Unpredictable complexity – Happy New Year!

Yes, I know, there’s been a gap in my posts. A substantial gap. It simply won’t do, will it? Everything was going so smoothly – I was in a writing rhythm, and then….

Well, and then lots of things happened, both in the wider world and in the relatively turbulence free domain of Yours Truly. All of a sudden, there simply wasn’t time for the blog for a while – It seems as though the pace of the world has accelerated since June 2016. Does anyone remember that world? Or really recognise it anymore?

On the wider Western political front the double whammy of Brexit and Trump presented cumulative points in a growing rejection of the status quo which is still gathering pace – an emphatic populist dismissal of experts and an upheaval in normative thinking which has plunged us all head first into the waters of the unknown. I find the resulting collective mindset fascinating, regardless of ones own position in the varying debates on both sides of the pond. Certainly amongst many of my colleagues and most of my friends, despite an accent toward action, it’s as though there are still traces of aftershock associated with these events – the numbing ringing after the proverbial face slap is still echoing. We’re still a little dizzied, shaking our heads and reeling backwards, trying, somewhat feebly, to rationalise, to find meaning, to search for a reason as to why the hell…. What? Eh? No? Really? Really? But yes, it is really here and really is happening…

On this side of the pond a plan for the previously unthinkable (read unplanned for) Brexit is being hastily devised (fag packets out everyone) and will definitely be revealed by erm… early in the New Year/February/possibly March. Already the PM is looking increasingly like a desperate magician, frantically trying to grab the nearest bunny (this in the week that Sir Ivan Rogers the UK’s Ambassador in Brussels, quit over Brexit). Meanwhile Stateside, Trump is assembling a team from the swamp, to drain the very swamp (a phrase he’s now stopped using) from whence many of them came. In an attempt to keep up, the regular machinery of politics works in a mode of extreme reaction as it attempts to grapple with whatever Trump might tweet next.

Just this little slice of the wider global political upheaval and instability (no room in a short blog post such as this to begin on the bigger pictures) compels us to arrive at the humbling but inevitable conclusion that we don’t understand our world. In order to even be able to begin to unpick fact from post-fact, opinion from informed stance, there is necessarily a reduction of complexity which results in a narrative sitting in some other space not always connected to, or understanding of, the complexity on which it sits. We can at least grab onto this easier-to-hold-construct, but therein lies the issue – it isn’t the real world we are holding onto but one which is our fabrication. We’re helped to do this by the comforting algorithms of social media and online shopping – big data steers us to generate, and be given, increasingly targeted and narrow reflections of our own choices, which in themselves become our world – we’re living in times which Adam Curtis has described through his documentary Hypernormalisation.

And then from the demi-macro upheaval of Brexit and Trump to the definitely micro – of a job change for me. I’ve left the role of Dean of Students at the University of Salford and, as of September 2016, stepped into the role of Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience (happily still at Salford). A few months in and I feel like I’m gripping onto things. Well, gripping on in as much as is possible in a Higher Education sector which in itself is going through huge upheaval, the likes of which I haven’t seen before and am unlikely to see again in my career span.

So, with the impetus of a new calendar year and with my sparkly new PVC SE shoes now firmly on foot, I have picked this blog up again with the kind of untarnished resolve that typically inhabits January. I think it’s a good discipline- if nothing else it provides personal space for reflection – a weekly opportunity to ‘go placidly amidst the haste’ – its like those adult colouring books, except here, as in the rest of the world at the moment, I don’t think the picture/ pattern has fully hit the page, or is even coherent. As I’m drawing and colouring in at the same time, I certainly don’t expect to (be able to) stay within the lines – Unpredictable complexity abounds, so this blog will be my means of exploring some of the bits I find interesting and relevant (often tangential) to the developing educational picture at the University of Salford. This is all set against navigation of the increasingly fragile shifting landscape and the unknown unknowns of 2017 and beyond.

It’s nice to be back. Happy New Year an’ all that.

See you next week (promise).


Author: samgrogan

I am many sided; Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience at Salford University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, driven Tough Mudder runner, and a lover of the outdoors. I live in the heart of the beautiful Peak District with my wife and our pets. On weekends, you'll find me out in the countryside with the dog, running or walking up a hill, or typically cooking for friends (I'm getting better, so they say) My role at Salford is one I cherish. I'm one of the fortunate few who wake up excited about the day ahead. It's really not work when it's this much fun. As part of the Vice-Chancellor's Executive Team I work alongside a gifted and dedicated team of creative educationalists passionate about being better tomorrow than we are today. As PVC SE at Salford I hold executive responsibility for both the assurance of quality and standards of our institutional academic portfolio, and its strategic direction and character. Intertwined with this facet of my role, I am responsible for strategic leadership and enhancement of the wider student experience and the development of a distinctive Salford learning environment. My overall purpose, driven by these two key parts of my role, is to develop a bold, playful learning landscape at Salford which delivers holistic sustainable success, preparing our students for life. I'm fascinated by how people learn, and how we might collectively make that experience result in a profound expansion of personal and professional horizons and an extension of possibilities for all parties involved. My greatest reward comes from seeing thresholds crossed, barriers broken, new habits formed and changes made. To this end, I'm also endlessly absorbed in considering how we might develop better, more useful ways of integrating the digital landscape and other technologies, emerging and present, into the act of learning. I think we're just beginning - a brave new world awaits... My background is in performance - Before undertaking my PhD and before spending the first half of my university career as a lecturer, programme leader and head of department, in my early career I acted, danced and made theatre across the world. This ten year experience continues to be fundamental in shaping the way I think about teaching and learning. At its best I see it as a facilitated journey of discovery, play, risk and adventure anchored in 'reflective doing'. Not 'knowing' in this context is often a signal that a useful path is being trodden - Thinking on its own is just rehearsal...

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