I was pleased and honored to be invited to speak at a recent HELF (Heads of e-learning Forum) meeting at University of Glasgow. I was asked to speak about leadership and change from a political and ethical standpoint. How these views guide our approaches to change within an institution and the tensions that may arise. What does it mean to be and become an agent of change?
The meeting fell on the day after this current round of strikes were announced and it gave me the opportunity to talk with these learning technology leaders about the role learning technology plays during strike action.
If we work with technology for teaching and learning then all our technology comes into contention during a strike.
This is important for HELF because that what happens at one university is quickly heard about at others. I know several large institutions have been having discussions about lecture recordings and learning materials last week. I asked for a show of hands in the room, to see how many HELF leaders were union members. A good number of hands went up, so I assume there will be at least a few institutions in which the leaders of learning technology are not at meetings today.
I am a strong believer that if you are a member of a union you should remain a member of that union even when you become senior management. The reason for this is that I believe you get better decision making when there is diversity around the board table, and union members are part of that diversity of thinking. Having some managers in the room who are union members means you get better management which is more inclusive and considerate of a range of staff views.
My hope, is that with this better-informed thinking comes fewer staff-management stand-offs. But since the UCU have voted to strike again, you need to know your institutional policies on lecture recording and VLE use.
The relationship between professional learning technologists and academic colleagues is a finely balanced one. Learning technologists offer technology solutions to teaching problems and encourage innovations in pedagogy and learning. We bring technology into classroom spaces on campus and online and ask colleagues to embrace it. We assure academic colleagues that the technology is there to help not replace them. We ask for trust, understanding, communication. We ask them to give it a go. We know that academic ‘buy –in’ is key to all of our success. But, as part of the business, our IT services are also key in ensuring business continuity, supporting students beyond contact hours and mitigating the impact of disruption to time and place.
At a time of strike, what might before have been thought of as a fairly neutral service becomes very political. There are expectations from both sides and either way your choice of action will be political. It may come down to your own political or ethical position.
Management will expect you to use every tool you have to mitigate the impact of the strike, to keep learning and teaching going. And academic colleagues, or those on strike, will expect you not to. You may have to pick a side. Do you want to be seen as a management tool or a friend to academics? Are you them, or us?
What impact does the decision you make to keep working during the strike have on the longer term relationship you have with those colleagues, those academic colleagues who see you and your services as a management tool?
Although the strike is obviously not about technology per se, Learning technology, VLEs and lecture recordings in particular are very much on the union policy agenda and they will be used as part of negotiations alongside other issues. VLEs make it possible to teach larger numbers of students with fewer staff and lecture recordings make it possible to deliver lectures when they aren’t there. Neither of those sound good to labour unions. Anywhere where strikes about pay and conditions are going on any suggestion that we can make digital materials, or recordings, or whatever available will impact directly on security of tenure for the staff, particularly those on precarious contracts.
I hope we can have more conversations about how our roles relate to strike action. Mangers and learning technologists and learning technology managers should think about the advice and discussions which happened with regard to business continuity during the strike. Did managers give the impression you could not or should not strike? If you are a manager, what conversation did you have with your staff? Is your manager in the union? Were you asked to cover for them? Think about how you feel about retention policies and management requests to give access to last year’s materials. I hope we can have more discussions in this community about how we reassure our colleagues and where we position ourselves. To see ourselves as others see us.