Three years ago, beginning my exploration of audio feedback, I was a one-man band. I did the literature search, decided on the technology, taught myself how to use it, recorded the feedback on my students’ work, sent it to them, gathered their comments on the experience, analysed the data and published the results. In a very straightforward way, my actions (or lack of them) determined how things went. It was hard work, but I was in control and it felt comfortable. If I had been lusting after a title, I might accurately – but absurdly – have called myself ‘director’ of the one-man band.
Then came Sounds Good, a 17-person audio-feedback ensemble at Leeds Met. Again it was my baby: people looked to me as the person ‘in charge’ and I readily accepted the responsibility of shaping the project and moving it along. So, amongst other things, I decided on the technology, issued briefings to team members, gathered completed questionnaires, analysed the data and, as before, published the results. But it wasn’t as before. The important difference was that I was at one remove from the action: I had almost no contact with students and produced none of the audio feedback. I did deal directly with the producers of the audio feedback – teachers at Leeds Met – but I don’t think I ever ‘directed’ operations, in the sense of ordering people what to do. Instead I largely made requests, offered recommendations and suggestions. We’re not in the army and the informal style seemed appropriate. I called myself ‘project manager’ rather than ‘director’. Being at one remove, and being lousy at delegation, I was often anxious as to what would happen. See here and here, for example. I wasn’t as comfortable as when I was running my one-man band but, as it turned out, the team did a great job and Sounds Good worked well. Thanks, colleagues!
Now it’s Sounds Good 2, an even bigger audio feedback enterprise where, in many instances, I’m yet further removed from the action. Most of the original Leeds Met team are continuing to use audio feedback with their students, but new teachers have joined us and some of the ‘old lags’ act as their mentors. So in some instances the communication chain between me and students now has an extra link: me – mentor – mentee – student (and back again). There are indications that it doesn’t always work perfectly and I occasionally detect a bit of ‘Chinese whispers’. At this moment, I’m not confident that I have the full roster of Leeds Met student groups who are, or will be, receiving audio feedback this semester as part of Sounds Good 2.
And then there’s what’s happening elsewhere. As part of Sounds Good 2, audio feedback work is getting under way at three partner institutions: Newman University College, the University of Northampton and York St John University. What’s going on there? I’ve visited all three places, know my institutional contacts and have met quite a few of the staff intending to give audio feedback. Some of them have started to blog about their experience and information flows back and forth. Even so, I worry that I don’t have the full picture and I do feel far removed from their students.
Considering the project as a whole, it’s bigger than I could have imagined back in 2005-6. I believe it’s going well but, as of today, I don’t really know. What I’m sure of is that other people now have far more influence over the outcomes than I do. Emphatically, I’m not the director, in the sense of being in full control, able to pull levers and make the intended actions happen immediately.
So I’ve dubbed myself the ‘indirector’ of Sounds Good 2. ‘Indirector’ is, I think, a neat label for someone who is, sort of, in charge of something, but not with the expectation of control that a director may have. An indirector operates indirectly, through other people, along sometimes lengthy and rickety communication channels. An indirector can’t or won’t order people to do things and instead resorts to other strategies, including encouragement, facilitation and finger-crossing. Some indirectors seem to find this easy. Given my instincts for simplicity and do-it-yourself, I don’t. But the new badge helps, a bit.
Indirector, Sounds Good 2