What do we produce?

Recently I read ‘The Goal’ which is a fine book – it’s about management by constraints, but it’s written in the form of a novel. As a novel it’s pretty lame (though surprisingly gripping), but as a text book it’s brilliant. The idea behind it is simple – any business has a goal, and anything that helps to achieve it is good while anything that doesn’t is bad.

For most businesses, the goal is pretty clear: to make money. Universities are a bit odd though, and the nearest they come to that kind of goal is generally to try to avoid losing too much money. So I’ve been wondering, what is our goal? More specifically, what is it that we produce?

I went through the obvious things like ‘qualified students’,’research papers’, ‘intellectual property’ and so on, but none of them seemed to make any sense as a primary goal, though they might be means to achieve it, or perhaps side-effects of it.

The thing I’ve settled on for now is knowledge.

Whether it is increasing the knowledge of our students or creating new knowledge, it seems fairly unequivocal that what we are trying to do is to increase the quantity and quality of knowledge in the world at large. Of course, that comes with a whole bunch of necessary corollaries, the most significant of which is that we must be concerned with spreading that knowledge as much as we can. In fact, I can go further. The more and/or the better the knowledge that we create, the more successful we will be as a university. Everything we do should therefore be focussed on that one goal – to increase knowledge.

So where do we go from here? How can we increase the knowledge that we produce? Some things are pretty obvious: we must teach as well as we can, we must learn as much as we can and we must discover as much as we can. But this is not a production line. Accurately quantifying the knowledge that we produce is well-nigh impossible, as the knowledge resides in people’s heads, not in papers, libraries, computer systems or exam results. However, it does suggest one important thing: we mustn’t keep it hidden away. This means we have to communicate. Firstly, we should communicate with those who will benefit most, the fertile ground on which to sow ideas. But we must also scatter it to the winds, as well as plough new land and make it fertile. Hopefully, our students and colleagues (especially in our subject areas) are the fertile ground. Conferences and journals are prime farmland. But we must also sow the seeds of knowledge further, into the world at large (the Internet is a wonderful thing) and into the broader community: to spread knowledge, and the intellectual tools to create that knowledge, far and wide.

And that’s why this is a public posting.

Original: https://community.brighton.ac.uk/pg/blog/jd29/read/66748/what-do-we-produce
By: Jon Dron
Posted: August 24, 2006, 11:19 am

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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