Open Leadership – reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT (3) #altc

In this my third post sharing my reflections on being the Chair of ALT I’m going to look at one of the most important governance functions of any Board of Trustees – finance, audits and accountability.  

Last week I chaired the second Board meeting of the year, and for part of it we were joined by our external auditor, Nicola Cadwallader, who ran us through the findings of her interim audit.  

Meeting with Nicola and having the opportunity to discuss in more detail her role as auditor and the wider obligations ALT has as part of its charitable status was a really worthwhile experience for all the Trustees.

Although Daniel Clark our Honorary Treasurer has considerable accounting experience, it is key responsibility for any Board, and particularly the Chair, to ensure that they understand fully the financial environment in which their organisations operates. As the Chair,  I need to ensure the financial integrity of the Association on behalf of our members.  

An interim audit is not necessary for an organisation the size  of ALT, however I think that it is a very worthwhile exercise.  As we have recently moved all our key financial systems online we need to ensure that everything is working and our process are robust. This year’s interim audit has clearly illustrated that ALT is on a sound financial footing. 

Nicola also explained to us the role of any auditor in terms of their wider commitment around reporting any issues to the Charity Commission. Given ALTs turnover, we aren’t  legally bound  to undertake an external financial audit. However, all of the Board agreed that it was essential that we did continue with regular audits to give our members reassurance that their money is being used wisely and appropriately to support the mission and values of the Association.

It was pleasing to see from the draft report that in our first year of operations as an independent virtual organisation our financial procedures are robust and our projected income and expenditure are firmly on track.  

There are small areas for improvement, which with Nicola’s advice we will be able to implement.  The accounts  will be submitted as part of our annual report during the AGM at our annual conference in September and then will be openly available via our website.

ALT, like all organisations with charitable statues abides by the rules of the UK Charity Commission, and every year our accounts are uploaded onto the Charity Commission website.

screen shot from Charity commision website

From the visualisations on the site (which btw are in flash, so maybe that needs to be updated!) you can see that ALTs finance have been very stable for the past three years, and long may that continue.

Learning or attainment – What would you choose?

Bob Harris wrote an excellent article last week  about the new DfE strategy educational technology. This post is not about that per se, I can’t add any more to Bob’s excellent critique, rather it’s about what has been stuck in my head since reading the post, the focus on attainment not learning.

Learning is not included in the report, much to the surprise of many.  Bob reports this explanation from Deborah McCann, head of ed-tech at the DfE who
“ … astonished many attendees when she admitted that the term “learning” was deliberately excluded from the strategy. She said: “We have focused on attainment. There’s a view that ‘learning’ is a bit of a weak term really and there is a lot more that we are talking about – attainment and outcomes. That’s why you don’t see it in the strategy. … learning is the process, obviously, but what we want to see is attainment.”

Increasingly I am seeing attainment as a key strategic goal. I’ve seen a number of how to develop an effective digital strategy etc papers from ed tech/publishers and attainment, retention and outcomes are prominent but there’s little about learning. Apart from maybe a bit about personalised learning being enhanced through data and AI. You too can have a totally unique, homogenised personalised learning experience . . .

We can see this focus on attainment amplified outside education, particularly in run up  the  European Parliament elections and the focus on the attainment of Brexit.  

When Therese May won the last Tory party leadership contest she famously said  “Brexit means Brexit “. Over the last 3 years it has become increasingly clear that no-one has any idea what Brexit actually means (and has forgotten it’s a made up tabloid word). However the attainment of it, has become all consuming.  

As far as I can see,  there has been no attempt to learn about the process of leaving the European Union by the hard line right Brexiteers, or to engage the electorate in a meaningful discussion about just what that would entail. The promises of saving money that would go back into the NHS were backtracked on as soon as the referendum was over.

Early this week I heard a Brexit party candidate being interviewed the the radio. He was claiming that Brexit was the only way to improve the NHS, education and all the things people really care about. When challenged by the interviewer on what couldn’t been done through existing parliamentary and government process on these issues,  he paused for a bit then said something along the lines of “well I haven’t research any of that but I know it will all be easier once we are out of the EU”.  At that point, dear reader, I didn’t crash the car, but I may have shouted a few expletives at the radio.  

The attainment of Brexit was his overriding focus, the details of how that could be done, what would happen next – not really that important.  The lack of learning and process around the understanding of what Brexit is, and this all consuming focus  attainment of Brexit has created serious consequences.

We now have a zombie government, Nigel Farage back on the campaign trail, Boris Johnston setting himself up to lead another Tory Brexit charge. In the meantime our current national problems such as housing, education, the NHS never mind the global environmental crisis are, to my mind, being ignored as the attainment of Brexit overrules them all. 

