£7bn 363 colleges 4.2m learners 263,257 staff

Let’s keep it simple please

We do need to get smarter at running further education colleges, but lets keep it simple please.

I have been looking at the “Expert Advice” from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills [UKCES is the outcome from the Leitch report] on how to “build a more strategic, agile and labour-market led employment and skills system” from Autumn 2009

Much of it is about how UKCES sees that we should “simplify”  funding, qualifications etc , but some of their proposals desperately need to go through the reality wringer.
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January 18, 2010 Posted by | austerity funding, SMART goals | , , , , | Leave a comment

Seeing what data means for course teams

Many people in course teams find it difficult to work up any enthusiasm for analysing their students’ success data, and just cannot see anything in it – for many of them, data is just numbers.

They would get a lot more out of a more visual presentation, stimulating them to see the story of their teaching in the numbers, and encouraging them to find ways to make things better for their students through ORID reviews [see my 4 January post]

The most vivid and meaningful example of visualisation that I can find is in the magnificent presentations on www.gapminder.org

Although the method seems incredibly hi-tech,  Google bought  the gapminder software in 2007  and it is available free! within Google Docs http://docs.google.com/

So I have started to produce demonstrations this week.
By feeding enrolment, achievement, retention and success data into a Google Docs spreadsheet and then inserting the Motion Chart Gadget, I can now run time series for the data in ways that urge the viewer to look for the story which plays out before their eyes.

Realistically, I have until May/June before I introduce it to course teams as they begin their Course Reviews, and there is some way to go before my demos are robust enough to use with real people. I still have to suss out how well the graphs perform on a live college network with a projector; and whether I can download them to use offline so that they run faster and more robustly.

I also need to sort how to insert into web pages so I can access them from an intranet – or from a blog! – so I may have to break the habit of a lifetime, and read the instructions fully and carefully.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | course team | , , , , , | Leave a comment

SMART goals for smart course teams

Of course goals should be SMART, but they should work because they mean something to people in course teams, not because they fit together logically in a grid, like a Sudoku puzzle.

The problem is that SMART is always in the future – and goals should live in the present, alongside the people who are working them.

We are now in 2010, with an age of austerity almost upon us. With efficiency savings and funding reductions of 15% or so coming, we need to free up the creativity of course teams to tackle their issues. We shouldn’t be shoehorning them into long term logical planning – they need to keep going with what they are do well.  And that isn’t a licence for doing nothing – if they haven’t done anything much in reality about student retention, or achievement, or improving their own teaching or whatever, then somebody else’s SMART goal – inside or outside the college – will be to say “Sorry it’s too late to do anything about it now”. They would be a burden on their colleagues that can no longer be afforded.

We need teams to live in the present tense with SMART goals.
Not what they will do by July 2010, but what they are doing now. No procrastination , no starting after half term, but goals which are about now – today, this week, by Friday.
The present tense comes up with solutions – we will do this, and that, and change this – and keeps on coming up with solutions.

But a SMART future is somewhere far away , and comes up with a never ending cycle of imagined problems and imagined solutions. Fine for filling grids with things that might happen, but little else. Future SMART goals = Frustration because the goals vanish like clouds the nearer we get to them. They are the middle class ideal of deferred happiness, we are not worthy until we get to our respectable and approved destination.

In the present, real SMART goals give attainable achievement and constant feedback, and stimulate creativity and innovation. This a working class approach – feeling what is going to be good now, and going for it. Getting more of what you want now – one student putting in assignments on time, another not kicking off for a week, using one of Geoff Petty’s teaching ideas or YouTube in the lab – all build a SMART goal. Smart should be Sudden flashes of inspiration; Motivation, Any innovation; Risk; Trying things that work elsewhere.

So no great 12 month SMART Grand Plan for course teams – but being clear on the feedback on what we are doing now, and for the next month; and when we decide what the next steps are.

And if you want to keep the paperwork going – make the SMART goals a retrospective summary. That’s normally what happens anyway.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Data Reviews need to be ORID

I’m disappointed that I missed out on Course Team Reviews this year because I am keen to see them done better.
More efficiently= squandering less precious time and motivation
More effectively = fewer formulaic, trite reviews or fire and forget action plans

I’ll do it better by using the “focussed conversation” strategy.
It is nothing new, dating from 2000 [Brian Stanfield, The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace] but it excites me as a way of getting teams involved.

Once people are involved things start to happen, but the problem is always The Forms.
I want to cut The Forms to four questions which guide the team through four stages of thinking

O Objective statements from the data – with no interpretation – just factual statements.
What factual statements can we make about the course based on the data?

R Reflections on those facts, and how they make them feel, as individuals or a group.
What encouraged and discouraged us, and how do we feel about this?

I Interpretation what does the data, and their response to it, tell them?
What does the data tell us, what is there to celebrate, what doesn’t it tell us and what else might we want to know?

D Decisions on what they should do next.
What should and can we do having considered the data? What are the next steps?

The team have a conversation – facilitated at first – and record what the data means to them.

Pushing it a bit, I’ll encourage filling in the ORID form on-line [ a Google Docs template and database is already set up, albeit with one typo] but however the team provide their response, that is secondary to the very direct way in which they are asked to respond to the data.

The framework is all about them and their student data, not that of the quality manager, or their management team, or Ofsted, but is grounded in their own experience and circumstances.
The approach reinforces that they are valued and trusted to take stock of their position and move forward in ways which make sense to them and to their teaching environment.

And next, I want to revamp those grids of SMART action plans

January 4, 2010 Posted by | course team | , , , , | Leave a comment