Over the last few years my workload has changed from 100% research & enterprise to predominantly teaching. I am glad to say that I have greatly enjoyed the change. There are pros and cons to both. On the negative side of teaching, I am genuinely baffled by the proportion of students that seem to want to gain a qualification, at huge personal expense, but don’t have a passion for the subject. I am also, to be candid, dismayed at the poor quality of written English of so many young people. To use an academic phrase, there is a systemic failure here. As a country we should be doing more for our young people, they deserve better. As the phrase goes, I think schools are having to spend too much time measuring the pig and not enough time feeding the pig. Measurement is everywhere these days, and is coming to lecturers via the TEF.
It is too easy to concentrate on the negatives though. I have found my teaching time to be fulfilling and have been genuinely impressed by much of the work produced by the students. In research the need to disseminate good work is ingrained upon us, but on the teaching side it is not so apparent. I want therefore, to provide an example of the work done by students on a module that I have taught this term.
This term I have taught Lean Organisational Management as part of the Construction Project Management degree. I am a strong advocate of lean and now believe that my students are too! In their assignment work students were asked to evaluate a current process at work (or a give scenario for full time students) using lean thinking. Next, to identify the root causes of any inefficiencies and finally to suggest an alternative process to eliminate the inefficiencies. I was thoroughly impressed by the range of issues investigated and by the quality of the improvements suggested.
An example of a problem tackled is shown in the ‘A3’ image above. In this case the problem was ‘over-ordering of material was occurring and that this was costly resulting in wasted resources. Material was being damaged on site, with undamaged material needing to be removed from site as waste. At the same time as over ordering was occurring, in other parts of the site necessary material was arriving late thus causing project delays.’
The student’s task was to identify the root causes of these problems, and once the root causes were identified to develop an improved process that eliminated the problem. I believe that the module enables students to learn to be scientific in tackling frequently occurring problems. I really enjoyed reading many of the assignments. It was very clear to me that many students now have a thorough grasp of lean principles. The problems tackled were everyday, but constantly recurring problems. Problems which have become accepted as part and parcel of the way things are done. Armed with their knowledge of lean I am sure that the students will be an asset for any construction company.
Lastly, I wonder about the issue of dissemination. The main output by which research is measured is the production of academic papers. In order to advance the discipline this is right and proper. However, publication should be an end to a means. Not only should good publications attract citations from other academics, they should also lead to changes in policy and practice. On reflection, I’m wonder if the best, and most fulfilling, way of achieving this is for research active academics to spend more time in the classroom?
Author: Carl Abbott Professor of Construction Innovation & Enterprise at the University of Salford