Sunday, February 01, 2009

CTE's fall 2008 semester at AU - lessons learned

Those of us who manage AU’s Center for Teaching Excellence completed our semiannual program review and assessment process this week.  It comprises two meetings.  In the first, we ‘complete the past,’ which, in January, means reviewing our work during the fall semester.  In the second, a 2/3 day ‘retreat’ held in my faculty residence apartment, we review our goals for the upcoming semester.  In the ‘complete the past’ session, each manager reports on ‘what worked’ and ‘what didn’t work.’  Then he or she shares ‘lessons learned’ from those experiences. This latter sharing is the most valuable part of the process. Here is an excerpt from the lessons we learned, during the fall semester.  

  • Even when responsibility for a project is shared,  if the outcome is important to us  we should act as if we were ‘responsible for the whole,’ to ensure the project’s success.  Rationalizing failure because ‘someone else didn’t do their job’ is not acceptable.
  • When working with outside groups, we need to be clear about the division of roles and responsibilities and the capabilities of each participating group before the project begins.
  • The timing events featuring  outside guest speakers is important. An experiment with bringing a guest speaker in during the early fall revealed that faculty are less likely to attend such events at that time than they are during the January Ann Ferren Teaching Conference. We must work to find other such viable times for faculty events so that our use of outside speakers can be cost-effective.
  • Sometimes you have to be “mean” (firm, authoritative) to make people pay attention. Challenges posed by a difficult employee motivated a change in management style by the employee’s supervisor, with positive results..
  • We need to more fully involve graduate fellows in publicizing CTE services by making videos and creating our innovative outreach activities.
  • When making lists of goals and priorities, it is important to include “good stewardship” – the things we’re always working on. This is not only  give ourselves credit for the things we do, day-to-day,  but also to keep ourselves accountable and remember to pay attention to those ongoing responsibilities.  
  • When participating in collaborative projects with other units including  university-wide projects like like the new web roll-out, it is important to speak up when things are not going well.  Doing this without hurting a colleague’s feelings is always a challenge and, often, a motivation to simply keep quiet.  When speaking up,  it is important to be positive and focus on the project goals, not to personalize or be confrontational.
  • Projects work best when the people responsible for them are enthusiastic about them. When people are enthusiastic about something they should be empowered to work on it; if someone isn’t, we should acknowledge this as a management challenge.  They must either be motivated, assigned to other tasks, or, in the worst case, fired.  People must be proactive and enthusiastic to be effective.
  • Building effective collaboration between units at AU takes great good will on both sides plus very significant investment of time over a long period.  However strong collaborative relationships are time savers in the long run.  An example of collaboration that works really well is that between CTE and the Office of Information Technology (OIT).  Its success illustrates the importance of a proactive commitment to working together on both sides. This approach may also work for other on-campus units,  however we need to be realistic about what is involved and the time it will take.  We must also remember that ‘it takes two to tango.’

Many of these lessons may sound like platitudes that one can find in  any basic management or organizational behavior text.  But it is important to remember that platitudes are platitudes because they are true. 

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