What I’ve learnt in 2018

I’ve had a stressful year, and working two jobs for my employer and fighting Brexit at the same time has taken away a lot of me-time I would have otherwise spent undoubtedly productively. So, during this year-end break, I took the time to reflect on some of the main lessons I’ve learnt in the last year or so. It’s not a complete list, and I’d really like to read what others have learnt.

Power distance is so last century

I grew up in an academic tradition that put the teacher on a pedestal and the learner as a recipient of their knowledge (though not necessarily wisdom). I had to learn what a ‘student experience’ is when I joined my first UK university, as we didn’t have a word for it back in Germany. But I don’t think this is a learner/teacher relationship issue – it’s one of power distance: universities are deeply hierarchical and siloed organisations, often led by a very old school ‘strong man’ (unbelievably, I heard that term used in a positive context just last week) who focuses on ‘being decisive’ rather than collaborative. How could we expect the way we educate not to be influenced by the way we are led?

This year I have seen so many examples of what happens when people (students, staff, alumni) are truly included in designing their work environment, services, and curriculum.

I have learnt that to keep universities relevant, we have to be all about collaboration and co-creation, democratising the creative process along the way.

The kids are alright

This is not a new lesson – I’ve learnt it over and over in the last few years. Counter to the media hysteria over allegedly self-absorbed snowflakes, I have been continuously impressed by what young people are capable of. Amid the onslaught of information overload, rampant consumerism, political self-immolation, and the commodification of social relationships,

I have seen so many examples of young people (students and non-students) observe the circus we in charge have created and making reasonable judgements in how to manoeuvre in this world we’re handing over to them.

I have learnt that young people make judgements not on only the basis of economics and status, but increasingly on social values – something my generation seems to have missed out on. I can’t wait for them to take over.

If it’s not online, it doesn’t exist

There is no such a thing as a digital native – the online world is often a hostile and undiscovered country which needs to be explored individually with guidance and caution. From virtual learning environments to handling relationships via social media, political positioning in an era of disinformation, to becoming a savvy and ethical consumer – no one innately has digital literacy. It needs to be acquired – and it is vital that schools and universities help learners with this important part of socialisation. The world they will inherit will be even more mind-bogglingly complex and technical, and it’s our job to help them prepare themselves.

This year I have learnt that you can’t teach digital literacy if you don’t develop it yourself.

We are all content creators now

About two years ago, a careers advisor colleague said the great line ‘we all have to be content creators now’. We were discussing how we had to change to stay relevant and interesting to our clients, and the topic of online engagement came up. And he was right – let’s face it, a location-based service with times and services set by staff rather than client need is as 20th century as power distance led leadership. If numbers at your events dwindle it is possibly because what you’re offering is not relevant or accessible enough for your audience to schlepp themselves to. One way to address this is by making sure we offer multiple modes of delivery. At my work, we’re playing with revamping workshops as social media content recording sessions with an optional audience, rather than tearing our hair out over the perceived lack of interest. Status or assumed value of speaker (especially when faced with a manel that doesn’t reflect the audience of often hyper-diverse students) is not enough. Sure – get a star in and they will deliver, but what’s the sustainable value coming from them?

This year, I have learnt that content is the primary driver for engagement for a client focused service.

Losing #FreedomOfMovement will cost us

Freedom of movement is a basic right and an unalloyed public good under threat from Brexit. Academia thrives in open environments that encourage exchanges of thought, ideas, and values. I have watched the tightening of student visa rules and its negative effect on the sector, by making it harder for non-EU international students – and I have seen the allegedly so desired ‘best and the brightest’ having to pack their bags and not contribute to the global Britain that is supposed to emerge. Brexit widens this way of thinking to EU students and academic cooperation. Nothing ever widens by constricting its source – and society does not grow by sending those who seek to engage with and learn from it.

This year I have learnt that Brexit and anti-intellectualism are a toxic combination which will cost us all in the long-term. Forget free trade of goods and services, as in the long-term, they are dwarfed by the exchange of ideas and values.

These are some of the key lessons I’ve learnt this year. What are yours?

December 29th, 2018 by