Using SSM to Approach Complex Problematical Situations in Learning, Teaching and Assessment Management: A Case Study of a Chinese University College

Using SSM to Approach Complex Problematical Situations in Learning, Teaching and Assessment Management: A Case Study of a Chinese University College

Junkang Feng
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/IJSS.2019010101
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Chinese higher education has moved into a popularized and internationalization stage, which makes the traditional learning, teaching and assessment (LTA) management challenging and sometimes problematical. This paper introduces how to approach complex problematical situations in LTA management by using Checkland's Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) at the Business College of the Beijing Union University (BCBUU) in China. Through this case study of seven years, the author made sense of and improved the problematical situations. It is found that SSM provides LTA managers with an innovative and fundamental methodology to appreciate otherwise seemingly unapproachable and unmanageable complex and ill-structured problem situations that they face. It is also proven that the case study of SSM in the context of LTA management in a Chinese college is practically effective.
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Organization Background

Chinese higher education has entered into a new era of popularization and internationalization with the backdrop of fundamental and speedy changes and development in the last 30-40 years in economy, education and society as a whole (Huang and Long, 2010). Along with rapid and welcoming development unforeseen problems of learning, teaching and assessment (LTA) management keep cropping up. As a result, the LTA management in Chinese higher education becomes ever challenging and sometimes problematical.

This case study is an overhaul of a fundamental aspect of a college namely its LTA management, and it took seven years to complete, and it is an investigation on how we may make sense of and approach complex human organizational and management situations that are seen by stakeholders as problematical. The investigation was carried out in a particular situation of LTA management at the Business College of Beijing Union University (BCBUU) in China. As a top manager of LTA management, the researcher not only conducted the case study of seven years, but also organized and implemented the entire intervention process at BCBUU.

Founded in 1978, the BCBUU is a college affiliated with Beijing Union University. The mission of the college is to train international business talents for the economic and social development of Beijing, China. The organizational structure of Learning, Teaching and Assessment (LTA) management of the college consists of four layers: Vice Dean in charge of LTA → Office of Educational Administration → Academic Departments → Teaching and Research Groups. BCBUU runs six academic programmes including International business, Accounting and International finance.

Setting the Stage

LTA management should be an integrated system with a robust organizational structure, regulations and working procedures on the basis of certain management ideas, which provides guidance, evaluation and services for academic programmes and procedures (Zhang, 2007). It mainly includes three parts: teaching plan management, LTA operation management and LTA quality assurance. The LTA management model of the Business College can be divided into two lines: administrative and academic management. The administrative management takes the vice dean who is in charge of LTA as the responsible person to lead the LTA administration department. Under these, the academic departments carry out the management of LTA administration affairs, such as teaching plan management, student status management, examination management, etc. Academic management takes the college’s Learning and Teaching Supervision Committee (like the Senate of some British universities) as the college’s top academic body of LTA management, which steers the college’s curriculum committee and various specialties. The management of LTA academic affairs is carried out under the jurisdiction of the committee, such as the examination and approval of programmes, modules and teaching achievements, etc.


Case Description

Through years of experience of LTA management at BCBUU, we observe that the ‘social reality’ that LTA management faces is complex and ever-changing. Many different types of people with different appreciative settings (Vickers, 1970) are involved in it, including academics, students, administration staff and managers. They are constantly creating the social world with which LTA management is concerned in interactions with others. They are negotiating their interpretations of reality and those multiple interpretations at the same time constituting the reality itself. This situation makes the definition and the boundaries of these problems difficult to achieve, and they can hardly be addressed by using a quantitative method (Chen and Xia, 1990). For example, in the problems of annual assessment of teaching quality, evaluators include students, colleagues, supervisors and administrators. Due to their different appreciative settings, there are different judgements on what counts as quality teaching. Any quantification of it is extremely crude and unconvincing.

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