a lot of hidden scholarship (if you've been peer reviewing for a while anyway). Luckily (in a sense) I haven't peer reviewed much so I didn't have to think TOO hard about everything I was asked to peer review‡ so it was fairly easy to remember most things I did.

I agree with Maha as well that collaboration isn't always valued by peers at the same level (at least in my own contexts).  It seems to me that co-authored works tend to get fewer "points" in faculty reviews as compared to single authored works.  On a similar note, I find - again in my own contexts - that conference presentations are given fewer points than published papers. It seems to me that some works that might be more ephemeral in nature (like some conference presentations) should not be given short shrift because of their medium.  I think that those are just as valuable as a paper published in a peer reviewed journal.

Blog posts were something mentioned in the comments to the article as well.  Blog posts in general don't have the cache that other, more established forms, of scholarly work have - especially if you only post on your own blog! I've been asked several times in the past to contribute blog posts for different organizations and sites♠.  One thing that comes to mind - for me - is why drive traffic to your blog with my blog post, when I can just as easily post it on my blog.  I don't receive any peer review for it, so might as well keep it on my own playing ground.  In the past I had submitted blog posts to - now defunct - sites and those blog posts are lost for the most part (luckily some I had the foresight to keep the text for).  Some of those sites may argue that it could drive readers to this blog, but I don't have any aspiration of aggressively growing my readership.  I blog as a way of sharing what I know, to process new knowledge, and to engage with people¤. I think organic rather than forced readership is much more valuable. That said, I wouldn't mind having a byline on ProfHacker one of these days ;-)

One of my own contributions to this list of hidden scholarship is student advising. I don't think that academics get much credit for this.  Most academics stay up to date with their field. They read the contributions of their field, and they in turn incorporate that into any research they do, and they help guide students toward it that may not be at the right spot yet to be able to navigate there on their own, but for whom the research is important nevertheless.  I think that student mentorship (real mentorship, not just the quick 10 minute advising session each semester) is something that academics need to be recognized for as scholarship. Relating to this academic mentoring is helping/mentoring students to grow as professionals and researchers in the field.

What are items that would go on your list of hidden scholarship?

† just a quick date comparison indicates that it's been over two months at this point in time! Wow! Took a long time to respond to this :-)
‡ I am open for peer review gigs if you need a peer reviewer - just saying ;-)
♠ I prefer to not name them, fwiw.
¤ engage through twitter, facebook, google+, and on comments - generally speaking

Monday, May 16, 2016

Social and Engaging Practices in Developing Research Skills

A brief presentation that my colleagues and I did last Friday at our university's Teaching & Learning conference (I still remember when we called it the "EdTech Conference" :-)  This time around I listed by credentials as EdD (ABD).  I felt a bit awkward putting my standard (BA, MBA, MS, MEd, MA) - it also wouldn't fit - so since I am close to being ABD I just wrote that.  I think that the two embedded YouTube videos didn't make the google docs-->powerpoint-->slideshare conversion.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Teaching Presence in MOOCs: Perspectives and Learning Design Strategies

Presentation presentation by Suzan Koseoglu at the 2016 Networked Learning Conference (Lancaster, UK)