Habits that “Change Talk” Challenges: attitudes, models, and institutional situations
Today, I consider how the change talk fostered by C+W positions us as change chasers in institutions that want to control (and sometimes avoid) change. How do our habits of change talk impact how others in our institutions might perceive us? After a quick gloss of how published C+W discussions talk of change, I use an example from another field to examine typical roles groups might claim in a technology-enabled institutional change situation, and then circle back to an issue central to C+W (the hiring of young faculty) in order to discuss how those of us in C+W might be wise to examine how our habits of talking about technologies and change might be perceived by institutional others.
SLIDE 1: Overview Part 1: consider C + W as a field that chases change Part 2: example from a different field sustaining technology-primed mandated institutional change Part 3: impact of suspicious minds on C + W hiring
# 1: In published discussions, C + W’s
attitudes toward change is an enthusiastic thumbs up. <I glossing this rather than detailing it> My perception of this field is that we chase change: we desire it, embrace it, foster it, and basically just enjoy the positioning of ourselves as “change agents” or “early adopters.” Our colleagues often see us either as the irritants to their established and trusted methods or useful technicians who can fix their machines (or solve their other computing problems). I don’t make this observation without experiencing it. Nor do I make the observation without published evidence. From recent articles such as “Computers and Composition, 20/20” that imagine the field’s future, including a garden of bots, to Lisa Gerard’s articles in 1995 and 2004 that chronicle the issues important to this conference, to other historical works (Hawisher et al in 1996 and Moran’s 20th year review of the Computers and Composition journal), change has been a comfortable concept for this field. Take one example from Gerard’s 2006 “The evolution of the Computers and Writing Conference, the second decade.” At the end of her analysis which is intended to demonstrate that “Computers and Writing has become an institution” (211), she lists the verbs used in titles of conference talks given between 1994 and 2004. These are intended to reinforce her opinion that we have gone “from the ‘lunatic fringe’ of our respective English departments to a visible and less suspect subdiscipline of rhetoric and composition” (218). But she also thinks these verbs “express the mix of optimism and shock that I mentioned earlier and the passion, feistiness, and --mainstream or not--rebelliousness that have characterized this conference from its inception” (222). slide 2: Gerard’s verbs
Addressing, advocating, affecting, aging, aligning, apologizing, arguing, arriving, assess- ing, assuming, balancing, beating the odds, becoming post-hypertext, bitnetting, blowing out the walls, blurring, breaking, bridging,
building, burning out, canonizing, catching up,
challenging, choreographing, collaborating, communicating, composing, coping, colliding, compelling, complicating,
conceiving, conducting, confessing, confronting, connecting,
con- tending, conversing, crafting, crashing, creating, crisscrossing, crossing the globe,
cultivating, cybering, dancing, debating, deconstructing, demonstrating, demystifying, demythologizing, designing, developing, disassembling, discovering, disentangling,
disrupting, dissenting, diverting, dramatizing, drowning, domesticating, electing,
emerging, enabling, enhancing, enlarging, e-reading, escaping, evaluating, evolving, examining, exemplifying,
exploring, extending, failing, fighting, flying, fusing, getting
embarrassed, getting marooned, going with the flow, graying, grappling, growing, hatching,
hoping, hop- ping, immersing, implementing, implying, infusing, integrating, interacting, inventing, investi- gating, joining, lagging behind, liberating,
having close encounters, linking, listening, loathing, lurking, mainstreaming, making waves, managing, manipulating, mapping, measuring, meditating, mentoring, mesh- ing, migrating, minding differences, MOOving, morphing, negotiating, networking, nurturing,
opening doors, negotiating, observing,
promoting, pulling, pulling ahead,
orchestrating, overcoming, performing, perishing, piloting, pixilizing, playing around, pleasuring, plundering, practicing, processing, promis- ing,
publishing with panache, pushing, pushing limits, questioning, rebooting, re-charting, reclaiming, reconciling, reconstructing, redefining, reflect- ing, reforming, re-imagining, remaining silent, remembering, resisting, restraining, rethinking, rewiring, riding, risking, roleplaying, RTFL, saying no, scratching our heads, scrutinizing, searching, setting fires,
