Friday, March 27, 2009

Branch Campus Life, Volume 2

I neglected to publish any posts here, since August! I taught a course in the fall term, but more importantly, I've been exploring more deeply some ideas that are mentioned in the last few posts I wrote.

I've also been considering my own professional interests and what my next steps might be, looking forward to an "encore" career, when I move on from my current position. It is interesting to be a relatively early "boomer," still with plenty of energy and ideas, but eager to do things that could take me in a new direction. In this post, I want to comment on my own perspectives.

First, when I think about what can most quickly get my creative juices flowing, I recognize that I most enjoy what I will call strategic change management. I'm not so big on formal strategic planning, although I can do it. Rather, I enjoy gathering information, talking with people, seeking connections, and bringing a strategic perspective to the change process.

Over the past six months, I've given several presentations that allowed me to explore the future, from a variety of perspectives. I've come to believe that demographic shifts, applications of technology in higher education, and the preferences of adult learners are going to profoundly change much of higher education. As a result, I've become more focused on adult learners and distance education, as well as newly emerging business models, to get a picture of what is coming.

As I've written before, I believe we are in what Christensen would call a "disruptive environment," and because of that, the solutions to our current challenges need to be quite different than what we've done in the past. It is exciting to consider the possibilities, and it is that excitement that makes me most want to stay involved in higher education. I don't want just to observe what goes on, but to be part of it.

A second area of emerging interest for me is the development of cross-generational work teams. More is being written about how boomers are likely to stay in the workplace and employers need them, if only because the generations behind us can't fill the demand for employees. As I've spent more of my time, in a more attentive way, with younger c0lleagues, I've begun to realize how much can be gained, if we appreciate each other's contributions. Finding ways to link younger and less-young people, in the same work group, and in a manner that encourages respect and creativity, may yield a competitive advantage for an organization.

Finally, related to the cross-generational teams, I've become very interested in positive psychology, especially in the form of what is called Appreciative Inquiry (AI). AI provides a way of approaching change processes that can yield a sense of possibilities that is quite different than traditional problem solving approaches to change. It changes how change occurs, and linking it to cross-generational teams may be especially rewarding.

So, for me, seeking a more positive, creative approach to working with colleagues of all ages, in an environment that demands new solutions, is encouraging. In higher education, as we look at applications of technology, especially to serve nontraditional learners in new ways, there are implications galore for branch campuses. My guess is that there will be winners and losers, in the sense that some institutions will understand the new environment and embrace it, whereas others will not understand and will resist. Thinking critically about new ideas, of course, is not the same as resistance to new ideas, and the risk involved is higher than in the past. I'd like to help interested people and campuses find ways to overcome the risk, expand their impact, and thrive in the new environment.

My intention is to publish posts more frequently, at least for awhile. I will try to maintain a context that is relevant to branch campuses, but honestly, my interests have become broader than branches, so I see them as part of a creative approach to the future, yet reflecting deeper changes that have other implications, as well.