UALL Work Based Learning Network Conference Teesside University, Middlesbrough, 13-14 July 2010
The University in the Workplace Extending the boundaries of academic jurisdiction Dr Peter Critten Project Manager Work Based Organisational Learning Institute for Work Based Learning Middlesex University London, NW4 4BT Tel 020 8411 5858 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Dr Philip Squire Chief Executive Consalia 5a Hampton Rd Middlesex TW12 1JN Tel 020 8 977 6944 Email: email@example.com
The University in the Workplace Extending the boundaries of academic jurisdiction In the early 1990s when Middlesex University was first formulating its approach to accrediting learning in the workplace against academic standards there was talk of ‘the curriculum in the workplace’. The language was deliberate to differentiate the context in which learning took place from the traditional ‘subjects’ taught in the University’s various schools. Thereafter the debate has tended to move towards the quality control systems the University needed to put in place to ensure that learning in the workplace could be seen to be subject to the same kind of academic rigour as applied to more traditional subject led taught courses. This paper reverts back to explore the concept of ‘the curriculum in the workplace’ in the context of one of the authors’ current role in Middlesex’s Institute for Work Based Learning to promote work based organisational learning . Working with companies towards this end has opened up new perspectives re role of the University as it engages not just with individuals’ accredited learning but with infrastructures and systems in-company and need for a more flexible embracing relationship with our company ‘partners’ which would give them more autonomy. The paper is in four parts. In Part 1 Peter Critten reviews how Middlesex has evolved a three-way relationship between individual learners, companies and the University and how that may need to be reviewed again as we engage more with organisations as strategic partners – which also meets the Government agenda. In Part 2 he describes ongoing projects with companies where he is dealing with cohorts of learners within the workplace out of which common curricula are emerging and where companies as strategic partners are seeking to be more engaged with the ‘academic’ process. In Part 3 he envisages what the ‘Work Based University of 2020’ might look like and draws on Ronald Barnett’s concept of the ‘University in an age of Supercomplexity’ (Barnett 2000) which is more akin to the original ‘universitas’ ie groups of scholars who formed themselves into selfgoverning guilds. In Part 4, Philip Squire, Chief Executive of one of the Institute’s Business Partners, Consalia, explores ways in which he would welcome greater collaboration with academia.
Ten years ago the concept of a ‘corporate university’ challenged HE’s monopoly. The mistake they made was to mimic what Universities were offering reasoning that an Automotive company, for example could offer as good an introduction to ‘engineering’ as any University. They fell into the same trap Ronald Barnett considers Universities have fallen into of ‘pretending’ to be arbiters of knowledge and truth’ (Barnett 2000:71). As we shall see later in this paper, he argues a completely opposite role for Universities championing ‘uncertainty, unpredictability, challengeability and contestability’. This is what organizations know all about. But what they may not know about is how to make sense of the ‘uncertainty’ they might unravel – which is where Universities can play a key role. And, more importantly, Universities which have embraced work based learning will understand Barnett’s statement ‘ When nothing is certain, fundamental concepts and frameworks are liable to come under scrutiny of some kind. The reflexive society is an inevitable outcome of supercomplexity’ 105 We will argue that the processes our work based learning students engage in encourage them and us to push back boundaries. If this is the case, what is the relationship between the organization and the University that is encouraging such reflection? We suggest it is different to the concept that prevailed almost 20 years ago when Middlesex University introduced the ‘Learning Agreement’.
1 The notion of the Learning Agreement Here is Derek Portwood, the architect of the policy reflecting on the ‘Centrality of the role of Learning Agreements’ and how it is skewed in the favour of the University: ‘Here the interests of the learner, their workplace and the university are intended to coincide through project proposals. The process, however, is skewed heavily in favour of the University. The Learning Agreement from the organization’s viewpoint is little more than the acknowledgement that their member is undertaking a work-based learning programme with their awareness and, to some extent, assent to the projects s/he proposes to undertake. The university however controls the process and uses its predetermined standards and procedures to assess the validity [as opposed to the ultimate value] of the project. Hence, the dominating force in the construction and execution of work-based learning projects is the constitution of the university’s qualification system’ (Portwood 2007:14) Portwood anticipates many of arguments in this paper when he suggests: ‘If projects are to have practical outcomes, the disinterested stance of many existing methods has to be revised to a research and development approach. However, very rarely has this change been taken to its logical conclusion of including organizational/workplace representatives in the assessment of the outcomes, particularly the value of the products; (Portwood 2007:15) In his capacity of ‘Project Manager Work Based Organisational Learning Peter Critten has recognized the significance of Portwood’s last point in having stakeholders from the organization in which WBL is being undertaken having a role in evaluating the outcome of the projects being presented to them. 2 Balancing interests of organizations and academia Just recently a group of managers in a Construction Company presented to their directors the findings and learning from a work based learning project supervised by Peter Critten for the Institute of Work Based Learning. Two of the managers had no degrees but their capabilities for research and development was recognised by the Operations Director for having ‘tapped into the knowledge and experience of various key individuals’ and for having developed a ‘valuable tool [which will] be used in the tender process as well as when negotiating …with clients’ The Directors were encouraged to complete an evaluation of each project in terms of how useful were the outcomes for their organization and whether there were issues they raised which they would want to investigate further. The second point is important because, as we will see when looking at the work of Downes and Barnett, learning in organisations is conveyed as much through ongoing conversations as discrete presentational events. But you need one to stimulate the other. At the end of this paper Philip Squire will refer to a recent event he organized in collaboration with Middlesex University which has sparked off all kinds of debate which we hope will not only be followed up but lead to a sharing of ‘new knowledge’ of value both to the professional community and to academia (See Critten 2007)
