Conceptual Frameworks for the Application of LHE to the Academic Processes of Teaching and Curriculum

Two leading scholars promoting the application of Lean principles and practices to academic processes in higher education, Vincent Wiegel and Bob Emiliani, propose separate frameworks conceptualizing how LHE can infuse academic processes related to course design, delivery, assessment, and support. Together, their work highlights the complementary fit between a generalizable LHE management system with core teaching and curriculum processes.

Lean in the Classroom

Wiegel’s recent book, Lean in the Classroom: The Powerful Strategy for Improving Student Performance and Developing Efficient Processes, argues that there is considerable overlap among traditional approaches to education and the application of Lean principles and practices to improve teaching and learning. Popular pedagogies in education (directed instruction, student- centered learning, project-based learning, and high-impact learning practices) can be distilled to three basic steps which are shown on the left side of Table 7.3; an educational example is presented immediately to the right.13 In the last two columns, the Lean Education approach and examples of Lean

Table 7.3 Similarities Among Traditional Approaches to Education and Lean Education

Traditional Approaches to Education

Educational

Example

Lean Education

Lean Technique Examples

There is an educational goal to be attained as set by the provider (e.g., school or teacher)

Basic level mastery of matrix algebra

What does the beneficiary of the educational process value (e.g., the student's goal, independently or in collaboration with the school or teacher)

Stakeholder engagement, Kano analysis, Quality Function Deployment

Students are provided with means to master the subject matter based on where they currently are from the educational goal

Curated reading materials, direct instruction from teacher, and practice exercises and feedback on matrix algebra

Analysis and design of the value-adding capacity of the educational process (i.e., removal of waste and uninterrupted flow as "pulled" by the student)

Just-in-time techniques (Kanban, POLCA), 5S (of inputs and activities), pull system

Progress on goal attainment is tracked at various stages along the way

Exam to assess progress on basic level mastery of matrix algebra

Ongoing

measurement and continuous improvement to attain/adjust the established goal

Visual

management (performance boards), problemsolving (PDCA)

techniques are presented. As the table shows, the application of Lean principles and practices offers an approach to education that naturally parallels the traditional approaches to education. Overall, despite skepticism about the application of Lean in (higher) educational settings, Lean Education appears to have considerable overlap with the traditional approaches to education.

Wiegel goes on to describe the lack of power and influence faculty and school administrators have to improve pedagogy under traditional approaches to education: it is difficult to change the current sclerotic educational processes across politicized organizations as needed to adapt to fast- paced changes in the environment; overworked teachers are bogged down in bureaucratic work with little time to address educational quality; and the great variability of educational quality across teachers, schools, and countries. Despite these challenges, schools and teachers do work autonomously to improve education, but under long-term Improvement Cycles with limited assessment (e.g., evaluating improvement initiatives at the end of the school year foregoing any opportunity to adjust practices in the current cohort of students). Additionally, the absence of a formal process for designing and implementing change delays execution of any improvement initiatives (e.g., lively and healthy faculty debates continue without making a decision on implementation causing many good ideas to be forgotten).

In contrast, Lean Education differentiates itself from these traditional approaches to educational change on a number of dimensions:

■ Lean aligns naturally with traditional approaches to pedagogy (as shown above) and is easy to learn and practice

■ Lean is action oriented, avoiding overly lengthy discussions with a clear path to the execution of recommendations

■ Lean establishes concrete and measurable targets for improvements that are assessed frequently on short cycles and uses continuous improvement to achieve early successes (and cut losses)

■ Lean engages educators, administrators, and other constituencies, lending itself to wide institutional support

■ Lean has a demonstrated history of success across many sectors (including education).

Wiegel presents detailed discussions using Lean in the classroom and developing course curriculum “faster and better” than traditional educational practices. Overall, Lean Education presents a thoughtful and workable conceptual framework, supported by examples from the successful experimentation of the model in a variety of settings, for using LHE to improve academic processes.

Continuous Flow University

In the afterword of his 2015 book, Lean University, Emiliani offers a provocative reconceptualization of a university education by embracing currently available technology to make all critical processes (academic, academic support, administrative) flow smoothly for every student.14 He posits that the traditional university has become too expensive (e.g., room and board for residential students, commuting costs for nonresidential students) and fails those segments of students historically underserved by higher education (e.g., working professionals who need new knowledge and skills to keep themselves employed, employers who need a higher educated workforce to be competitive). To address this problem, Emiliani shows how faculty creativity and established technology can be used to design a truly student-centric university that meets both current educational needs and future continuing professional education needs of more students. Table 7.4 contrasts the traditional university with a reimagined continuous flow university. As the table shows, a student-centered continuous flow university allows students to “pull” educational services as needed while reducing the waste of waiting typically found in the educational processes of traditional universities.

Table 7.4 Comparison of Traditional versus Continuous Flow Universities

Traditional University

Continuous Flow University

University-focused: Designed from the perspective of administration and faculty (i.e., a noncompetitive seller's market where students compete to attend universities)

Student-focused: Designed from the multiple perspectives of students (i.e., a competitive buyer's market where universities compete to attract students)

Pushed educational services: Batch processing (e.g., courses start and end on fixed dates)

Pulled educational services: Continuous flow (e.g., start and finish courses at own pace)

Waste of waiting: Waiting for admission decision, course registration, course to start, next class meeting to occur, appointments for support services, etc.

On demand: Immediate admission decision, course registration, course start, progression at student- determined pace, appointments for support services, etc.

Delivering on the promise of a continuous flow university would require a university-wide commitment from the faculty and staff and the reinvention of many academic and academic support processes. Faculty would work col- laboratively to design curricular and cocurricular experiences that maintain academic rigor and promote teaching effectiveness. For example, individual course content would be designed as a series of self-paced modules, each followed with student assignments (evaluated using currently available software) to assess understanding/mastery without the need for midterm of final exams. Faculty would connect with groups of students online at discrete points during course completion (e.g., 15%—25%, 45%—55%, and 90%-100%) and offer insights, feedback, mentoring, etc. When implemented, a continuous flow university would raise the importance of teaching and learning, allowing better courses to be completed 25%-40% faster due to the elimination of all the waiting that occurs in a traditional university. Students and their employers will have their expectations met, deepening their attachment to the university for future educational needs. University costs go down due to more efficient and effective processes that are higher quality and reduce delays, rework, and other forms of waste and impediments to flow. Overall, while the concept of a continuous flow university built on Lean principles is far from fully developed, its vision of serving all students at all points in their educational careers from a student-centric perspective challenges higher education institutions to fundamentally reimagine how universities fulfill their educational missions. Lean organizations have risen to these challenges; so can higher education.15

 
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