Who wants change?

Image by Alan O’Rourke

This week I have been preparing for the second residential of the Jisc Digital Leaders course. Whilst the course is premised on role of digital, digital is actually a lens through which we look at institutional strategy and practice. We started off the course with a brief framing of digital and leadership, referring to Ron Barnett’s description of the current education landscape; a time of uncertainty, unpredictability, challenge and change – a situation to which he applies the term “supercomplexity”. The digital leaders programme seeks to both frame the challenges created by digital, and also show digital as providing the capacity and capabilities to respond to supercomplexity.

Responding to challenge and change, one of the workshops we use is based around Schein’s model, sometimes referred to as the onion model, working within an educational context.

Schein’s Onion Model

The model refers to three layers, at the surface there are the artefacts and symbols, beneath that lie the expressed values, and at the core are tacit assumptions and underlying values:

Artefacts and symbols mark the surface an institution; visible elements such as logos, buildings and other parts of the estate, digital platforms (such as the VLE), rooms and lecture theatres, the library, the institutional vision, straplines etc. They are visible not only to staff, but also students, prospective students and the wider public.

The expressed values within the model may include the strategy, reward schemes, the underpinning philosophies, and pedagogical approach of the institution. It also refers to how these values are expressed.

Tacit assumptions and underlying values are deeply embedded in the culture; experienced as self-evident and unconscious behaviour. These are the unspoken rules, these are the things it doesn’t occur to you to explain until something goes wrong, these are the things you wish someone had told you once you first started working at your institution, these are things you might only realise after you’ve left the job. They are not always easy to recognise, they can derail change initiatives and block progress.

All of these layers, and many other aspects, are part of the culture of an institution. In the workshop we get people thinking about the tacit assumptions and underlying values, sometimes we prompt them to discuss their own, sometimes we prompt them to put themselves in a different role in the institution. Almost all of the participants we have worked with engage in this activity with a lot of energy!

We do have prompts (such as below) if we need them, but we rarely do.

Institutional Culture is... Diagram

Thinking about the digital implications and practices can lead to some startling revelations about ourselves, and I have frequently found myself reflecting on my own practices and engagements.

One of the most common digital misbehaviours I indulge in is the abuse of email!

“Can you pop that in an email to me?”

About my person at anytime I have multiple devices where I can make a note and a reminder? What I am really saying is I can’t be bothered to make a note; or I might be thinking I’m too busy to make a note. The reality of that is that I am valuing my time more than that of my colleague. The consequences? Well eventually they will probably stop telling me things or involving me, because it just adds to their workload?

Breaking these habits is hard, but it’s worth it, and if we want digital change, then the key is to model the behaviours you want to see.

What are the tacit assumptions and underlying assumptions in your institution? What are they stopping from happening? There’s a few below to get you started….

Tacit Assumptions

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