Although I’ve talked about the follies of demand-driven education before (here and here), I’ve yet to approach it from the point of view of professional learning or professional development. Which seems rather an oversight, really, given my current line of work.
We (meaning a central learning & teaching division) are currently undergoing a review process, and one of the things that arose out of the report was the need to realign ourselves as a ‘service’ division to service staff professional development needs more fully. Now, I have no problem with the idea that our job is to serve and assist teaching staff – where we run into problems is when we start considering which stakeholder (ie us or them) is going to be driving this process.
It’s not particularly often you find an apt metaphor in an irritating viral video, but today is one of those days and I’m only going to apologise a little bit for what I’m about to do*.
Let’s take ‘us’ (and while anyone in central learning & teaching centres will recognise this quite explicitly anyone in any line of edu will be able to extrapolate) as the lemonade vendor. We spend a lot of time designing and making lemonade. We think the lemonade is pretty awesome, and feel reasonably justified in this since we try and stay on top of bleeding-edge practice and know what current really innovative practice is starting to look like. We go out to sell the lemonade to people because we’re thinking it could do some cool things to reinvent student learning.
So we set up our stand, but the first customer comes along and asks if we’ve got any grapes. Grapes? Huh? Oh well. Even if they think they want some grapes we’re selling lemonade so we try and convince them that lemonade is a really good option and they should have that instead. No dice.
The next day the customer is back, still looking for grapes. It’s a bit annoying really, because we clearly sell lemonade. Lemonade that is awesome. We know this because we’ve even taken our lemonade to conferences and a bunch of people have gotten really excited about it and have been asking for our recipe. But this guy still wants grapes.
A few more repeats of this and we start to get really annoyed (I won’t lie, I have wanted to glue the odd person to a tree). Eventually we get so irritated we give in and go and buy some grapes especially for the customer since they want grapes so badly.
Which is fine – until the customer goes to, say, a keynote or reads something in Campus Review about how awesome lemonade is and how lemonade is the future of education. And we’re standing there with our box of grapes while the customer is asking us for lemonade.
Now that I’ve done the metaphor to death, it’s fairly clear that there are some significant issues with both models. From one end, if ‘we’ are designing professional development programs (based on things like research), we run the risk of selling something that nobody wants to buy (and thus the perception that we aren’t actually selling anything at all). But if we are designing PD based on market demand – on what ‘they’ want (based on things like practicality and perceived need) – we run the risk of never innovating or changing at all (until somebody catches a buzzword in the media).
How do we resolve it? Obviously some kind of synergy is desirable so we’re working together in an organic process. Yet this always sticks in the back of my mind:
If you’re not familiar with the episode, Homer’s long-lost half-brother runs a car company and enlists Homer to design a car that the people will want, based on features the ‘average American’ wishes they had in a car. Which of course is a giant flop and ruins the company because it does none of the things an effective car should do.
How do we embrace expertise and innovative practice while still balancing the ability to fill perceived need? As in all aspects of edu I don’t think there is value in resorting to a completely demand-driven model – and yet, we lose all our value if all we do is doggedly stand here and sell lemonade.
*If you really can’t cope with the duck video, this paper is essentially making the same argument.