Weekly Writing 4:1, Bob Heath

For your writing post this week, develop a thorough description of the situational factors impacting your lesson plan. Exhibit 3.2 in the text provides a checklist of initial considerations. If you’re developing for K-12, speak to the developmental stage of your students. If you’re developing educational content for adults, estimate the level of prior experience and describe how that will affect your lesson plan. Highlight the situational characteristics that you believe will make course development most challenging.

Review the posts of your classmates and provide feedback on the situational factors they’ve listed for their target populations.

Colby College is an elite liberal arts residential college.   As such many of our students come from well to do families many from the Boston area.   Many have attended private high schools, preparatory schools.   Indeed, upon graduation many return to this home city.   However, not all students have this background.   Like all colleges, Colby attempts to create diversity in its student body.   Some international students are recruited through the International high school program.   Some international students are from China on a can pay basis — that is they require no financial aid.   Colby works closely with the POSSE foundation program and recruits ethnically diverse young people from inner cities, New York, Chicago ,for examples ,in this way.   A few of Colby’s students are recruited from Maine–though not as many as in the past.

The upshot is that few of our job applicants have prior work experience of any significant sort.   This along with generational differences between Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials and we have some significant hurdles to manage regarding work place expectations.   Very few of our students imagine themselves in an entry-level position.

The work at our Service desk has changed over time.   However, at a basic level it is transactional work, checking library materials in and out, keeping printer and photocopiers operational and filled with paper, providing directional services for both the building and the campus.   Over time our business model has shifted with part-time student employees increasingly important in supporting our front line service.   This has include extended hours in the evening and weekend.   It has also included providing basic research assistance.       In truth, there is a lot of content knowledge and a lot of process knowledge that our service desk employees need.   Historically, we created a “career path’ for our student employees.   We defined three different levels of work: level one work was basic retrieval or shelving functions in handling library materials, we distinguished it as inward facing and having impact on internal library functions.   Our second level involved this level and additionally was outward facing in that it serviced customers or contacts external to the library: on campus, students and faculty, or off campus, other libraries or external vendors.   Our third level involved supervisory or research skills that affected library employees at various levels in the organization.   We promoted employees based on competence, fit, and possibly based on age/experience.   Therefore, many first year student employees worked as shelvers returning borrowed materials to the stacks and shelving them correctly.   Conversely, they worked for our interlibrary loan department retrieving materials from the stacks and packing them for shipping.   Our Service desks were second year students who had worked for a year in the previous capacity and had a sense of basic library skills and work.   We augmented their training with training in communication skills and problem solving and they provided first contact resolution services.   Most Colby students spend their junior year, a semester at least frequently the full year abroad.   Therefore, our third tier employees are often seniors; we draw our student supervisor and research assistant positions from this applicant pool.

Because we are an educational institution, we often imagine that performance issues are a matter of training.   If only we could get our training right then our performances would be perfected.   However, this is an incomplete truth and an error sometimes encountered in supervisors thinking about employee performance.   A performance deficiency might result from incomplete knowledge, a skill deficiency, or a managerial deficiency: motivational problem, organizational problem, equipment problem, or a policy problem (here I am drawing heavily from Robert Mager’s analysis of performance problems).

Turning my attention to another aspect of managing a service desk, that is key performance indicators.   This something we have not examined in the past, at least, with any consistency or thoroughness.    Jeff Rumburg and Eric Zbikowsky in their white paper “The Seven Most Important Performance Indicators for the Service Desk’ identify: cost, quality, productivity, agent, service level and call handling as their priorities.


All of this boils down to a single element of quality, which is first contact resolution rate, as the single most important service desk metric to focus on for improvement.

The Colby College Libraries consists of three on campus facilities, Miller library the main library whose collection and services focuses on humanities and social sciences, Bixler Art and Music library whose collection and services focus on art, music and performing arts, our Science library whose collection and services focus on science, math and their related interdisciplinary studies.   Our final facility is an on campus storage facility that provides for more than forty years of collection growth.  Miller library has just under gone a two-year renovation, alas a highly controversial renovation.   Three years ago, we engaged a consultant and entered into a process of organizational re-design, two years prior to that, we engaged a consultant and underwent a strategic planning process both of these processes were successful (based on a variety of measures) and have moved the organization forward.   However, the controversy surrounding our physical renovation has seriously damaged our reputation with all college constituents, students, faculty, administration, and alumina.

As our student, employees working at our service desk are our primary source of first contact resolution, whether for customer service, building or campus directional assistance, technology assistance, or primary research assistance we are acutely aware of their performance and our need to for excellence in their performance.




Just some Maine fall colors, since we are sharing.

28 thoughts on “Weekly Writing 4:1, Bob Heath

  1. Alda

    Great observation that even in a vocational program, the relationship between training and performance is not 1:1. You note that beyond skills deficits, performance can be affected by problems of motivation or policy as well. What part of the training do you deliver? Sometimes, depending on our position in an organzation, we may be tasked with providing “training” but are not empowered to change any policies or procedures that we find to be interfering with successful buy-in. I am interested in hearing more about how you serve as an “educator” in this environment. Are you in a position to address issues of motivation or policy?

  2. Owen

    I love the image of Maine fall colors. Thanks for sharing!

    I also appreciated the link to Robert Mager’s analysis of performance problems. I’ve put that on my reading list. I’m curious from a management perspective but also from a pedagogical perspective – of where the crossover or parity between the two exists.

    I look forward to seeing your learning unit come together.

    1. Bob Post author

      Mager’s six pack was an important resource I was turned onto in an Human Resources course I took. It addresses many of the topics this class does though anticipatory and in an altogether different venue. I think that one of the most important take a ways was that perfect training won’t result in perfect performance. And this because performance is made up of skills, knowledge and motivation. Perfect training might result in perfect knowledge. But, one has to address each aspect of performance to get perfect performance (assuming such a thing exists). Skills literally require hands on practice. Motivation requires supervisory feedback and perhaps at the most extreme firing the person who isn’t working out.

      We are loath to fire unmotivated students however it might be the best thing for them. If it is done with compassion and care as a good firing then it might well reset and create a moment where they become learners again. Here I am thinking about an earlier comment where we talked about students deselected for alternative education.

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