Technology-based Innovation as a Transformative Agent – Forward with Institutional Change

Institutional Transformation was one of the themes at last year’s JISC online conference which focused on how current teaching and learning has been transformed as a result of e-learning and how this impacts on institutions and learners. This year’s conference, a session on œAchieving transformational change – making it happen has taken this further with a focus on practical approaches and the change process to an institution-wide transformation. Two presenters, Mark Stiles from at Staffordshire University and Peter Bullen from at the University of Hertfordshire, both reflected on the approaches taken within their institutions using technology to achieve transformational change. Peter outlined their experience in the CABLE project (Change academy for blended learning enhancement) as a process to help support and achieve transformational change in learning and teaching. In his presentation, Mark pointed out that “the very act of embedding had become a barrier to innovation” and discussed approaches that have been developed and used by the new JISC ENABLE project, funded under the Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design programme which aimed to promote institution-wide changes. Many thoughtful questions and discussion on the processes and approaches which could encourage the continuation of innovations and changes at institutional, departmental and individual levels have emerged. A selection of these are as follows:

  1. Getting started with measurables: œif you are trying to change, or transform something then you need to know if you are on the path to achieving it. Therefore you need to be able to describe what you are trying to achieve – what it looks like, feels like etc. and you need to have some descriptors that you can ˜measure. In the discussion of measuring transformation, Peter gave an example of how CABLE is trying to measure the impact of blended learning on different stakeholders. He continued, œits difficult as we tend to think about measures of impact on students in terms of global measures such as pass rates or retention rates or we can go to the other end of the spectrum and look at number of logs in, to discussions for example. Maybe we should look at some way of measuring what’s changed in the classroom as a measure of change in Blended Learning. This view was echoed by Mark and he added, ” one of the big problems is we tend to measure things which are easy to mend, rather than focusing on what we need to understand more about”.
  2. Collaboration is essential for transformation: Collaboration seems vital for transformation across a whole institution. Peter outlined the CABLE approach which aims to integrate blended learning into practice “ across the institution – rather than it remaining as an ˜add on. In order to do so, they involved project teams at the school (i.e. department) level in a structured process to collaborate, share practice and develop working relationships. However, Mark argues that one cannot “legislate” for collaboration, rather the processes for “joining things up” and “seeing the big picture” are needed to ensure collaboration within the institutions. He pointed out that the lack of alignment at Universities, in governments and from funding bodies can be seen as a big problem. He suggested that alignment between all the varying similar initiatives is really important and the big thing seems to be promoting a culture of “shared vision”.
  3. Issues of œownership: a discussion on œownershipœ was initiated by Mark, who noted that œat the institutional level, tensions between innovation and control can focus around ownership”. He continued, œits classic large organisation issues¦ Local initiatives often start up because of a perceived problem with the central organisational structure or processes. Again, this discussion went back to a shared vision and how different groups should understand it and fit/work within the organisation. Mark gave an example of how Staffordshire University Executive have taken ENABLE to heart and are promoting it as a University initiative with their full weight behind it, rather than as a “JISC project”.

Then, the discussion went back to the starting question: œWhat is transformation? Peter believes that, œtransforming implies big change – transformation for me is the integration of the use of technology with face-to-face teaching. Mark suggests that innovation can be a “step-change”, which is challenging both to organisations and their culture(s) – this is transformative but high risk. On the other hand, innovation can also be gradual, i.e. from small changes amounting to a big change. This approach is less risky but less likely to be transformative.

Finally, here is a question raised during the discussion that I thought it would be worth everyone in the HE sector thinking about: œIf you could change one thing to transform your institution, what would it be? On next years JISC online conference, I hope we will hear more interesting transformation stories on how technology has been used to achieve transformational change.