Monthly Archives: November 2014

Analyzing systems using the Motion Picture lens

The motion picture lens is a great way to analyze a system over time, as it goes through the processes of change. Unlike the Function/Structure model that Banathy (1973a) describes in Chapter 3, the Motion Picture lens provides a great view of the system over time.

Banathy (1973b) states in Chapter 4 that this model is very effective for analyzing open systems which are responding to their environments. This type of system would be constantly making small adjustments and changes based on input received from the environment and might even be making major transformations through co-evolution if the need called for it.

Banathy proposes that the model works well with educational systems. A healthy educational system would be open to its environment. It would respond to changes in the environment and make adjustments to itself to stay current and ensure its services remain in demand.

He also referred frequently back to the community-based wellness system as a good application of the lens. I think in a way that a wellness system would be similar to an educational system, because the goal of a wellness system is, to a certain extent, the education of its members in the way in which to get and stay healthy. This may be why the lens is so effective.

Banathy also states that the transformative process is most effective when all members of the system have a clear image of the system. In many systems, the image of the system may not be shared among its members. There may be some disagreement as to the system’s purpose as well. In these cases, the Motion Picture lens may be less effective at defining these systems and providing an adequate analysis of the system’s state and changes through time.

I found that the model made a lot of sense to me. I liked the recursive nature of the model. I liked the way that information flowed within the model, always being analyzed, the most important elements selected, items acted upon or transformed, and then the output used by the next process. It also made sense that some unhealthy organizations might screen out information of vital importance to the system but which indicated the need for change. I’ve seen members of my own system act in that manner and try to hide important indicators which would require a drastic change to our system. Even though the change would be in the best interest of the system, the evidence so indicating was hidden or suppressed. The result endangers our programs and even our very existence as a school, but these people do not want change at any price. It also helps to be able to look back and see how changes were made gradually, over time, rather than quickly. Analyzing a system in this way and seeing this makes it easier to have patience and to understand that the process of change is a lengthy one, and that it will happen eventually.

References

Banathy, B. H. (1973a). The functions/structure model. In Developing a systems view of education: The systems-model approach (pp. 59–97). Salinas, CA: Intersystems Publications.

Banathy, B. H. (1973b). The process lens: The motion-picture model. In Developing a systems view of education: The systems-model approach (pp. 99–172). Intersystems Publications.

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The film Mindwalk and the interconnectedness of the universe

I found the film Mindwalk to be a fascinating look at life. I do not agree with everything that Sonia said about science because Sonia, as many scientists do, wanted to keep science separated from God. To me, the understanding that matter is mostly made up of nothingness is just one more proof that only an infinite God could have even conceived of such a concept much less used space and nothingness as a building block for the universe. The fact that science cannot explain it or even come up with a metaphor for it just shows me the greatness of my creator.

But that said, System’s Theory is still an excellent way to organize the way we think about life and science and matter and even the complexity of the world’s problems. Even though I am probably more of a liberal republican than a conservative democrat like Jack, I related to the way that Jack felt about the world’s problems. We do have many complex problems, and I felt that Sonia’s answers were too simplistic. Sure, we can blame the food industry and say that if they fed us better rather than investing money into raising cows for red meat, we might not need to spend money developing artificial hearts, but who is going to tell the average American that they can’t eat hamburgers anymore? Americans read. We know red meat and foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol and sugary sodas are bad for us. We know this and yet McDonald’s is still a guilty pleasure for most Americans. You are not going to change the eating habits of a nation that supports a billion dollar fast food industry unless you find a way to shut down the industry, and I think that even if you could do that without committing political suicide, you’d raise riots in the street. They took pop machines out of public schools but it did not control or stop teenage obesity. Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol; it drove it underground and created organized crime. I think we’d have the same result by attempting to legislate the American diet.

