This Week in Uncertainty: Dimensions and Discontinuity

How does one get a handle on uncertainty?  In her 2019 survey, “Uncertainty in Decision-Making: A Review of the International Business Literature”, Sniazkho provides an integrated framework for categorizing 13 dimensions of uncertainty which are grouped into three categories of environmental, industry, and firm uncertainties.  Environmental uncertainty identifies the uncertainties in the world around us and includes familiar sources such as economic, political, government, and cultural uncertainties as well as something called “discontinuous uncertainty” defined as unpredictability from nature itself, terrorist attack (yikes!) or technological disasters.   Industry uncertainty includes uncertainties arising from risk specific to each industry and include those of input such as availability of human resources or finances, changes in demand from consumers, competition from other organizations in a similar market, and technological uncertainties such as how the service or product is produced and delivered.  Firm uncertainty comes from within the organization and arises from the unpredictability of research and development results, how the firm operates and how productive employees are, and the impact of levels of previous experience within the organization.

There are many of these types and dimensions of uncertainty at play in education today, especially as we respond to the BIG uncertainty of COVID-19.  The pandemic is clearly an environmental uncertainty of the discontinuous dimension arising from nature (or other source depending on your own beliefs) but also includes all the other sources in this category whether economic, political, government, or cultural. This environmental uncertainty has created industry uncertainty within education especially with determining how the “product” is delivered.  While most schools have moved past pure online delivery there are still many pressures to provided various models of blended programs in both K-12 and higher education and this time may represent a paradigm shift in educational delivery.  The OECD produced a paper early in the pandemic called Four Scenarios for Schooling which discussed possible directions for education in the post-pandemic period.  While some of these pressures existed prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 has contributed much to uncertainties within the field of education with many questions still to be answered about what the future looks like for organizing schools and engaging learners.  These ongoing uncertainties are present in both K-12 and higher education and has contributed to increased firm uncertainty at both levels arising initially from human resource challenges from teachers and support staff working from home and more recently dealing with vaccine mandates of various forms.

What does uncertainty look like in your school or district?  In my view, this is a glass half-full time for education and for how schools are organized and how teachers connect with and engage with kids.  The sudden demand created for better online educational experiences has transformed many classrooms and provided more opportunities for how students collaborate with others and connect with their teacher.  My twitter feed is full of stories of creative ways that teachers are working with students including changing assessment practices, new ways of students presenting their work, and increased the ways for teachers to learn from each other.  The view of uncertainty that I will try to take from my reading and study in this area is that as much as it creates doubt, it also creates opportunity to move into the vacuum created by conditions of uncertainty whether they arise from externally, within education, or from our school or district.  Next, TWIU will look at methods to manage uncertainty. See you next time in blogland!

Sniazhko, S. (2019). Uncertainty in decision-making: A review of the international business literature. Cogent Business & Management, 6(1), 1650692.

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