You only have to take a two trips into London to observe change; it’s happening all the time. New buildings go up, like The Shard, and once familiar areas of the city are redeveloped, like the Olympic site. Populations shift and cultural habits evolve. Not everyone likes it, but there is often little you can do as an individual, or even as a group, to influence change. Scale this down into the public services sector, and change resulting from recession and subsequent funding changes are having a huge impact. Change is staring us in the face – we must now face and come to terms with change.
Reading a digest of an interview last year with Eric Schmidt was the moment I realised that the changes facing the education sector and the rapidly evolving consumer and enterprise technology were on course to converge. Schmidt (wisely, I think) predicts that the previous position of Microsoft as king of the enterprise space was up for grabs. I now believe the same is the case in education.
For the average support service provision in education, change can be a difficult subject, often bringing with it the emotions we are familiar with from the change cycle – shock, anger, denial, resistance. Arguably each phase of the change cycle persists for longer in education than other sectors – at least, that’s my experience. Here we have a problem; education must evolve and do so rapidly in all aspects of our operation. It’s not just our support activities though. Just look at how many online open learning resources are now available from which anyone can learn, either independently, or in support of other studies. External factors must be acknowledged if education organisations are to remain competitive.
New models for collaborative working are beginning to emerge. Organisations are already pursuing new means of delivery with highly adaptive support teams and increasingly flexible processes. Experimenting with – or at least discussing the possibilities of – shared services is becoming common as realisation of the need to find further efficiencies becomes apparent. New modes of working and radical business ideas are finally penetrating the orthodox and time-honoured education sector. Our user populations are shifting and evolving in their expectations and abilities. Of course, we must acknowledge the difference in abilities among across generations, and within a cohort of learners. We must equally continue to challenge those who are arriving in our learning environments with higher expectations driven by their experience in other organisations; learners who are already familiar with mobile devices, digital content and flexible applications. These learners do not expect the same technological welcome we offered ten, five or even two years ago.
So here is an opportunity. It has come about thanks to the changing expectation of users from technology and from the service level. Combine this with far greater level of skill among our learners and also our staff than ever before, we have the opportunity to begin an evolution in our support provision, and also what is being expected of us. The normalisation of what was previously a specialised skill set now offers more potential contributors to the activities of an information technology support team.