shifting, singing, staking out, standardizing, not standardizing, straddling, streaming, struggling, subverting, surprising, surviving,
sustaining, talking back, taming, testing the waters,
theorizing, thinking, tracing, tracking, training, traipsing, transcending, transgressing, undoing, un-ghettoizing, unlocking, unplugging, unveil- ing, walking, weaving, whispering,
window shopping, worrying. . .. BUT the earliest publications in the field--I’m thinking here of Ellen Nold’s “Fear and Trembling” or Helen Schwartz’s “Monsters and Mentors” --have been cognizant of institutional resistance to using computers for the teaching of college writing. A central argument in larger journals—
CE and CCC--portrayed computers as facilitators for writing instruction rather than change objects: they wouldn’t be used to change the teaching of writing or the writing process itself. This argument shows that original members of the field saw the danger of tying computers to advocating for institutional, disciplinary, or human change. They worked to tamp down the “lunatic fringe” talk. While we may enjoy the chase of change, not all of the people we work for and with are comfortable with that part of our mission. Consider some of these human and institutional attitudes entertwined with change talk:
slide 3: attitudes toward changes Kahneman: our “loss aversion” usually trumps our desire for gains as a tribe, we are conservative (holding on to what we have rather than seeking new) Simon: we do not optimize; we “satisfice” we slowly learn from experience, but cling to our tried-and-true rules we are not complex, our surroundings are Christensen companies think they innovate, but most sustain innovation (at best) disruptive innovations target new customers the things most want to accomplish in their lives don’t change quickly
1. Change is not intrinsically valued culturally or socially. Daniel Kahnemann argues that change often is resisted because one of our dominant biases is “loss aversion,” or feeling losses much more powerfully than gains. ”Loss aversion,” Kahneman writes in Thinking Fast and Slow, “is a powerful conservative force that favors minimal changes from the status quo in the lives of both institutions and individuals. This conservatism helps keep us stable in our neighborhood, our marriage, and our job; it is the gravitational force that holds our life together (305)”. This bias/force makes change a dangerous operation: it might not work or might work in unexpected ways that threaten what we value. It’s not too much of a stretch to say we have a deep-seated bias against change: the tribe has survived doing things this way we know will work, as we might not survive if we change.
2. Even in areas of expertise, or maybe especially there, change is not thought to be a good. Even though education is entangled with personal growth and disciplinary change, the old way is preserved as long as possible. When Herbert Simon focused on decisions, he found we rarely seek the best decision; instead we enact the first acceptable one we stumble across, or to use his formal term, we satisfice. Simon saw experience as building up our pattern recognition for the shapes of correct answers, but also found that we clung to our old rules as long as we could. Of course, as an AI researcher, he wanted the mind to be as simple a mechanism as possible and the environment to be the source of complexity. His famous ant’s path example in Sciences of the Artificial was meant to dramatize the difference: at first the ant seemed meandering like a very drunk sailor but then it was revealed that the environment (of driftwood, trash, dunes, etc. on the beach) conspired to complicate the ant’s path. Simon did believe that with deliberate experience we became experts, but it took a long time and was modulated by our propensity to use general heuristics to handle as much of the problem solving as we could, and only turn to specific domain knowledge when it clearly was needed.
slide 4: how they manage
Institutions and businesses plan change proactively They model the change (and its implementation) in order to achieve control (or a mirage of control Change leaders build elaborate strategies but encourage the troops with talk of small changes “Nudge” things along (Thaler and Sunstein) “Start with something small and easy. . . Then use that success to build a climate of change” (Chip and Dan Heath)
3. Institutions try to control change, or at least tidy-it-up. Stage models of change management abound in organizational studies. Most acknowledge a debt to the three-stage model Kurt Lewin developed in the late 1940s: unfreezing, change, and refreezing. And, by the mid 1990s, the stages had multiplied, with John Kotter’s Leading Change offering an Eight step model. Most stage models for change control the change through proactive planning, and that their role is to manage or to lead the process of change.