We can’t solve all the world’s problems at once. We can’t even identify one or two underlying causes and attack the causes rather than going after the symptoms. While I agree that holistic medicine is better than treating symptoms, holistic medicine is difficult and expensive, and generally not covered by your insurance. If I’m sick, I’m going to look for the fastest, cheapest path to feeling better. If that is treatment of my symptoms rather than the cause, then yes, I’m going to be happy with the results. I agree that Jack can’t, as a representative of the American people, go after all the problems at once. And although his idea of having Sonia come and speak to oversight committees is a nice thought, I doubt it will do much good even over the long haul. She is too idealistic and I doubt she can learn to compromise to get a few problems solved.

I was like Sonia once when I first started working in education. I saw all the problems and wanted to fix them all at once. I realized the only thing I was doing was making people uncomfortable. I was making a lot of waves but not much progress. I slowed down and stopped splashing so much and started treading water, and now I realize that in order to make organizational changes, I have to be willing to go slowly and settle for small changes over time. I’ve seen a lot of change now as a result of small changes that I’ve influenced over several years. People respect me for who I am and what I believe. I am still passionate about things, but I’m willing to wait until time and the environment and the system catches up to the change I’d like to see happen.

I do think we need to look at the world as a living organism; as an holistic whole rather than a mechanistic sum of many parts. I think that while Descartes’ philosophy may have worked for a short while, this view better explains how the world works and how everything connects together. The movie also did a good job of showing how each of the three characters had internal struggles and were connected and strengthened by their discussion. I don’t know how it worked out for each of them, but I think the conversation may have had a positive impact on all three lives.

Analyzing a Meso-System using Banathy’s Function/Structure lens

After completing the Task 2 paper, I feel pretty good about the way the paper looks and reads. It follows the form of Banathy’s (1973) Function/Structure model pretty well. I would have liked to have time to take advantage of peer feedback, but delays in completing the paper due to surgery and computer problems made the paper so late that became impossible.

I do feel like I learned a lot from dissecting Banathy’s model, and also from the other readings we were assigned in class and those I located in my area of interest. The act of analyzing my selected system and comparing it to the model was actually very insightful. It helped me better understand the school where I am employed and to appreciate it more, because I was able to stand back and examine it from an outsider’s perspective. I used school resources such as our academic vision and master plan and our website to help determine what our image, purposes, and functions were, and the bit of detective work helped me form a greater appreciation for the work that went into determining the current goals and future direction of our school.

Working with my peers in the group during the Detropia analysis also helped me make better sense of the model and helped me to do a better analysis of my own system. I was reminded to retain my analysis to a snapshot in time. I’ve been at the school for several years, and the temptation is to base my conclusion on the way I think things are based on how things have been in the past. I know that our school has changed since I’ve been there and it is in the process of changing further. What we are right now is not how we were nor does it reflect how we will stay. My paper needed to analyze where we currently are, and working with my peers helped me remember that although our past shapes our present, it is not who we are now.

I am interested in this particular system for several reasons. Firstly and perhaps most importantly, A&M Texarkana is my current employer. I work in this system and it health as a system affects my personal well-being and my ability to remain employed. Secondly, it is my alma-mater. I received my MS degree from this institution. Third, it is a strong component of our community. Its health affects the community where I live and my overall system. Finally, I have four young people with potential interest in attending this university to obtain their undergraduate or graduate degrees. Their interest will depend on the health of the university as a system as well as on which programs are offered and what the reputation of the school is.

My final paper was more than 15 pages not counting the references and title page. Even with this long of a paper, I’m positive I did not spend time analyzing every element. Relationships between departments were not thoroughly analyzed. I did not spend a great deal of time describing the process of SACSOC accreditation or the relationship of our school to the A&M System. I did not go into great lengths to discuss the partnership between Texarkana College and A&M-Texarkana to ensure that students completing their core subjects at the first could transfer to the latter without additional expense or loss of credit. But overall, I think I focused on the key topics, and the result was a good paper.

References

Banathy, B. H. (1973). The functions/structure model. In Developing a systems view of education: The systems-model approach (pp. 59–97). Salinas, CA: Intersystems Publications.

