Furthest Right

How management theory can save our colleges


I would like to elucidate the connection between society, systems and education. Not being an expert in any of these disciplines will probably render my contribution worthless, but it (just) might irritate someone with such expertise enough to warrant a meaningful response. The environment causing this slightly painful effort surrounds the question
“What are we really doing in tertiary education?”

A recent twitter discussion revolved around the lament that a professor was “being frustrated teaching students inhibited by (their) social media.” That is, the social media used by students in class made the lecture less effective. It is not just that the cellphones made noises, but that it distracted the students at moments when the lecturer were trying to make a specific point as regards the subject being taught.

In addition, access to internet allows interaction (between students) while the class is ongoing, as well as, access to other resources on the same subject interfering with the curriculum agreed to with the institution. There is a lot more to it though, including the entire subject of ergonomics for example, but my simplified direct response was that “the lecturer” (or his institution) should contact the designer of Apple (in this case the example of iPhone was referred to). This should be a standard systemic response to a problem experienced with a “system” (or product).

In fact there are generally 3 possible responses to “failures” which are:

  1. Perform prescribed maintenance (standard manual)
  2. Modify system in order to fix the problem (modification process/cycle)
  3. List problem for future upgrade (structured life changes to product)

The college using/allowing the product which “failed” should have condensed their negative experiences of/with this product as far as possible and contacted the supplier/designer to receive some form of prescribed response. In other words, they should have known what type of response they could expect (as referred to the 3 points above for example). Because they do not know about this, I deduced that they authorized a product to be used (on their premises) in their own lecture halls, without vetting it.

In fact not vetting for any technological impacts on their education plan/methods. I can also state with some confidence, that the designer never even assessed this particular risk during the development phase, hence no response to this question was forthcoming. (I contacted Apple afterwards with such a question and was ignored. I can’t remember the detail now – and have no axe to grind with Apple anyway – this is purely academic or for interest to make a point) That social media has a negative effect on society is common cause, however, the risks have simply not been assessed – and that is the designer’s job.

So people like Bill Gates would say — but why go to all that trouble as it’s not necessary — let’s test the product “in the field” and let real users simply give us feedback (at their own cost). Well, this is a very good example of how (SoCal) South California’s Silicon Valley trashed the System Engineering process, something (NoCa) North California’s Seattle successfully employs via responsible companies like Boeing. You must excuse me if I become a little critical of Silicon Valley engineers at this juncture, because while I have nothing against them of course, this issue is worth mentioning.

But it would be appropriate at this point to inform the general reader that standard engineering processes has been defined and used for 40 odd years by space, airlines, weapons and automotive industries (at least). It’s encapsulated by military standards, used in tender contracts, underscored by project and programme professionals and utilized by intelligent Governments in the world. Even Russia has its own “K” process as opposed to the US’s “Milestone” process. All institutions “should” know about these processes and standards – so it’s a surprise (for me) when they are not known in respectable education institutes.

This may warrant another (intuitive) look at the function of education. The purpose of tertiary education is to skill people that have passed their secondary education. After that humans have identified the need for honors, masters and doctorate degrees at which point it is deemed that more training is effectively impossible because more knowledge is not available (hence research). Each educational phase require its own curriculum developed in conjunction with educational experts – these people know more about “how” humans absorb information and therefore the processes required to learn. This generally result in an education plan based on which an education institute will recruit lecturers, also providing facilities and required resources, ending up at providing a quality service for which they can charge money. However, IMO the thing with education plans is that they will never give it you. Perhaps they view it as intellectual property based “on years of experience”, best “ratings” etc.

However, I think they might be afraid that you will hold it against them in some future event such as a crashed airplane or a legally educated President that made bad laws. What can I say? The point is it should be available simply because you pay hundreds of thousands (money) for it. In fact a public oversight committee should hold them to it (parent board). If they won’t provide the document itself, they should provide proof of the quality of the document.

How this society-system-education “system” was intended to work, was that research would lead to new technology, which will be evaluated for about 20 years, after which enough information will be available to implement it in education plans. To wit, patents last about 16 years after which it (the secret technology) becomes public knowledge. This applies to all types of education from bottom to top. In other words – society is expected to become smarter in an incremental (even generational) way. The reasonfor this cautionary approach was to reduce any risks for society in fact, the entire idea behind the concept of the “K” or “MP” processes, was to reduce risk. Clearly Southern California decided “Oh, what the hell” and now society with people like this twitter account is paying for it.

One interesting aspect people in general won’t know, is that spacecraft generally do not use the latest technology (because risk is still unknown), or the predictability of those risks are not reliable enough. Therefore, using proven systems, leads to proven education, leads to proper based research.

At this point one may ask the question again: “What are we really doing in tertiary education?”

Clearly the purpose is to improve society’s grasp on technology, that is, improve society, as a society (remember that societies can also go through three possible corrective controlled actions too). But instead of looking broadly across society and you were faced with one student enrolling and asking this innocent question (that nobody address BTW), what would one say?

Backtracking a little to groups of Universities (ignoring practical artisans and technicians just for the sake of argument) one would get Ivy league institutions followed by the rest (accuracy not particularly important here), then you get French and non-French European institutions, as well as the old East –bloc institutions. I also relied on feedback from other people such as my father whose job it was to make recommendations wrt which universities his company should support, as well as contact with foreigners relating experiences of their education. Lastly my wife studied an M.B.A. in England’s Henley College (at the University of Reading). I was involved with this search for a credible institution (worldwide) because her (French) employer paid the bill.

Using metrics available on universities in the Western sphere as well as webpages, we finally ended up with Henley College. It is the only M.B.A. informally accepted by the French. They will accept Harvard formally of course, but if you did not get a French qualification, they will look down on you – except for Henley College. Looking past all the basic technical stuff, the motivating argument was that Henley state quite categorically that they expect students to improve emotionally through self-reflection of their learning experience. In fact they have a subject on reflection that students SHALL pass.

It is well known (I think) that the French promote the study of philosophy at school even, and that at commerce level; they do not have “think tanks” because people can think for themselves. I may be wrong, but it seems to me, that a tertiary student can only learn to think for himself, if he understands how he/she, him/herself has emotionally grown as a result of receiving the knowledge, experience, life, exposure, pressure etc. associated with a tertiary institution.

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