Perhaps if our current government, and all leave political parties had taken a bit more time to really learn about the process of exiting the second largest trading block in the world, 40 years of trade and related treaties, human rights legislation etc, etc, and then share that in a meaningful way with the electorate, we would actually know what Brexit means. Then we could go through a meaningful learning process to decide if that really is what we need. In the meantime I’ll take learning over attainment any day. 

Here is an advert you might remember that kind of sums it up for me.

Open leadership – reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT (2) #altc

As the nominations for ALT trustees are now open, in this post I am going reflect more on the general duties and responsibilities of a being Trustee. (In the first post in this series I reflected on the staff development aspect of my role as Chair of ALT).

Why would anyone want to be a Trustee of ALT? We’ll if you are reading this post, there is a fairly high chance that you know about ALT already, are a member (either individual or through your institution’s organisational membership) and so are part of the ALT community. The Board of Trustees is just another level of community involvement. Our community is at the heart of what we do, and the community element of the association is at the core of my tenure as Chair.

Certainly, it is the most formal part of the community, in that as a registered charity ALT needs to have an official board to oversee all its activities and comply with all the relevant legal requirements as laid down by the Charity Commission. All Trustees have responsibility to ensure oversight of all the workings of the association, including its finances. As Chair, it is my responsibility to ensure that due diligence in relation to all our formal and legal procedures are being adhered to, that the work of the association is related to, and supports our strategy and our values.

However the reality of being a Trustee is not about formal, stuffy board meetings, with endless “I refer you to section 2.4 of the paper 9 . . .”. It is much more engaging (and interesting). The Board meetings are where the Board, with the senior ALT Staff review progress, discuss plans and generally ensure that ALT is working in the best interests of its members and wider community. To get an idea you can review the minutes of previous meetings.

The practical elements of being a Trustee are outlined here, but the main thing is to be able to attend the face to face meetings. Of course, you don’t have to attend them all, many of us have joined meetings remotely – and having a Trustee based in Australia means that an element of remote participation is a given just now. However being able to attend the meetings is really important, so if you are thinking about putting forward an nomination, just check that you can get the time to attend. ALT cover travel expenses, so in ever shrinking budgets that is one less thing to worry about. I should point out that Trustees, like all other members, have to pay to attend our annual conference and the OER conferences. We also have monthly update calls with ALT staff, which all Trustees can attend but don’t have to. These meetings really just keep us updated of activities/issues in between board meetings. Again in my role as Chair, I do have to attend and chair those meetings too.

There are a range of activities that Trustees can get involved in, many are already involved in various ALT committees, SIGs, the journal etc. ALT is increasingly being asked to contribute to various panels, or respond to wider surveys. Again if you have a particular interest then you can get more involved in a range of activities. But be realistic about the time you have to commit. I have never found the time commitment onerous, but then again I have been careful not to over commit. Being Chair does have more time expectations, but again I have not found that an issue. Partly that is due to the fact that we have a very capable and organised staff team.

It is important that the Board has a broad cross section of membership to ensure that we can, as much as possible, represent all our members. We currently have a relatively diverse board, however there are still significant steps we can take to improve that.

Over the next year we will be developing a new strategy so that will take up a lot of time, and actually is a really exciting time to get involved as the new strategy forms. You have until June 10th to submit your nomination. And of course if you would like to know more or have an informal chat about being a Trustee then please just get in touch.

New horizons with added community forecasts and reflections

I was glad to see last week the 2019 Educase Horizon Report published. Like many others I had a bit of a “love/hate” or perhaps more accurately “read/groan” attitude towards the now defunct NMC Horizon reports.  After wondering for many a year how the expert panel was chosen and how one c/would be part of it, I found out (you just ask), and I finally managed to get on the panel just before the NMC went bust.

key trends graphic

However, having made it to the panel and done a bit of earlier work I was happy to continue being part of the work as its new home was found.  I think this year the report has moved on a bit.  I particularly like the way that the panel discussion and debate is reflected in the report.  It really does add value. The highlighting of significant challenges impeding HE tech adoption also appeals to my inner cynic.

significant challenges graphic

I think this year does reflect my own experience more, particularly in areas like developing approaches to blended learning and staff development. The later is so often forgotten as institutional plans are drawn up. If you don’t actively and genuinely involve staff (and students, though that is harder due to their natural turn over) in your plans for changing your “value system” or introducing new technology, then you won’t get the kind of  change that a vision statement may allude to.  Again it is good to see the discussion around the need for more instructional designers and for teaching staff to develop their design skills.  This is closely linked to digital capabilities and what the report is referring to as digital fluency. Still not quite sure about that term . . . There’s also a more nuanced approach to data and analytics.

key trends for tech adoption graphic

So whilst there may still be a few read/groan moments, overall I think this year’s report is really worth a read and well done the the editorial team for pulling all the discussions together in such a coherent and useful way.