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0248 ‘Open the pod bay doors, please, Hal’: narratives of crisis in managing e-learning


13:00 - 14:00 on Wednesday, 8 September 2010 in Pos


0248 ‘Open the pod bay doors, please, Hal’: narratives of crisis in managing e-learning
Jonathan Powles, Aliya Steed


0248 ‘Open the pod bay doors, please, Hal’: narratives of crisis in managing e-learning
Jonathan Powles, Aliya Steed
The idea of ‘competing narratives’ is a central one in the contemporary literature on change management. Before any major change project within an organization there is likely to be significantly differing views on how, why and when to change, and, of course, whether to change at all. During the turbulent change process, different stakeholders report quite different perceptions even of what it is that is, in fact, occurring. Afterward, competing perceptions remain as to what, if anything, has changed; and if it has, whether for better or for worse. Allowing dissonant world-views and competing narratives to co-exist in a relationship of trust is a crucial component of effective change management, and this is as true of the education innovation and e-learning context as of any other (Boddy and Paton, 2003). Such circumstances are familiar anecdotally and in the professional experience of many who work with educational technology and change. They are also familiar in the literature surrounding change in higher education. For instance, Taylor (1999) identifies distinct types of 'academic tribes' – interest groups within universities. These tribes may be based around discipline, around academic/administrative divides, around managerial responsibility, or around educational values. Whatever their basis, the function of academic tribalism is to produce rifts, conflicts, and obstacles to change. This paper explores five different 'narratives of crisis' which inform the politics surrounding e-learning in universities: the need to defend against external threat; the need to preserve academic standards and traditions; the privileged status of face-to-face interaction over that mediated by technology; the requirement to demonstrate efficiency and effectiveness of learning strategies; and the opportunities for design and creativity in learning afforded by new technologies. Each of these narratives has value in the dialogue of organizational change; but each, too, can be the source of blockage and entrenched conflict in the change management process. What then becomes important is the establishment of a genuine dialogue between narratives. 'Dialogue differs from the more common “discussion,” which has its roots with “percussion” and “concussion,” literally a heaving of ideas back and forth in a winner-takes-all competition.' (Senge 1990, 10)