For a number of years Critten has been advocating closer links between WBL and Organisation Development ( Critten 2008, Critten 2009) and with this comes a recognition of how ‘knowledge’ is not contained in any one place, neither within a University ( a view, as we shall see Barnett, subscribes to) or outside. As the Operations Director above recognized, it is distributed widely within an organization and community. A key role of WBL processes is extracting it (see Critten 2010) . Furthermore, as both authors will argue, Academia has a role in helping industries make sense of the knowledge they have collected. Critten has suggested that what Gibbon (Gibbons 1994) refers to as Mode 2 knowledge can, indeed, become Mode 1 knowledge if colleagues in business have an opportunity to share within an Academic community (Critten 2007). Philip Squire will return to this theme at end of this paper. The loosening of boundaries between Industry and academia have been further facilitated by what has become known as Web 2.0 technology which allow students and tutors to interact with each other outside of the confines of a University. ‘ Learning will be available not in learning institutions but in any given environment in which they [the learners] find themselves’ (Downes S 2010) Downes goes on to state his case that ‘the community is the primary unit of learning’ ' Learning...occurs in communities where the practice of learning is the participation in the community. A learning activity is in essence a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community. The conversation in the Web 2.0 era consists not only of words but of images, video, multi-media and more. The conversation forms a rich tapestry of resources, dynamic and interconnected, created not only by experts, but by all members of the community, including learners' (Downes 2010:18-19) Prior to Web2.0 helping to connect up the learning Wenger was the first to advocate learning opportunities within ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger) . But Web2.0 provides new opportunities for turning learning into knowledge across departments, organizations and communities which the Institute has been promoting over last few years ( Critten & Moteleb 2007; Bryant, Akinleye & Durrant 2009). And Garnett has long argued for recognition of WBL as contributing to structural capital of an organization, particularly in so far as recognition and accreditation of the learning that is outcome of the process (Garnett 2007) But perhaps the biggest advocate of a shift in the way Universities see themselves and are seen by the public is Ronald Barnett in his Book ‘Realising the University in an Age of Supercomplexity’. (2000) Below we include a range of the arguments he put forward: 3 Repositioning the University ‘Let the modern university be built upon the realization that we shall always be behind the game, that the world will always be beyond our full grasp, that all our frameworks for being, understanding and acting will always be challengeable and that we will always live in a state of perpetual conceptual mortgage’ (Barnett 2000: 63) This is a radical perspective as is his perspective on ‘knowledge’
‘knowledge has come to be understood as outcome where we are now faced with engagement in and negotiation of continuing and messy processes of inquiry where even the rules of the knowing game have to be renegotiated’ (Barnett 2000:22 And ‘Rather than speaking of knowledge, then, with all its metaphysical sense of arrival, of finality and of a secure sense of proceeding, we had better speak of more fuzzy and softer notions such as inquiry, learning and questioning. We can and should dispense with the notion of knowledge and with it too the notion of truth’ (Barnett 2000 22) He argues that the university must rid itself of a ‘pretence’ that it knows best. This practice he
sees in the sorting of students into ‘definite grades within a tight classification as if the precision of these ‘sorting’s was reassuring. This is his vision for the future: ‘If the world is one that is characterised by uncertainty, unpredictability , challengeability and contestability, then the university has an unparalleled opportunity to become the key institution in the world. It will become such a pivotal institution precisely through its insight into the character of the world and through the human capacities it will sponsor to confront that world. Knowledge in any simple sense is not available. Instead, what it can offer is what it has been doing for eight hundred years: perpetual critical scrutiny of what it encounters alongside its creative offerings. These two capacities - creativity accompanied by critique - are the capacities that a world of uncertainty and contestability require’ (Barnett 2000:68-69) He suggests that the University has a responsibility for exploring and sharing the ‘accounts’ by which the world is known. Barnett suggests that we have no direct access to the world; we have access `to the world through our accounts in it...our activities and technologies and our institutions, as well as the world itself, are ”known “ to us through the descriptions we have produced” (Barnett 2000:70) On the one hand he argues that ’in the post-modern university, nothing remains that connects its parts or its inhabitants. All are nomadic, unsettled and confused. There is nothing to hold its inhabitants together’. (Barnett 2000: 93) So, one faculty has nothing in common with another faculty. But on other hand he says ‘ The western University is based on conversation. No conversation, no university’ (Barnett 2000: 94). Despite the fragmentation he describes he still sees that having conversations is ‘central to the academic enterprise’ even though ‘the space for conversation ...narrows’ with such conflicting reassures on the modern academic. He concludes that ‘decentred `post-modern university.....will do its best to avoid conflict...Much as uncertainty presses upon it, the post-modern university would prefer to be a place of quiet and safety. These are tendencies that have to be combated’ (Barnett 2000: 95)
