Inspiration for blog posts can happen at the strangest, and most inopportune times, and this happened to me on Thursday last week, the penultimate day of preparation for the opening of Flinders Connect and a time when my mind was flying around the many last-minute jobs we still had to knock off. The inspiration didn’t so much hit me, it was more delivered in person as I was coming back with a quick bite of lunch, courtesy of Prof Colin Carati, the Director of the Flinders Uni Centre for Educational ICT. After exchanging pleasantries about the opening of Flinders Connect, Colin mentioned the blog post I wrote a couple of weeks back which in summary posited that the next big challenge for Universities could be how best to connect their students to large, open networks as a means to improve employability (based on research from the Booth School of Business).
Colin’s thought to me was a strikingly simple one – what if the real value of a MOOC is to act as a broker for students into these large, open networks?
As often happens, a valued node in my professional network friend has got me thinking, and thinking to the extent that I need to write a post to help structure out my rambling thoughts.
The background to this is a post by Techxplorer about his perspective on universities teaching ’employability’ skills, and in particular this quote from his post:
I’m not convinced that I want higher education institutions teaching students to be ‘work ready’.
On thinking through this statement I couldn’t help but feeling a general vibe of disagreement, but it took a little time to work out why.
As Techxplorer goes on to discuss, the conversations that go on around being ‘work ready’ or ’employable’ can be viewed through a number of different lenses, and I think this is where so much of my discomfort was springing from, and so I thought it was worth delving into that a little deeper here on this problem of perception.
In other words, our satisfaction relates to our expectations, the perceived service we get, and the disconnect (for better or worse) between the two. A follow up point was that initial expectations will have an impact on our overall satisfaction – the higher our expectations are coming in, the more likely we will be satisfied, even if the service has fallen below expectations. This is a fascinating part to me in the lead up to the opening of the service centre, as it flies somewhat in the face of the ‘be gentle on us’ mindset I’ve been personally thinking of promoting for our early days while we ‘find our feet’ as a services team. Should we instead be trying to set the expectations for students of the quality they will receive right from the outset? I can’t shake the feeling that the risk of trying to build expectation is greater than the risk of students having low expectations of our service – at least at the outset. This has also got me thinking about the expectations we have of ourselves in contrast to the expectations that students will have of us. On the latter I really have no idea what students will expect in terms of quality of service. This is possibly a blessing – a ‘blank canvas’ to work with in terms of client expectations.
The second reflection relates to the emotional responses that we want to elicit from the current students who come to us for support. We are, like most service centres, almost completely out of the picture from the mind of a student in their initial purchase decision. Nobody will choose to study a degree at Flinders university because our support team is awesome, and it is arguable as to how much an impact we would have on students returning for future study, or as an influencer to other potential students. What I do think is material in this context however is our ability to remove administrative barriers for students in order to let them focus on the main game – studying towards achieving their qualification.
What emotions do we want them to feel after they’ve been served by us? Perhaps relief, calmness and a sense of security in knowing that if they hit another administrative ‘distractor’ then we’ll be there to help. To me this sits in the lower right-hand quadrant of Russell’s Affect Circumplex – we don’t necessarily need to aim for students to leave us in the upper right-hand quadrant of intense joy after we serve them, but we do want them to leave us knowing we’ve solved their problem so they can forget us as quickly as possible and get back to focusing on their studies. Like many service centres, the support we provide and the emotions we can elicit might not attract a swathe of new business, but if we do well then it should reduce the number of students who disengage from the university, and in the worst cases leave altogether.
This scenario is quite different between the current students who come to us for support and the potential future students who come to us as the first point of call for studying at Flinders. For these, it is more important to try and elicit more of the ‘upper right hand quadrant’ of experiences – in the ideal scenario, these potential students would leave us at the very least interested, and at best excited, at the prospect of coming to Flinders. This reflection has been useful to put a more structured model around the differences between these two groups of users, and will be valuable as part of our internal training processes as we start to form as a team.