According to Merriam Webster, ”In physics, resilience is the ability of an elastic material (such as rubber or animal tissue) to absorb energy (such as from a blow) and release that energy as it springs back to its original shape.” Due to the current COVID-19 situation, resilience has become an important feature in areas other than physics as well.

In organizations, such as schools, resilience describes how well an organization can continue with its purpose and function in exceptional situations, and how well and fast it recovers from the situation. In a way, resilience measures the flexibility of an organization: if the organization is fully mechanical without any flexibility, any exception is fatal: “for want of a nail the whole battle was lost”. A highly bureaucratic organization with very specific and rigid processes can be like that: everyone is responsible only for their tasks, no one is responsible for exceptional situations, so the organization is not able to react. However, in sustainable resilience, there is more than rigidity/flexibility. An organization can respond quickly to changing situations, but it can be based only on the flexibility of individual workers: in difficult situations, workers double their workload and make things happen. In the long run, this is an efficient way to a) burn out the workers, b) kill the creativity of the organization, and c) lose the best employees to the competitors.

To be resilient, organizations must survive unharmed in exceptional situations, without causing extra arrangements (in a panic) and unreasonable overload for workers. For this to be possible, the organization’s processes must be designed to support workers in exceptional situations. Processes must have built-in flexibility, they should be harmonized at an appropriate level: not too detailed to become too rigid and too loose to become useless. Processes must give organizational support for employees also in exceptional situations, but on the other hand, employees must be trusted to be experts who can make lower-level decisions without the strict guidance of a process. This balance must be studied and discussed case specifically; each organization has its specific features.

Due to digitalization, having this balance has become more important than ever: with ill-designed information systems, it is possible to freeze all the processes of the organization. In a normal status quo situation, this can be very beneficial: processes might be streamlined, extra work, as well as bottlenecks, can be removed, quality is standardized, and productivity increases. However, if information systems do not give any possibility for individuals to make decisions and exceptions, reacting in exceptional situations is not possible. Not even if employees were willing to do overwork, a shackling information system makes it impossible to change processes. When digitalization is done, resilience must be kept in mind.

In education digitalization, it is important to remember that the teachers and lecturers of schools and universities are highly educated professionals, who are experts in their field. In expert work digitalization, the cookbook-approach is not working: expert work, although having repetitive tasks, is not mechanical conveyor belt work, but relies heavily on the situational decisions experts do continually. The developed information systems must support this decision making, not to hinder it. On the other hand, information systems should support experts’ work processes, and collect and give reliable and up-to-date data for managers to make higher-level decisions. When the lower and higher-level decisions are in balance, the experts (i.e. teachers and lecturers) can react and respond to changed situations, and keep the upper-level processes still going on. Well-done digitalization supports experts also in exceptional situations and the organization is resilient with minimum extra work or trouble.

One example of this kind of digitalization supported resilience is the digitalization of thesis processes in a higher education institute. In that digitization project, Glowdom developed a system (called Wihi) where experts (thesis supervisors) can react to all changing situations of different thesis projects, and still collect valuable data for thesis coordinators and management for predictions and decision making. This has also proven to be a very resilient solution in the exceptional conditions caused by covid-19. If interested in the Wihi digitization project, and ideas and background behind the project, read more: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10639-020-10252-x

In Eduditra (education digital transformation) project, we are looking for ways to enlarge the good practices developed during the Wihi project into the whole education field. The goal is to digitize education by taking the resilience and nature of experts to work into account so that the digitized processes help schools and HEIs to improve their performance and survive in different exceptional situations.

More information:

Kauppinen, R., A. Lagstedt, and J. Lindstedt, “Digitalizing Teaching Processes – How to Create Usable Data with Minimal Effort”, European Journal of Higher Education IT (Accepted), 2020.

Kauppinen, R., A. Lagstedt, and J.P. Lindstedt, “Expert-Oriented Digitalization of University Processes”, The 4th International Symposium on Emerging Technologies for Education, SETE 2019, (2019).

Lagstedt, A., J.P. Lindstedt, and R. Kauppinen, “An outcome of expert-oriented digitalization of university processes”, Education and Information Technologies, 2020.

Lindstedt, J.P., R. Kauppinen, and A. Lagstedt, “Personalizing the Learning Process With Wihi”, Proceedings of 33rd Bled eConference, (2020).