As most Universities involved in WBL are all too aware, the advocacy of WBL means that they are certainly not a ‘place of quiet and safety’. And the initiative of ‘Middlesex OD Network is playing its part in bringing in ‘partners’ like Philip Squire of Consalia who below gives his account of his experience of WBL and how it has led him to argue for even closer links between business and academia. 5 Academic roles our partners could play I recently completed a work based learning Doctorate. (Squire 2009) At the outset I determined that whilst my final dissertation would have to meet the requirements of the academic framework set by Middlesex the people that I most wanted to judge my output were the community of fellow practitioners; in my case these were sales executives, senior management and fellow sales training professionals. The critical feedback provided at my viva was mainly centred around how my findings could be better ‘represented’ but I missed the critique about the ‘content’ of my dissertation and would have valued having my research findings challenged in an equally rigorous way by stakeholders from my industry. Being advocates of work based reflective practice we have introduced our commercial clients to work based learning. For example, with one major bank we developed and ran a series of training modules for branch managers. We have an intimate knowledge of the learning outcomes and a keen sense of how learning should/could be applied. We are therefore in an excellent position to judge a learning portfolio produced by participants taking part in the work based learning programme. Currently we do not assess participant’s work even though we are often well placed to evaluate work placed learning projects. Within a work based learning environment it must be difficult for those in the academic world to judge the extent which a piece of work demonstrates thought leadership as understanding the intricacies of an industry can take a long time. It may make more sense therefore for industry to be trained to certify that work based learning projects meet the academic standards than for academics to be trained to learn about an industry. At a more macro level the notion of capturing learning within organizations is one everyone believes is a great idea but few have the time to actually do it. Businesses have very little time to think about how to reflect, let alone reflect, as they chase the quarter’s performance goals - the value of reflective practice is less tangible than hitting the latest sales figures or meeting the current cost reduction exercises. Academia has much to offer on reflective practice, though perhaps it does not always give the best image to the outside world. ‘Academic’ is often in the business world an acronym for too complicated or not relevant. Business needs a robust thought leadership process, but they also need relevancy. Academia can provide more robust processes to thought leadership. My suggestion is that Businesses should lead the thought leadership agenda as this ensures relevancy but that academia underpin the thought leadership process with sound research methods often lacking in business. I hosted a recent event at the London Stock Exchange where business leaders, senior sales practitioners came to debate how professional standards of sales practice could be improved
through a values driven process. The quality of the debate that took place during panel discussions has led to a new initiative. A selected number of non competing Strategic Account Leaders will come together to share in an uninhibited way best practices as it relates to intelligence gathering (aided by MI5) , strategy planning (aided by the Military), negotiation strategy (aided by Trade Unions). Drawing upon non competing and related disciplines will aid the ‘out of the box thinking’ required for thought leadership and help move their practice on. Academia will play a critical role in helping to shape thinking and providing a process for capturing best practice and enable business leaders to become more reflective. 6 Conclusion This paper has sought to show how the recognition of high level learning and knowledge is not and should not be confined within academia. Well-tested WBL processes can operate in any organization and community and Web2.0 technology can link up learners and academics wherever they choose to practise. Drawing on work of Barnett and Downes we are arguing for a ‘University’ in the future that is located within the workplace where stakeholders within the organisations and communities where learning originated can also have a greater stake in its recognition and assessment. We conclude with another extract from Ronald Barnett Academics have to become public persons, even politicians...but of a particular kind. Yes, they have to engage in the art of the possible; but they have to push back the horizon of the possible so that more things come into view...Their task is not just to give us new frames of comprehension but to do so that are comprehensible to the widest range of publics’ 151 References Barnett R (2000) Realizing the University in an Age of Supercomplexity Open University Press Bryant, P., Akinleye, A. & Durrant, A. (2009) 'Educating the early career arts professional using a hybrid model of work based learning', 5th cltad international conference: Challenging the curriculum: exploring discipline boundaries in art, design and media, Berlin, Germany, 12th-13th April 2010. Critten P & Moteleb A (2007) ‘Towards a Second Generation of Work-Based Learning – Supporting Social Knowledge ; in Work Based Learning Futures Editors: David Young and Jonathan Garnett. University Vocational Awards Council Critten P (2007) ‘New Knowledge from Old- How researching Practice Could Add Another Dimension to the Academic Curriculum’ Work Based Learning: A Multi-Dimensional approach to knowledge. Universities Association for Life-Long Learning Conference Middlesex University 5-6 July 2007 Critten P (2008) ‘From Individual “Living Theory” to improved organisational practice: how work based learning makes the difference’ In Work Based Learning Futures II Editors: Jonathan Garnett. And David Young . University Vocational Awards Council
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