‘My unit’ or ‘Our program’? Convenors on the Green Paper

What happens when you put 17 unit convenors in a room with the Green Paper? A lively discussion around the ‘connected learning community’.

Unit convenors gathered a few weeks ago in their community of practice, led by Cathy Rytmeister from the Learning and Teaching Centre, to discuss the nuances of the Green Paper from their perspectives – which included being the jam in the sandwich, reviving informal chats around learning and teaching, and working in multi-skilled teams for program design.

One main question was around the changing roles of the unit convenor and the program director (or perhaps the less threatening ‘program coordinator’ moniker). Unit convenors noted that they were the “jam” in the sandwich, the contact point between students, support staff, tutors, online technologies, as well as ensuring program coherence – and that strong leadership at the program level would be needed. There was lively discussion over the authority of such a role, and ideas about elections and rotations.

A team-based approach was also high on the agenda. Unit convenors had concerns surrounding the technical skills and pedagogical knowledge needed to reach the noble heights of the Green Paper, and breathed a sigh of relief when they heard that multi-skilled curriculum teams would be built to support them. A number of convenors agreed that it was difficult to keep up with technological developments, and that “we could do better” for our students.

Convenors of large foundation units also wondered how their units would sit in a wide range of different programs and still be able to meet the needs of a program-based approach. Would such an approach mean that some units would need to be completely overhauled? Are foundation units even possible? Convenors were assured that the focus on program-level design was to systematise this approach, as opposed to telling convenors that “you’ve been doing it all wrong”.

Connectedness was a big underlying theme (a win for the Green Paper). Convenors were keen on making sure that units and their activities were connected somehow, so that they could better understand their students and their workload pressures. People were also keen on connecting with each other and reviving informal conversations around learning and teaching.

Cathy had this to say about the discussion and the Green Paper: “It was interesting to see the diversity of experience and conceptions of the unit convenor role amongst the participants. A few were convening – or scheduled to convene – a unit for the first time, while others had extensive experience in the role. All, however, were highly engaged with the challenges arising from the Green Paper proposals, both for the unit convenor role and the role of units themselves in the context of program-level design.

“The discussion of nomenclature with respect to program leadership was really expressing concerns about the balance of positional authority and individual autonomy implied by different terms. Unit convenors largely see themselves as subject experts and, while welcoming more collegial and holistic approaches to program design, were apprehensive about “top-down” direction on content and pedagogy and possible pressure to conform to a particular approach.

“At the core of most of the discussion was the role of relationships, both human and structural. Unit convenors are in the centre of a circle of stakeholders that includes students, program leaders, tutors and technical staff, as well as having administrative responsibilities with respect to a number of university systems and processes. The idea of ‘being connected’ is not new to them – and this is a positive sign for driving the cultural changes that will be part of the Green Paper proposals for a more extensively ‘connected learning community’.

What are your thoughts on the Green Paper? Make sure your voice is heard – download and give feedback before 30 June 2015. Join the discussion on Twitter #mqgreenpaper with Teche @TecheMQ, Cathy @CateyR, and others.