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The most valuable lesson I ever learned #OpenBlog19

So it's over a fortnight since Neil Withnell challenged me to write a post with this title as my contribution to #OpenBlog19. At that point I didn't even have a blog (or at least it wasn't live) but I knew I'd get round to it eventually. Which is ironic, or at least it might be ironic in a minute when I've explained.

The title feels a bit like a TED Talk topic if I'm honest but here goes. The most valuable lesson I ever learned... is you need to spend time on the right stuff. In higher education, as in life, time is a precious resource and all too often I think we don't care enough about how we spend it. If you have a minute (ahem), let me give some examples:

  1. How much time do we spend writing email every week? I bet you don't even know but I bet you'd be horrified if you added it up. Multiply that by working weeks and working years and... I don't even want to imagine what the total would be. But what value do we get from all that email? And, in some cases, wouldn't it be better just to give someone, even someone working in the same building, a quick call or a quick skype. Who knows, you might get the answer you were looking for a bit quicker and you might actually get to know the other person a bit better too. Almost certainly, if you hear their voice or see their facial reaction, you'll get their tone. Who gets tone on email?
  2. As a manager, dare I say leader, do you spend enough time listening to people? Listen to students - they'll tell you really profound things about their experience of education that you won't find in NSS data. Listen to staff who work with students day in, day out - they'll tell you the things that really matter to students because they've listened and heard what students have to say. Martin Weller wrote a nice post about valuing support colleagues the other day and one of the best ways we can value them is by spending time with them and listening. Let's all take the time to show we're on #TeamVelma (Twitter search probably required).
  3. We all seem to be under such pressure these days, to recruit more students, to 'deliver', to 'enhance', to improve NSS scores. So rarely do you find proper time being given to address really fundamental questions about the nature of the work we are doing. That's why I've been so impressed by the deep enquiry led by Sian Bayne at Edinburgh under the banner of Near Future Teaching. The wide and detailed engagement of staff and students at the University as well as many outwith the walls of the institution has produced a genuinely special framework to guide the development of digital education, a 'preferred future' which is not based on the wild claims of those who would seek to disrupt. I don't have much time at all for disruption. I can say with some confidence that, if you take the time to explore the methodology documented on the NFT website or you just read the final report, it will definitely be time well spent.

Maybe it's just a sign of getting older but I'm more conscious, now more than ever, that we need to spend time on the right stuff. When we moved to Edinburgh last year, one of the main drivers was to spend more time together as a family and also spend time really making the most of our new surroundings. I also wanted to spend more time reading non-work stuff and all this came together rather nicely on one of our first visits to The Edinburgh Bookshop. I came away with the snappily titled 111 Places in Edinburgh That You Shouldn't Miss. One of the first ones we ticked off was The Meadows Sundial which bears some rather lovely inscriptions. I'll leave you with this one in the hope that you felt your time reading my #OpenBlog19 entry was well spent:

CC-BY-NC Simon Horrocks

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