Thursday, 23 October 2008

Werk, wook, week

It's been a stressful week, what with the Moodleites and all, but Friday is in sight. One thing is certain, projects like our LMS Review get to a decision by a series of assumptions, accidents and misunderstandings. My faith in human decision making, on a large scale at least, has been diminished. It seems that consultation breeds confusion, that apathy distorts the results of surveys then bites you in the arse, and wherever we go it will be a muddle. On the small scale, humans are fantastic decision makers (watch someone referee a netball game, or ski bumps, if you doubt me) but when the cerebral cortex gets involved in complex decisions, the possibilities multiply to make inactivity the only logical option.

Allow me to explain. We are evaluating two LMS's (Learning Management Systems) to select a winner. A team of 8-10 people has toiled away all year installing servers, creating courses, and running a trial. At the end of the trial, everybody loves the new system and dislikes the old one. Well, surprise!

Today the managing committee were presented with the facts to inform their decision, but it took a long determined battle to get those facts free from value judgments and naked enthusiasms, with all credit to my workmate who continued the fight when I'd given up. (Monomaniacs can be very persistent when corrected, and erratic at the same time, so I'm glad there were two of us to carry our side.) Now the committee is left with the facts, and growing rabbit-in-the-headlights expressions. They have so much information that they're stopped dead in their tracks, and I don't envy them.

Next is the "believe surveys and get bitten in the arse" part. We asked the trial participants what they thought of the new system. Being primates, with a love of innovation and a strong social group loyalty, they reported that the new bananas from their new friends tasted a lot better than the old ones. They were also keen volunteers, so they didn't need much support; we have now extrapolated the time we spent on them to give us a campus-wide estimate of support needs. I wonder how accurate that prediction will be.

Then comes the apathy. We have 500 or more teaching staff who, if they've thought about the LMS review at all, hope that it won't happen soon. Most will swear blind that they've never heard of it. They will be told inNovember that we're about to start a year long project to switch to a new system, and they'll all simultaneously push their heads further into the sand. (Metaphorically speaking, though the image is appealing.) Come the first day of the teaching semester, and they will arise, demanding instant courses with easy setup and no training required. And we will wonder who's bitten us in the bum. We will say things like "Where did they come from?"

There'll be tears before bedtime, as my grandmother used to say.

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