About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Standard vs. flexible: reconceptualizing the efficiency of "standardization of tools"

Yesterday I spent 2 hours in total frustration dealing with the administration of my daughter's education. Her schooling has been outstanding the last year and a half, but the administration of that schooling is complex to say the least. Her school district sends her to a regional high school that is funded by 31 different school districts. The high school is really just an alternative education program. They provide the instruction, technology, and building, but her school district provides the transportation, administration of the degree, and interface with the state (i.e. regents exams, graduation requirements, granting of the degree, health records). This is unusual for the district, our state, and the educational system in the US. So needless to say, many in the school district are not informed of my daughter's status. The result is that she was told she would need to buy a ticket to the school district's semi-formal high school dance as a guest since "she isn't a student there." This is the second year we have gone through this.

So yesterday, I decided that I would speak face to face to the administration at the high school to ensure that we were all on the same page. After, I spoke with the guidance counselor at the high school program where the actual instruction takes place. Between the two conversations, some of the problems and the sources of the problems began to finally come clear.

Standardizing processes and tools for efficiency

In the case of the school district, there is a standard system within the school district. All processes are set up to capture standard statistics required by New York state. The problem? When a situation or problem occurs that does not fit the "standard", the system is difficult to adjust. Thus, my daughter's friend was assigned to two different homerooms (the first classroom where each student goes in the morning to ensure school attendence). Last year my daughter was assigned to a home room, even though she did not go into the high school building. For 4 weeks her name was called while they looked for the errant student. For two weeks, her friend's mother was notified that her daughter was not in school.

While the administration was told repeatedly that my daughter did not attend classes in the main building and that her friend WAS in all of her other classes, they could not tell the computer. Eventually the computer program was modified. However, the school processes were tied to the computer program and standards, so until it was changed there was, in fact, administrative inefficiencies.

My daughter's program guidance counselor related how difficult it was to work with 31 different reporting systems so that all of the administrative requirements for the students in the program would be accurate when they went to graduate later this year. Having 31 different systems would have been too difficult for the program to handle. And yet, the 31 systems needed to be able to conform to the programs reporting and administrative needs.

The effect of distributed knowledge on administrative systems

The old school of management based on the assembly line had specialists so that a product (or service) could be standardized, thus creating a uniform product and quality. For this to work, however, the production line needed to be linear and sequential. Much of our educational system still focuses on this linear, sequential format for instruction. Much of our management systems also look at the linear logic in production, distribution, and monitoring of products and services.

But this model does not work any more with distributed knowledge. Karyn Romeis has a good example of how this DOES NOT work in a recent blog post. What we used to have in terms of planning, now will need to be changed to something that allows more flexibility. This also requires upper management to have faith in their workers, put resources into training, and allow users to adjust computer programs and applications to meet individual needs.

Rather than the standardized industrial model that focuses on setting and measuring standards, we need to start integrating multiple approaches to problems and development of ways to measure needs, abilities, and performance that is not quantifiable. We also need to teach students how to go outside of their own abilities where knowledge might be contained by external groups. And our tools (which the next generation has already figured out) needs to be adaptable, but within a general framework which gives us boundaries within which to work and communicate.

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