Difficulties estabilishing systemic change at work

I am currently serving on a task force at my university which was formed by the provost. The charge of this task force includes, among other things, establishing, communicating, and supporting the implementation of quality standards for web and web-enhanced course design and mandatory training or demonstration of proficiency for all faculty teaching web or web-enhanced courses. The first of these two proposed systemic changes has been on the table for several years in the past and has been shot down in the name of academic freedom each time it has surfaced.

Both these proposed changes are met with mixed emotion from the faculty. Some members of the faculty are strong supporters of the measures, recognizing that although such changes are uncomfortable, they are necessary to ensure consistent quality across the board for our online programs and to protect our brand. Others meet the measures with apathy. They may not see the immediate need for these measures, but are willing to go along with them if required to by their superiors (albeit not without a bit of grumbling along the way). The third, most vocal, group is adamantly against anything that resembles any form of control by the administration or the staff. They do not see the need and believe such measures to be not only unnecessary, but attempts to stifle faculty creativity and place undo demands on faculty performance. They are not even willing to learn more about the proposed changes and of what the standards or the training would consist.

I’ve served on the committee for several years now. The first year I served, the committee refused to offer any other standards than the ones that had been approved by faculty the prior year. These standards included such simple steps as posting a welcome message to students within the first 24 hours of the start date for the course and providing students with contact information and expectations for when to expect feedback from the instructor. Unfortunately, in our quick analysis of existing courses, many of the courses did not even meet these menial standards. We set about creating a self-assessment for faculty to check their own course to see if it was up to standards, and provided a checklist faculty could use to report their compliance with standards to their dean as a means of holding them accountable to the standards. These items were made available to the faculty but even that much was never required or even really communicated to faculty because there was really no way to enforce it.

What we’ve learned in the process is that any effort we hope to have success with needs to be a faculty-driven initiative, and we need to start and move slowly and win faculty over from the bottom up. The hope is that the more faculty we win over to the quality-standards effort, the harder it will be for those who are opposed to make themselves heard and the more unpopular their dissention will become. Eventually they will either go along with the crowd or leave and find a less uncomfortable environment.

Armed with this knowledge one of the faculty members on the committee drafted the latest proposal, a several year effort which begins with incentives for faculty to go through the Applying the Quality Matters(QM) Rubric training course as an introduction to the quality standards we hope to implement university-wide for online courses. We hope that once faculty have a better understanding of the QM program and rubric, they will lose many of the misconceptions about the standards and what we are attempting to do. For example, one common misconception is that if we do a QM course review, faculty members who do not like the course designer will fail the course just to be spiteful, and it will be political war or ego showdown. In actuality they will discover that the QM program is set up to be a very collegial process in which all courses eventually pass QM review, and not passing a course is actually a lot more work for the reviewer as it requires the reviewer to write helpful recommendations for each standard the course does not meet describing how the course can be improved. Another common misconception is that the review will require every instructor to include discussion boards. In fact, the use of discussion boards is one of many methods used to encourage student interaction within a course, but certainly not the only method, and if the instructor feels that student-student interaction is not warranted in the course for some particular reason, there is a place for the instructor to state his or her reasons.

This plan has the best possibility of working of any we’ve had so far but we’ve got two things standing in our way. For some reason, our committee chair asked one of the loudest dissenters to quality standards to serve on the committee this year. Apparently the guy is a great actor, because the day we received our charge, with the provost in the room, he sat there quietly and agreed that he was up to the task of taking on this charge, but now he wants to shoot down the plan before it ever leaves the room. The second problem is that not all members of the committee are certain that QM is the standard we want to embrace as a university, even though we have a subscription to the program and have invested a year and a half and several thousand dollars toward training faculty in the program already.

I am going to keep at it for a while, but if the committee continues to go as it has, I am going to send the provost an email with my resignation from the committee and let her know my reasons for leaving. I do not feel it necessary to work at a task which is doomed to failure from the start, and if we can’t even get eight members of the task force to commit to and agree to a plan, there is no way we can start a grassroots initiative lasting several years which inspires faculty to come over to our side.