slide 5: lewin stages vs situational change Lewin Unfreeze Change Refreeze Orlikowski + Hofman Anticipated change Emerging change Opportunity-based change
slide 6: orlikowski and hofman model
Wanda Orlikowski and Debra Hofman’s model of improvisational change proceeds from research that observed change in technology companies. They use Suchman’s European vs. Trukese navigation example to argue that most change management folk want to plan a route as Europeans would, but actually act in practice like the Trukese: they respond to the changes that arise as they sail. They identify three kinds of change--anticipated, emergent, and opportunity-based—and admit the anticipated aligns with stage models, while the other two are improvisations based on responses and conditions experienced after the anticipated begins. Clayton Christensen, who is famous for “disruptive innovation,” generally concedes that most of what passes for innovation – and change—in corporations, is sustaining rather than disruptive change. To be disruptive, a group has to shake up the market structures, and go after groups not served, not serve the established customers more ably. Important in all of this, Christensen observes, people don’t change quickly and “If an idea for a new growth business is predicated on customers wanting to do something that hadn’t been a priority in the past, it stands little chance of success” (25).
True change, it seems, is thought to be difficult to plan, likely to go astray, and often claimed as a bigger innovation than it is. And the advice change leaders give to their accolytes often reinforces how happy they should be with small change moves.
<let me shift gears to talk about a mandated change in processes. . . the kind that institutions excel in
handling> slide 7 institutional change: picture twice, then cut
assess where the constituents (stakeholders) stand in this situation how much change they have to enact whether and how they will resist/embrace it roadblocks they see/predict how technology helps/hurts
#2: An example from high-stakes online portfolio assessment of teacher performance
in education Many states are mandating TPA (Teaching Performance Assessment) both for certification and continuing assessment of K-12 teachers. While many assessment frameworks have been developed, the California PACT model is widely supported, in part because Pearson has backed it and developed a national evaluation center: student teachers send a portfolio which includes, a written context stmt, 2 video clips of teaching (15 minutes or so), and a reflection. This high stakes assessment, e.g., is mandated by 2015 in Illinois and currently is being piloted in college teaching programs. Many in Education Schools believe it will profoundly change the landscape of teacher education, with small and rural Teacher Education Programs struggling to survive. They also expect it to tax programs with poor IT support, as this assessment is being added at a time when many States also are requiring preservice education programs to reduce their classes and amount of supervised teaching. This means the normal response of adding a class to teach videotaping and building a portfolio is not an option.
Institutional participants include: ● preservice teaching candidates ● major requirements ● teacher education programs ● clinical supervisors and schools ● university IT ● state education department ● us department of education ● Pearson TPA starting point: 1. The change is intended to improve education and is mandated from the outside. 2. Faculty and Administrators position themselves complexly in relation to new requirements to certify graduating teachers 3. To manage the change in productive ways, people (roles) need to understand both their own and others’ positioning vis-a-vis the change. 4. For those faculty who want the TPA not only to use video to prove, but also be a lever to change how video is used in earlier classes (video to improve), the TPA is more welcome than it is to longtime administrators. 5. A competing outside mandate that limits typical administrative responses is that states also are pressuring TEP programs to reduce the numbers of required hours
Picturing a typical landscape helps those who must enact changes where the resistance and the acceptance of change might be centered. If we place the groups in relation to their involvement in change (mandated to champion) and their reluctance to make change (abhor to desire), we might better understand how difficult it will be to fashion a change model that locates enough common ground among participants. The X axis allows the groups to assess their comfort with change [from abhor to desire] The Y axis allows them to complicate that comfort with how the change unfolds -- are they responding to the change actively/resistently or are they even championing change or resistence to it? Quadrant A and C dislike and resist change; they work to minimize change and its effects on the institution. B and D desire change and champion changes to the institution though might respond differently to types of change. Someone who desires change may feel most fulfilled when they are part of the change (a change agent) in D and someone who does not like change may feel best about change if it is imposed in A
how picturing helps the participants In this example, all these groups need to work in some harmony or at least a state of detente in order to achieve an assessment process that portrays the students positively in this new system. The stakes are high, and in the institution I was studying the students had not used videotaping of performance earlier in the program. So, they did not use videotaping until they were student teaching. . . the same time as they were producing a high stakes TPA video. Fortunately, many in the program perceived two problems 1) successfully videotaping the teachers and 2) better preparing students to use video to improve their teaching.
