Participation: The Price of Success

In my various roles I have to look at interesting areas like on-line learning and teaching delivery. One of the classic problems in this area is the success of the initiative to get educators and students alike to use the technology – at which point it melts because the level of participation rises so high that the finite underlying resources are exhausted. The resource was never designed as if everyone would want to, and then actually go on to, use it.

I have had someone, seriously, say to me that an on-line learning system would work much better if the students didn’t all try to use it at once.

The same problem, of course, occurs with educators. If no-one is participating in class then you’re pushing a giant rock up hill to make things happen and it’s more likely than not that a lot of what you’re saying and doing isn’t being taken in. If everyone is participating in class, you’ve jumped into the Ringmaster’s hat, you’re constantly fielding e-mails, forum messages and appointment requests. And, of course, at the end of the long day it’s easy to fall into that highly questionable, but periodically expressed, mode of thinking “universities would be great if there were fewer students around“.

A picture of bread and butter.

Students are our bread and butter. (Not literally!)

I’ve attached a picture of bread and butter to drive this point home. Students are what makes the University. Their participation, their enthusiasm, their attendance, their passion, their ennui, the good and the bad things they do. If the systems we build don’t work with our students, or the volume of students, or automatically excludes a group of students because we can any provide resources for 70% of them, then I think that we’ve got something wrong.

Having said that, I get ‘tight budgets’, I understand ‘district funding shortfall’ and I certainly sympathise with ‘very high workloads’. I’m not saying that people are giving up or doing the wrong thing in the face of all these factors, I’m talking about the understanding I’ve come to that the measure of my success as an educator is almost always linked to how much students want to talk to me about constructing knowledge, rather than than just doing assignment work.

It’s one of those things that, if I prepare for, makes my life easier and I can then view that work blip as a positive indicator, rather than go down the curmudgeonly professorial path of resenting the intrusion on my time. Let’s face it, attitude management is as (if not more) important for the lecturers in the class as it is for the students. You want to feel like you’re doing something useful, you’d like some positive feedback and you want to think that you’re making a difference. Framing increased participation as desirable and something that you plan for has certainly helped me manage the increased workload associated with it – because I take is a sign that my effort is paying off.

2 Comments on “Participation: The Price of Success”

  1. This is great! Wonderfully positive thinking.


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