"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Role of the Workplace Educator

As I have been reading, I find that I am having an issue with workplace educators as they have been presented in Reading Work. So, I asked myself, why? I dug into last week's generative word list and the questions for reflecting on the text. Positionality kept tapping on my frontal cerebral lobe. Socialization - ah, cognitive skills associated with socialization is what happens there.  Maybe I am on to something, maybe not.

I think I am trying to address my relationship to the work-site (my work-site) for the upcoming assignment. I am looking at how these researchers have positioned themselves within the workplaces they are studying. I like how Folinsbee positioned herself as a "trainee" - a non-expert and how that helped her to develop a trust-based relationship in which workers' openly shared their perspectives and work lives. I also note how she discusses the contradictions between what the workers' are told and what actually happens on a typical workday. Hmm, managers' viewpoints - takes me back to Hunter and the Urban Hotel. I review pages 112 and following, where the director's expectations for the front office staff's buy-in - willingness - to embrace the corporate image, from clothing, to attitude, to "going the extra mile" are detailed. I consider how this undercuts the very notion of autonomy that is required for empowerment. I end up considering maybe it's the executive level that needs some workplace education on diversity, empowerment, and the garbled messages they are communicating.  Which, incidentally, does lead me back to my point - the role of the workplace educator in today's culture. This is what I am struggling with, and I realize it is directly related to the changes technology has brought to the work environment -my work environment, particularly.

Looking around at the employees in my office, I see a wide range of individuals whose education ranges from doctoral degrees to high school degrees and every stop-over in-between. I ask myself, how does education - learning job skills - happen here?  The common denominator here is computer literacy. It is required for the PhD to renew her Human Subject Certification, the fiscal technician certification to access financial databases, and the office manager's training on "What to do if a Shooter comes to the door."  This is not the same work environment I knew just 10 years ago - where appropriate groups of employees attended "work place diversity" training and everyone had to show up for the annual OSHA videos (that were always the same). Fifteen years prior to that, I gathered volunteers to "teach" interview skills and decoding court documents for skills required in that program. Today, face-to-face educating for proficiencies required in my current work environment are limited.  

Robert Gephart, (2002) writes about the "brave new workplace" in the electronic age saying, "...the use of computer mediated information systems and telecommunications leads to changes in the modern organization...decentralization of work systems occurs; there is a diffusion of power and decision making." Further, he points out that "responsibility, authority, and accountability devolve downward' and an opaque line between management and the managed is blurred as employees lose sight of who has the power. This aptly describes my workplace. I may be a manager, but frequently my power is trumped by those who are "certified" to log-on to critical sites to which I do not have access. Indeed, if I worried about having access to the multiple systems (and keeping up training requirements to do so) I would never time to "manage" anything.

So here I am, thinking about "positioning" myself ....

Gephart, R. (2002) Introduction to the brave new workplace: Organizational behavior in the electronic age. Journal of Organizational Behavior   23 (4) June 2002. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4093810


  1. I struggled with the EXACT issue you did about the hotel workers and empowering them. You brought back that internal dilemma. I also appreciate how you see elements of the same in your own workplace.

    But I mostly honed-in on your comments about face-to-face vs computer-based 'training' as this is the essence of not only a global educational issue, but also the essence of my current work. How DO we in this age of constant need for new information still embrace the human element that is essential to learning - not only formal learning, but all of the informal learning that is necessary to better do our jobs? Your lack of access to critical sites is very similar to those we impose on learners of all ages (in the name of protecting them from evil). What really happens when we limit access?

  2. Very open and honest reflection on positionality, Susan. You writing has a lovely coherence that comes together at the end and pulls in deep insights along the way. To Joanne's comment on your point about blurred lines of power in the digital world: I agree that access is a huge part of that. But even with formal permission to access, there is still the issue of time. Will time saving tools (like Twitter) keep up?

  3. I don't know how much time 'time saving' tools really saves. I talked to someone about training in their office and they said that while they have web-based training via the intranet, they're expected to be able to do that while still doing their jobs, which theoretically takes up their whole day. So where should the extra hours come from?


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.