# 3: How the example in move 2 can enrich our mentoring of young CW scholars
The previous example maps institutional terrain that in key ways is similar to landscapes young CW scholars have to navigate to successfully “pass” two high stakes assessments--finding a job and achieving tenure/promotion. Let’s look at this landscape in relation to hiring practices. I have known incredibly talented candidates in computers and writing who struggle to find a position. Of course job seeking is always mysterious but at its simplest, employers seek to hire those who can (1) teach their classes, (2) be low risks for tenure, and (3) become trusted colleagues. In tough economic times survival is foregrounded, and shared values become more important to hiring. Employers want to maximize the skill sets of faculty members. But in the area of technologies and communication, they also may struggle to assess (and later nurture) talent.
GROUP 1: hiring school decision makers (longtime faculty/admins) adverse to change, though good at handling whatever is mandated from above (outside) GROUP 2: C + W candidates and their graduate advisors who are proud of the changes they are/have/will make to the landscape of technology and communication GROUP 3: hiring school faculty in C+W or related field who want change CONDITIONS: there is or is not an outside mandate for change
First, most who work longtime in institutions expect change to come from the outside, and if they are decision makers, they hold those positions in part through their abilities control change in ways that maintain normal institutional rhythms. When these decision makers hire a person who specializes in technologies and writing, they suspect this hire will bring change to their institutions <yes, the C+W folk represent outside forces of change that the institution’s members usually work to resist and nullify.> So, they may be more receptive to candidates with conservative takes on change than those who seem “far out.” Second, most of the C+W candidates have been praised in their graduate work both for instigating change and for desiring change. So, these candidates are likely to think they need to present themselves as the “Pros from Dover” <to use an old MASH ref>. Further, their recommenders may proudly focus support letters on their candidates’ success at enacting change. Ultimately the candidates’ paper (and in person) portraits might smack of change talk that could be misread. Third, if a faculty already is knowledgeable about technologies and communication, prospective candidates may know about that person and may imbue that C+W faculty member with more influence over the decision than she/he has. While that person might be a change instigator, the institution may want more of the same. . . or it may consider the change agent handled and look for someone quite different (and more like others). This landscape is typical, and it does not necessarily bend one way or another: hence my opening statement that all hiring is mysterious. But, it also needs to be recognized that our disciplinary prediliction to discuss change as uniformly positive may rub institutional others the wrong way. Institutions want change to be minimal and managed; innovation to be tidy; and faculty to be resistent or enthusiastic. Often though, if the faculty champion and desire change too much, the institution responds as Kahneman predicts people’s habits urge us to respond. . . it fears loss more than anticipates gain. This habit of giving change the conservative evil eye is what we need to expect when we spin our change talk. Put in terms of mentoring our students who are seeking positions, this institutional landscape suggests that it is incumbent upon us as a field to arm our students with knowledge about how change talk needs to be modulated so that it will not spook certain sectors of potential employers. If we don’t cautiously deploy our normal change talk, our past and future as “the lunatic fringe” will be written on our students’ identities as thoroughly as it has been on our own.
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