Sunday, 30 May 2010

Post Modern Penguins, Performance Management and Palins Fence

Ten new baby penguins have been born at Vienna’s Schönbrunn Zoo since the end of April. This week these delightful creatures have been allowed out and immediately became the centre of attention for visitors at the Zoo. Schönbrunn Zoo is the only zoo in Europe breeding these endangered birds. The baby penguins are clearly doing well, eating up to 20 herrings a day. Three things about the story made me stop and pause:

(1) the baby penguins are not being raised by their parents. Their carers (note not keepers) look after them using new digitally based sound and visual technology

(2) the zoo have re-created the light and climate conditions of the Antarctic at the penguins’ enclosure to create a perfect simulated and stimulating environment for the young ones

(3) our School Administrator has a thing about puffins, and as penguins are a very close substitute I thought she would like the pictures.

Also, it seemed to me that the story, in itself, could act as a metaphor for nurse and midwife pre-registration education and training. For example, increasingly we provide opportunities for our students to learn, develop their knowledge and thinking through the use of new communication technologies. We will continue these approaches through the introduction of the next generation of our virtual learning environment, and approaches such as on-line submission and assessment of students work.

Likewise, we have invested a great deal of time, money and other resources in re-creating experiential and simulated environments in which student nurses and midwives can acquire and practice their clinical skills. Whilst clearly not being the real thing, these environments provide students with very effective learning opportunities and these technological based resources will increasingly play an important part of the students learning experience.

And of course teaching and providing learning opportunities for our students is one part of their experience. Students also benefit hugely from the work of a group of colleagues in the School who not only understand the University and School processes and procedures, but effectively provide a guiding hand and proactive support for the students as they study at every level. They likewise also provide very high standard of support and advice to other colleagues in the School, although often this contribution is hidden from view and sometimes misunderstood.

This latter point is unusual in an environment where so much information is so readily accessible and where our activities are known to so many (and already the baby penguins have their own U-tube site). I had a conversation with a colleague this week where we discussed the fact that these days our work in the School and our contributions as individuals in meeting the School’s objectives are becoming more and more visible to others.

It seems to me that such visibility and access to information about individual performance will increasingly inform judgments about the performance of colleagues. I think in an age of evidence based approaches to everything, moving to this position is long over due and to be welcomed. Others might have different views of course and there will always be a tension between promoting the openness of information, ensuring personal and organisational governance, and enjoying [academic] autonomy and privacy.

This week saw the former Alaskan Governor and Presidential wannabie, Sarah Palin dealing with such tensions. After the exposé author Joe McGinniss moved into the house next door (in order to get close to Palin as he gathers evidence for his next book based on her life) she had a 14 foot tall fence erected between the properties. Satisfyingly symbolic maybe, but in an age where we get to see the most intimate details of baby penguins in a small Zoo in Vienna, ultimately futile!