The importance of Leadership vs Management in FE when implementing #FELTAG

FELTAG (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) has been around now for about three years, and in some areas there has been significant progress, in other areas the progress has been slower. One thing that has become apparent to me in my travels around the country and numerous organisations, is the ‘elephant in the room’ that is recognising the difference between leadership and management.

Leadership is about have vision, ideas and long term objectives; then inspiring people to follow those visions and ideas. A good leader will (usually) be an inspirational speaker/presenter, will be someone that is prepared to challenge the norm, and will seek new ways to achieve the goals they have set.

Management is about making sure that steps required to realise the vision and objectives are followed correctly. A good manager is someone that is organised, can break big problems down into more manageable steps, follows and applies protocols, and makes sure that things get done.

Image of a duck leading other ducks.

A leader, and many managers

So the skills and personality requirements of the two are completely different to each other – and herein lies the problem. Further Education in the UK is not very good at separating the two out. Quite often the principal (or equivalent) in an organisation, will be a ‘leader’ – but they will be supported by a SLT (Senior Leader Team) made up of managers. We then get managers making leadership decisions or leaders trying to manage projects – neither of which working well, due to the wrong personality types doing the wrong things. In larger organisations such as universities, or in the private sector – it is much clearer that some people are employed as leaders and some are employed as managers – but that clarity is lacked in FE, where the terms leadership and management are often used interchangeably to describe the same people.

From my perspective, I am often brought into organisations to run staff development in the area of blended learning. I always try to identify the organisations position, and then deliver a bespoke session based on this. Quite often the SLT has identified some totally arbitrary objective for all teaching teams e.g. they have to make 20% of their provision online. There is often no consideration of what that actually means, or why they are doing it, or what is in it for the teachers (or students). Sometimes it is obvious, that there isn’t a clear understanding of what the SLT want, which is problematic. In other situations, the SLT are clear what they want (or they think they are clear), but they haven’t articulated this down to the team leaders and teaching staff who have to implement this.

One of the things that I try to ascertain when working with clients, is ‘which model(s) of blended learning are you working towards?’, the response often being ‘blah blah 20% online blah blah’. There are many different models in which blended learning can be applied, and to be successful, the starting point for any organisation has to be identifying which model(s) are to be used for which situations (and a one size fits all/none approach isn’t a good model) – each subject area, and different courses within that subject area will have different ‘best’ models that they could use, but sadly I am often running training sessions for teachers, where they don’t know what model they are working towards, which makes the chances of success very remote.

And so back to the title of this post. I cannot pretend that I have a magic answer to this situation, but if there is a recognition that there is a difference between leadership and management – and the leaders do the leading and managers do the managing, then this is certainly a step forwards. From a blended learning perspective – the key is that the leaders have a clear long term vision for the organisation that they articulate well, and the managers have the autonomy and confidence to identify and implement the different models of blended learning in the teams that they support.

On the 6th December 2016, I am running a session titled ‘Effective development and management of blended learning‘ at EMFEC in Nottingham. A large part of the session will be looking at some of the different models of blended learning, and how the development of these can be strategically managed by an organisation.

Changing behaviour with Office 365 and Tablet Devices

Over the last week I have produced 4 posts around ideas of using Office 365 in education:

  1. Using Office 365 to create collaborative learning activities.
  2. Using PowerPoint and Office 365 to create a collaborative learning activity.
  3. Using Excel and Office 365 to create learning activities.
  4. Using Word and Office 365 to streamline assessment feedback.

The idea that I am trying to get across, is that Office 365 isn’t just a slightly newer version of the Office Suite, instead it works in a fundamentally different way, but to get the benefit from these improvements, requires people to behave differently, and with the arrival and (I predict) rapidly increasing number of Microsoft tablets within the education system – and the mobility that these devices offer – getting Office 365 to work properly is going to be key.

The main behaviour change, is reducing the number of different versions of the same file that exist in different.

For example: If I create a Word Document, and save it to ‘My Documents’ on my computer. There is one version of the file. I then email this to a colleague. There is now the version in My Documents, a copy in my sent items, and one in my colleagues inbox – so thats 3 versions. My colleague downloads the file (4 versions) and then makes some edits, saving the file to their network drive (5 versions) they email this back to me (Their sent items and my inbox gives 7 in total) – I Download this (8 versions), and save a copy (with a new name) back to my Documents (9 versions).

So – the very simple example above with me asking 1 colleague to proof read and edit a document has created 9 files without me thinking about it. If I had collaborated with more people this number could quickly run into the hundreds – which makes no sense, there is a risk of ‘old’ versions re-appearing a later date, and the total memory used up on the system (especially if a large file) costs money and slows everything else down.

If I use Office 365 and OneDrive (the new name for SkyDrive) the behaviour would be as follows:

I create a file, and save it to my OneDrive. There is now a version on my computer and a synchronised version ‘in the cloud’, I email a link to this file to my colleague, they edit this via the web interface in the cloud, and let me know when complete. I can check their edits, and if unhappy with them I can use the history option to roll back to an earlier version or discard the changes. Ultimately though – we still have the same file on my Computer and a synchronised version ‘in the cloud’. There are no extra versions loitering in mail systems or download folders.

One of the reasons why this becomes so important with tablet devices, is they rely on files being transferred via wireless – so we need to make the whole process of file management more streamlined. If I am working with a class and I want them all to access an image rich  PowerPoint file for example – for me to ‘push’ that file over the slightly ropey wifi in that classroom to 30 different devices could take 10 minutes or more, which isn’t realistic. For me to use the file sharing mechanism within OneDrive and  the students to access this via the web interface will effectively stream the content, as the students view it, rather than pushing the whole file out up front.

In the previous posts I talked about the collaborative teaching and learning opportunities this brings, and with the extra mobility and battery potential of tablets over laptops or desktops, means we can use these devices in any environment including the sports hall, kitchen, on field trips etc.

As with many of my blog posts – the key to changing these behaviours is an investment in staff development. Because Office has been around for so long, Office training is far less common – there is an assumption (which is an incorrect one) that people don’t need to be taught basic office skills. With Office 365 – there is a huge need to reinvest in training in this area, otherwise its potential will not be unlocked.

At the moment I am working with a company called The Tablet Academy who provide training and consultancy around the use of tablet devices (Apple, Android and Microsoft) in education. If any Schools or Colleges in the UK (including Scotland) purchase 20 or more Microsoft tablets (including ones made by other companies) they are entitled to free training, provided by someone from the Tablet Academy (only downside is the current offer is only for training that is delivered before the 31st March 2014). If you work for a school or college in the UK and have purchased such device recently and your reseller hasn’t mentioned the free training offer then contact the Tablet Academy who will chase this up for you.