Who needs leadership?

By Marti Cleveland-Innes
Apr 09, 2012

Introduction – so what’s going on that needs education intervention?

According to Keller (2008), changes in many things including technology “constitutes [sic] the most consequential set of changes in society since the late nineteenth century, when the nation went from a largely domestic, rural, agrarian mode of living to an industrial, international, and urban economy” (Preface xi). Consequently, for higher education, “this set of circumstances is going to force all academic enterprises to rethink their place and purpose not just in philosophical terms but in very pragmatic ways as well.” (Beaudoin, 2003, p. 520). These philosophical and pragmatic changes also affect teaching practice and the role of teacher.

Across the globe in the last decades, pervasive technology and notable socio-economic dynamism have changed our society. This change has made it increasingly difficult for education to operate in insular ways; attention to changing demographics, global economies, new social mores and new information and communication technologies is vitally important (Keller 2008).

The potential reach of technology seems limitless, and has already changed education in “the way we organize ourselves, our policies, our culture, what faculty do, the way we work, and those we serve” (Ikenberry 1999, p. 63). Change in education to accommodate broader societal changes and requirements embodies new ways of thinking about access to education, economic issues, accountability, technology the teaching-learning process and, most importantly, leadership.

This short course provides the opportunity to examine the premises behind open and distance education, to identify global social problems amenable to solutions found in open and distance education delivery, and considers the leadership strategies that may provide the greatest likelihood that ODE can be adopted. Our challenge: identify six principles of sound, strategic leadership of value when using ODE as a remedy for significant social problems.

When we speak of leadership in education, we are speaking of leadership in public institutions that are designed to serve the greater good. It is not possible to provide effective leadership without an understanding of the purpose of education, and its role in society. Education is fundamentally characterized by a quest for improving the human condition. It is to overcome social and economic challenges, resolve inequities, promote societal power and prowess and allow for individual development.

According to Schofield, education is a place where people develop according to their unique needs and potential; one of the best means of achieving greater social equality is to allow every individual to develop to their full potential. Leadership requires that schools be shaped in such a way to so. Few accomplish this goal perfectly. The critics think otherwise - education is a system created to reproduce the existing inequalities.

Schofield, K. (1999). The purposes of education. Queensland State Education: 2010. Retrieved from here.

Leadership – something old, something new
As education is changing, so, too, are our notions about leadership. How will we take strides to make things happen in education – who takes the lead, doing what? Notions of defined leadership roles and dutiful followers come to mind. In the postmodern turn, more complexity emerges. Let’s start by considering what Berquist has to say about leadership: read this.

Bloland does a good job of moving these notions of post-modernity to higher education; see here. For Bloland, the newly emerging society requires a university that takes advantage of the democratization and contestation of knowledge and promotes technological and cross-cultural citizenship (Bloland, 2006).

The higher education leader of the 21st century will exhibit strong character, well-developed personal skills and the ability to create and communicate vision (Garrison & Vaughan 2008). In addition to these personal traits, this new leader will be willing and able to 1. manage change and innovation 2. listen to and assist stakeholders, maintaining and enhancing relationships between the institution and relevant partners, 3. embrace the realities of network environments and 4. ensure transformation to a new model of teaching and learning. (Cleveland-Innes & Sangra, 2011)

The idea of sharing the lead is more contemporary - “a dynamic interactive process among individuals in groups for which the objective is to lead one another to the achievement of group, or organizational goals, or both” (Pearce & Conger, 2003, p. 1). Let’s read and discuss Bligh, M.C., Pearce, C.L., Kohles, J.C. (2006), The importance of self- and shared leadership in team based knowledge work. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 4, 21, 296-318. Retrieved from here.

Leadership, education and social change

There are some great examples where a social issue is raised, education is determined to be one remedy, and leadership ensues to implement the education innovation. In this case, leadership is often seen as problem-based, solution-centered, ethical, shared and distributed, working continuously toward the greatest good for the greatest number, beyond the reproduction of the status quo toward increased equity. I will have reviews covering such projects during our week together – see what you can find.

You may well be familiar with the work of The Commonwealth of Learning. If you aren’t yet, I encourage you to get familiar with the excellent work this organization does leading education initiatives to remedy social and economic ills around the world. See here to get you started.

Here is an interesting list of the type of technology being used to change education:

Bloland, H. G. (2005). Whatever happened to postmodernism in higher education?: No requiem in the new millennium. The Journal of Higher Education, 76 (2), 121-50.

Cleveland-Innes, M. & Sangra, A. (2010). Leadership in a new era of higher distance education. In Cleveland-Innes, M. & Garrison, D.R., (Eds.) Introduction to distance learning: Understanding teaching and learning in a new era. New York: Routledge Publishing Inc.

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N.D. (2008). Blended learning in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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