Last week I flirted with the idea of nominating for an OLT citation (ultimately, didn’t happen, didn’t get my institutional EOI in on time). What struck me, though, was the requirement that ‘your excellence be sustained over time’. Which means that any project you nominate has to have run for at least three years (two if you’re an ECR), and even that is reduced from last year’s four years.
Four years. Think about it.
Given where we are in terms of education and evolution I find this staggering. Four years ago we were talking about web 2.0 like it was hot stuff. Four years ago virtually nobody had a tablet device and smartphones were kind of optional. Four years ago there was no Minecraft or Instagram or Angry Birds or Kinect. Four years ago you were almost certainly using a different LMS, OERs were a bit meh, and almost nobody was MOOCing and if they were they probably weren’t calling it that. Given this rate of change, how can we justify keeping something exactly the same as it was four years ago?
In higher education we like to talk about sustainability. Generally this can be interpreted as ‘we’re going to throw a stupidly large amount of resources at a temporary project team to implement a flavour-of-the-month impressive-looking project and somehow we need this to exist after all our funding runs out’. Which, in theory, is good, if something is to exist long term it needs to be able to sustain itself sans enormous pots of money and time. But – at what point does longevity become detrimental? What if what we need isn’t sustainability at all, but adaptability?
When I think about my own work, I tend to classify anything that I was doing more than a year ago as old news, outdated or irrelevant and time to move on (which makes my career look a little like the Chinese calendar – the Year of The Moodle Dailies, the Year of Coffeecourses etc etc). The only project of mine that satisfied the criteria for the OLT citation was the Moodle Dailies (by the skin of its teeth, incidentally, and only because I’m classified as an ECR), and as I was writing the EOI it occurred to me how ‘old news’ it feels to me. A Twitter conversation with @catspyjamasnz on the Moodle Tool Guide showed I’m not the only one:
— Joyce Seitzinger (@catspyjamasnz) February 11, 2013
By getting caught up in the concept of sustainability and requiring ‘excellence to be sustained’ over multiple years, are we creating a bigger problem than we’re solving? I’m left wondering what will happen if we don’t acknowledge that adaptability and flexibility may trump longevity. Universities are already dangerously outdated in many ways – an obsession with sustainability may just tip us over into irrelevance.