I have spent the past couple of days at University of Lancaster Management School taking part in the 30th anniversary celebrations for the MA in Management Learning and Leadership, or MAMLL, of which I am an alumni (MAMLL 25, 2006-2008).
In one sense events like this are a great means of sharing ideas, meeting people and making connections. In another sense they are also deeply frustrating: the choices you are forced to make because of parallel sessions, time is a constant enemy truncating interesting topics so as to keep everything on track, the inefficiency of plenary discussion giving priority to the voice of the few over the unsaid thoughts of the many, the ephemeral nature of synchronous conversation. Don't misunderstand me; it was good; very good in fact. I really enjoyed reconnecting with the school and engaging with the diversity of topics. The quality of the sessions was excellent but...how we do love the traditional seminar and being spectators. It feels familiar and, anyway, how else would you do it?
For me the biggest gap was the absence of a functioning 3G or wifi link in which to create a backchannel for discussion during the sessions and throughout the event. With everything reliant on synchronous activity, there were lots of details that were inevitably lost. I hope that this blog will fill some of the gaps, especially for those that couldn't make it this time.
I've not mentioned all the sessions that I attended. I've commented here on the things that I noticed; the things that I liked, and those that frustrated me. These are my interpretations on what I experienced. Others will have seen different things, felt differently, liked some sessions more than me, less than me and so on.
MAMLL - pushing the boundaries of management learning for 30 years
The principles behind the design of MAMLL have, since its inception, been about creating a space in which participants can develop a critical understanding of their own and others' theories and practices. It has always pushed the boundaries. Its assessment process, which is managed by the participants themselves, still feels radical 30 years on. Prof. Mark Easterby-Smith, one of the founding academics, commented in the opening session on the resistance he experienced when taking the assessment proposal to the university senate in 1982; it got through because the then Director of Education said 'we've got to be experimental'.
Well done to all who conceived and pushed this process along. MAMLL may be a bit wacky for some but for those that have taken part, it has created a memorable and sustained learning experience. The word that kept recurring during the two days was 'confidence'; confidence in one's practice, confidence to explore ideas critcially.
Learning heterotopia: spaces for layers of meaning & learning to emerge.
Paintings, music, drama and dance featured in several of the sessions. I noticed how these media can help to create shifts in perspective that might otherwise not have happened if the presenters had relied on PowerPoint. Prof Vivien Hodgson talked about creating learning hetrotopia: spaces for layers of meaning and learning to emerge. I liked this notion: open, emergent, full of surprises, changing perspectives.
Use of auto ethnography to explore the final months of a family business
This session was about the demise of a family business. The presentation was a short dramatic piece performed by the couple who had run the business. No bullet points of 'where did we go wrong?'; just simple narrative dialogue with a few props. The result was visceral and memorable.
Use of You Tube videos to enhance feedback in a learning set
Working with a MAMLL learning set going through the self-assessment for one of the assignments, the set leader was noticing that, whilst the set members were seemingly getting along well with each other, there was also a sense of them leaving things unsaid and missing some important details in their feedback; a bit like 'dancing in the dark'. This was raised with the group and a feedback process was proprosed using the music videos to reflect how they were feeling. These included Kate Bush's Running up that hill, Abba's Winner Takes in All and Annie Lennox' - Why? Critically, the music choices were made on-the-spot rather than after a longer period of reflection to help reveal the layers of process being experienced in that moment.
This was not presented as a 'how to' panacea for improving feedback; but a learning hetrotopia, created in that moment, with that group, providing the space for some something new to emerge.
Role of social media in leadership development
I found this session the most frustrating: too little time, too narrow a range in the issues discussed. Most noticable was the resistance to social media. The resistance came from seeing social media as being a generational thing - something that younger people do; or 'just because social media is being used by many people it doesn't mean that everybody has to follow the crowd'; or the risks of comments made online, in haste, being available for all to see; or 'I'm already unable to keep up with the emails in my inbox, how can I deal with another flood of information?
Fair points? Well they reflect what many people feel about social media so in that sense, they do represent one view.
In my experience, social media has a great deal to offer leadership development. It's true that organisations are still working out exactly how far they want to open up their networks to allow employees access to the web. But practices are changing. The presenter referred to the research done last year by the Towards Maturity think tank about trends in e-learning. Link here to download their reseach report
The Yammer-hosted Social Collaboration Community run by Jane Hart at c4lpt was also mentioned. In my experience, it's an excellent forum for collaboration on all issues related to the use of social media in learning. If you want to know more follow this link to Jane's site.
Digital reflection: using digital stories to reflect upon and present your learning
The perfect counterpoint to the resistance seen in the previous session came with this brilliant piece on digital reflection. I loved the way in which this approach is using the creative arts as an alternative to traditional written assessments and using digital technologies to enable collaboration. To quote from the Digitalis website
'Digital technologies can provide a platform to engage in shared reflective practice, and also to share reflective outputs in a way that is both engaging and interactive. The viewer can provide feedback, which then feeds back into the learner’s reflective process.'
'Hear, hear'. Take a look at Digitalis for the full details of the work being done.
Thanks to the organising team for orchestrating a very successful event and to the presenters, mostly MAMLL alumni, who put themselves out there and shared their practices.
Very best wishes to all those currently wading through MAMLL's, at times, arcane processes on their journey to academic nirvana. And to the next 30 years...