Creating the Environment for Improvement over Churn

Those who do not study the past are condemned to repeat it.
~Santayana

Envision the situation:

A team is contracted to build a new statistics course for a bachelor’s degree program. This is exciting because it’s the first offering, and building is always more fun than editing. The scope is set to help students understand statistics enough to better analyze scholarly studies and develop healthy skepticism practices towards research. There is always a rush of pleasure for a writing team as they create that first iteration … how it will shift minds … how it will transform fear into excitement … how it will shape critical thinking … how this course will CHANGE THE WORLD!

Hrm. Well, that’s often the feeling anyway.

A year passes.

Why do we force these students to learn SPSS? They struggle with it so much and we end up teaching the tool. Let’s stick to concepts and switch to Excel for the basic functions.

A year passes.

Why aren’t we challenging these students? How can they fundamentally understand how to perform statistical analysis without the standard tool? We have to teach them Excel anyway, so why not do it right with SPSS?

A year passes.

It is insane how we are trying to teach a tool and teach concepts at the same time. It’s cognitive overload. We should be sticking to the basics and help them be comfortable with the concepts first … let’s keep it simple with Excel.

A year passes.

If we don’t want to be a diploma mill, we have to step this up. Students should not be just be learning concepts without experiencing the practice within SPSS.

Ad nauseam.

$6,000 of contracted edits later, not counting the original development, and we’ve managed to simulate a pendulum that knocks over a stack of money each time it hits, with no actual improvement.

Does this cycle sound familiar?

Another factor that makes this cycle so absolute is the change of people within each cycle. The history is lost. The reasoning is gone. The committee minutes lost in the abyss of ambiguity, if recoverable at all.

The especially painful observation about this cycle of waste is that it is doomed to continue without a certain provenance that should be established with the original course development and subsequent adjustments.

Ironically, ensuring such provenance can kick off its own cycle of waste as technologies change, notes are overly detailed and subsequently ignored, and my very favourite, change requests and justifications are scattered across systems.

Documentation can be organised for effective use; but without architecture, it can also quickly transition to complication in a myriad of mind-blowing ways.

Linked here is a “snippet” example of how I maintain not only the balance of measurability (cognitive outcomes), mind shifting (affective outcomes), and assessment plan (measuring understanding) in a single visual location, but at the end of each breakdown is a general “why” for future reference.

This approach allows me to ensure

  • Easy maintenance of provenance as the course evolves.
  • Streamlined initial development of a solid, well-balanced course.

It doesn’t have to be something exactly like my example. You could have a series of Lino or Mural.ly boards for sharing across distributed teams more easily. You could have a master version of the original course always held simply for tracking changes and why.

The method is not my point. The practice IS my point …

The simpler it is, the more it will be used.

The clearer it is, the more it will be valued.

The more it is valued and used, the more the course will blossom over time.

All courses should evolve. However, let’s create an environment for improvement rather than churn.

Crossposted at LinkedIn … click here to comment!

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About Marian

My passion is centered around ensuring effective learning experiences that improve people's lives. Developing a learning mindset is my ultimate goal whether working with academic programs or corporate training; formal or informal learning practices. It is my belief that our potential for agility is limited only by our capacity for learning.

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