in which one finds that no amount of lego will prevent culture eating your strategy for breakfast. A transformative first episode in large-scale strategic change.
After taking up a more senior role back in the central directorate, this project was the first in this role and the first large-scale strategic initiative project under a new leadership model. Rather than rogue pocket innovation, our focus was now oriented outwards, driving strategic change. I took a curriculum design leadership role, and was placed on a team with a faculty-based discipline lead, and for the first time, dedicated project management. This was a new way of working for the directorate, for the university and for myself, and we faced a fairly steep learning curve.
The project’s goal was, broadly, to renew the curriculum in the business school. This had quantifiable EFTSL goals, but the definition of what ‘curriculum renewal’ actually meant and what experiences would be designed and delivered was left largely to the discretion of the project team.
One key outcome decided early in the project was the articulation of a ‘signature pedagogy’ (Shulman, 2005) for the school. For this we were strongly influenced by the work of Dilly Fung (2017) on her Connected Curriculum - recognising the siloed nature of higher education generally but also the unit-focused nature of much of the business school curriculum, a connected curriculum approach would help drive our thinking at an overarching student experience level and translate learning and research into real-world impact.
After this we turned our attention to the renewal of the curriculum and how this might manifest in new courses, units or approaches. Needing to shift away from previous models of curriculum design where either central initiatives were visited upon faculties with little input, or faculty initiatives solicited service provision from central directorates, we looked to models of co-design and co-creation to design in partnership. We particularly sought models used to drive creativity and innovation in industries outside of higher education - primarily Lego Serious Play (James, 2013) and human centred design thinking (Tschimmel, 2012; Sanders & Stappers, 2008).
Our first foray into this process was a large-scale workshop using the Lego Serious Play methodology. An external facilitator led a diverse group of business school staff, learning designers, students, student support staff, marketing staff and other stakeholders through a co-design process to arrive at some key design principles for a potential new MBA course that diverged significantly from other MBA offerings on the market. This was positively received as both a standalone event and a strategic precedent for curriculum change in the university.
Following this, the results of the workshop were ideated into a potential MBA course design. Loosely following a design thinking process, the focus was on designing course experiences that met student needs rather than being driven by academic expertise or tradition. I proposed some fairly radical structural modifications that spoke to student need for autonomy, choice and flexibility, that would wrap around new content experiences, but also around existing units to manage the transition process.
When it came time to begin to implement, though, culture once again reared its head and proverbially ate our strategy for breakfast. There were too many systemic barriers blocking significant change, and not enough agency to be able to overcome them within the project timeframes. Timelines stalled, documents rewritten, tensions flared and ultimately the overarching curriculum renewal project was abandoned.
This became somewhat of a turning point for me - despite central strategy and learning design practice shifting away from niche siloed work to more aligned, systematic strategic projects with active leadership, it became obvious that this wasn’t enough to produce true impact and change. All the good design practice in the world was not going to overcome the systemic, structural and cultural issues that impede change in higher education. It was at this point that I turned my focus inwards - inwards to my own practices and skill sets, and internally to the institution to begin to find ways to map and potentially address these issues. I scoped new projects outside of the bounds of pedagogical design work, and began writing this portfolio to reflect on my past career trajectory and the shift that would be required to move into new spaces.
Fung, D. (2017). A Connected Curriculum for Higher Education. London: UCL Press. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1558776/1/A-Connected-Curriculum-for-Higher-Education.pdf
James, A. (2013). Lego Serious Play: a three-dimensional approach to learning development. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. 6: 2013 http://journal.aldinhe.ac.uk/index.php/jldhe/article/view/208
Sanders, E & Stappers, P. (2008) Co-creation and the new landscapes of design, CoDesign, 4:1, 5-18, DOI: 10.1080/15710880701875068
Shulman, L. (2005). Signature pedagogues in the professions. Daedalus; Summer 2005; 134, 3. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.cpedinitiative.org/resource/resmgr/Signature_Pedagogies_of_the_.pdf
Tschimmel, K. (2012). Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In: Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona. http://www.idmais.org/pubs/KatjaTschimmel/2012/actas_internacionais%20c%F3pia/2012.4.ISPIM.KatjaTschimmel1.pdf