Accelerating Change in Higher Education

Cindy Gallatin, Chief of Digital Learning Initiatives, Digital Learning, University of New Haven

Cindy Gallatin, Chief of Digital Learning Initiatives, Digital Learning, University of New Haven

“The success of higher education institutions will rely on the adaptability and versatility of faculty and staff to manage and accelerate change.”

As professionals within the higher education community, we often hear about the importance of changing business models because of the shifts in the demographic, economic, and social landscapes.  Many of us read articles about the pandemic accelerating changes, yet we know it is not easy to modify systems or processesrapidly in higher education.  Making major institutional changes requires commitment from both top administrators as well as faculty.  The speed at which we in higher education make these changes is essential for institutional viability.

During the summer of 2020, our institution adopted a majoreducational technology modification,resulting in significant operational changes.  Not only did everyone adapt to alternate delivery modes such as asynchronous online, COVID hybrid, synchronous online, and socially distanced on-campus classes, but we also moved to a new learning management system (LMS), Canvas. Our Digital Learning team in concert with the Information Technology Department deployed a new LMSwithin 10 weeks. As many professionals in this space realize, this is a remarkably accelerated timeframe; most institutions deploy new LMS systems in one to twoyears.

Process

My core team consisted of four instructional designers. In addition to these individuals, we received assistance and advice from many others, including a core team of faculty innovators, members of the Provost Office, members of the Center for Teaching & Learning,and members of the Information Technology Department. Our initial objective during the summer of 2020 was to provide faculty development sessions to assist and improve online courses for the fall of 2020.

We started by surveying faculty in April of 2020 to better understand their needs. In response to the results, we developed and offered different levels of pedagogical training for faculty from May through August.

Although our initial goal was focused on online course teaching and learning, a second goal was introduced:  to launch a learning management platform that provided a better student experience. The University decided to move to a new LMS by the fall of2020 to improve the student experience. We initiated the process on June 22 and launched the new LMS to the University on August 24.

To meet the August goal, we quickly modified our plan to incorporate LMS training in conjunction with online pedagogical training. During the summer of 2020, we ran 50 faculty development sessions with 450 faculty participating; all sessions were conducted virtually.  Each session had a range of 25 to 126 faculty members in attendance.We also ran targeted sessions for new faculty members, which included over 100 individuals.

Although faculty may not have been enthusiastic about the short period of time for this transition, they were engaged in the faculty development sessions and/or utilized the on-demand training options to learn the new system.We leveraged the advice and ideas of our faculty innovators and supported 14 members in a live pilot for the new LMS during the summer term. This feedback was important before we went live with all faculty and students.

In addition to preparing faculty, we had to provide resources for students. Our team created a self-paced online training course, a video overview, and a communication plan for students in addition to on-demand resources.

Results

During the fall of 2020, our feedback from students was positive;they preferred the new LMS.  They felt it was more intuitive and preferred the modular structure it provided.

We continued to support faculty throughout the launch year. Our survey data at the end of this first year highlighted that 64% percent of faculty found the training sessions helpful or very helpful while 24% percent of surveyed respondents utilized other methods of training such as self-paced learning options or they already knew how to use this LMS. Of those faculty participating in the survey, 82% percent felt prepared to teach in the new LMS, while 16% percent felt somewhat prepared to teach in the new LMS for a total of 98%. 

Summary

The foregoing examples demonstrate the speed with which higher education institutions must move.Because of the forecast for changing demographics of traditional students, the increase in the use of technology, the increasing costs of sustaining a campus, and the need for new skill sets within various industries, higher education institutions must accelerate the rate of change to continuously improve the student experience. The success of higher education institutions will rely upon the adaptability and versatility of faculty and staff to manage and accelerate change.

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