Systems Theory as a model for conceptualizing online programs

I read an article by Dechant and Dechant (2010) which describes the process the University of Connecticut used to conceptualize their online undergraduate program. The authors, as a part of a task force assigned by the Provost’s office, describe their use of system’s theory, and of Jay Galbraith’s et al star model (2002, as cited in Dechant & Dechant, 2010) in particular. They modified the star model slightly to add a sixth component, culture. This system was used to describe the issues the university would need to address when determining the direction of their online program in order to ensure its success.

The first thing that the article addressed was the environment, which makes sense as they were approaching the analysis from a systems theory perspective. They talked about the environmental conditions that are driving many universities into pursuing a program of online learning, and then offered questions a university could ask to determine the university’s own reasons for pursuing this path as well as the university’s opportunities, competition, and possible barriers that could stand in their way.

The paper then addresses in turn each of the six components they describe in the model. The first of these is strategy. The authors state that the strategy for online learning selected by the university must fit the environment. They recommend aligning the strategy with missions and strategic plans already in place. They note universities which initially failed in their endeavors because they merged with commercial organizations to bring in their online offerings, and the courses were expensive and viewed as threats by the existing faculty.

The next component analyzed was the structure of the university. Here the authors mainly focused on what parts of the online program where going to be designed by whom, and whether this effort would be centralized or decentralized. They gave several examples of each kind of structural organization and discussed the benefits and problems associated with each.

Next they described process. This was another area where this model strongly overlapped with Banathy’s (1973) model. This was perhaps my favorite section, as it focused on the need for online quality and uniform processes in online course design.

The next part of the model addressed was the people. The authors first spoke about the misconception held by many faculty new to online teaching that the only skill needed to transfer between traditional and online instruction was familiarity with the technology to deliver the instruction. The authors describe the need for faculty to receive not only technology training but pedagogical training. They spoke of the disconnect between student expectations and what was actually being delivered in many online courses. In interviews with faculty, they found that many faculty members believe it is impossible to create the same levels of interaction in an online environment as they achieve in their face-to-face courses, because they have not been trained on pedagogical techniques that are effective for online instruction and are using traditional classroom methods in an online environment. In this section, they also covered the problem of student readiness for online instruction.

The next section of the paper addressed rewards. The authors spoke of the importance of including both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards to motivate faculty for participation in an online initiative or it was likely to fail. The reasons for this include the extra time involved in creating and teaching an online course and the current lack of incentive for faculty to teach online as these courses are often not included or given any special consideration in their evaluations and tenure considerations.

The final section discussed the university’s culture and the importance of making the online program a part of that culture. Adding an online program means change, which the authors recognize as a change to the university’s culture. The authors describe ways to approach this change at a grassroots faculty level which will help it to have its best chance for success.

I found the article particularly useful. I am serving on a task force appointed by our provost not to establish our online program, but to regulate its quality. This same challenge has been shot down in the name of academic freedom several times in past years. This systems approach is such a great way to look at this that I think I am going to share this article with the other members of our task force. The language is academic, but not jargon. It is written in a language familiar to faculty and from a perspective I think faculty at my school will appreciate. The focus in on building the school’s reputation and preserving its brand; both ideas I think members of my university will find important. The article says all the things I’ve been trying to say to the members of this committee but much more eloquently and in an academic and scholarly way. I only had one criticism of the article as I read it; the following sentence: “Traditional testing can be tricky to implement online – the inability to visually observe students and deter cheating as one would in the classroom is not possible.” As I read it I realized that the authors must have changed thoughts midway through the sentence, because what they should have said is that the “ability to visually observe…is not possible.”

References

Banathy, B. H. (1973). The functions/structure model. In Developing a systems view of education: The systems-model approach (pp. 59–97). Salinas, CA: Intersystems Publications.

Dechant, K., & Dechant, L. (2010). Using systems theory to conceptualize the implementation of undergraduate online education in a university setting. Organization Management Journal, 7(4), 291–300. doi:10.1057/omj.2010.38