Five Essentials for Change Mangagement

Map and WatchWhen colleges and universities have conversations around “change management” there is usually technology involved: an eportfolio, email software, student information systems, etc. Having been through a number of these kinds of changes, I think I have learned a lot about change management. It is all about the way, not the technology. Even though there is technology involved, it is more important to put a process in place that routinely evaluates the needs of faculty, students, and staff. One that is an integral part of transparent, participatory, and collaborative governance. Anything less than that is doomed to fail in some way or another. Let’s take changing a learning management system for example: changing how teachers will teach online and how students will learn is a big change. To make this change successfully requires a lot of buy-in and support. There is a way to get there, but interestingly enough, the method used for each institution will be different. Why? Because each campus has its own culture, needs, assets, liabilities, and politics. You can create a general road map, but that map has to be informed by the needs of faculty, students and staff. Here are what I think are five essential points on that map:

1. Annual Needs Assessment and Review
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but how do you know what is working and what isn’t? If there is not a cycle of assessment and review on your campus, this is a good time to bring that up. A “needs assessment” is a systematic process for determining and addressing needs, or gaps between the current conditions and desired conditions. The difference between current conditions and the desired conditions determines the current needs. This can’t be a one time process. It is essential that administrators and faculty work together to make this an annual, on-going process.

2. Communication: Focus on the “Why”
Advertise the needs of the university, not the bright and shiny new software. If there is a strategic plan for the college, make sure that the eLearning or IT department also has a strategic plan aligned with it that accounts for this kind of change. Create an atmosphere on your college where stake-holders are encourage to talk and share their needs and vision for teaching and learning on campus. This can include formal and informal meetings (brown bag lunches), as well as online forums. When working for vendors, keep this focus. When sales people ask to do a demonstration on your campus, ask them to bring in faculty that can show exactly how they use the tool to solve problems or teach.

3. Stake-Holders and Buy-In
Faculty, staff, and students need to be actively involved early on in the process. They should be the process and not added on as an after-thought because they will feel like they were added on as an after-thought. Renee Carver and Katrina Fuller of Lower Columbia College have an online presentation of their process called “Piloting the Canvas LMS” that has a lot of the right steps. I was particularly impressed with the make-up of their committee: 35 faculty, 17 staff, and 10 students.  Marie Nathalie Moreau suggests that you “be inclusive in who you invite to the different meetings regarding the LMS migration. Often times, people who feel excluded from decisions become disengaged.” I especially appreciate her point that “a permanent committee on change management can evolve from these discussions.” Don’t miss an opportunity to build community and relationships that will help your institution solve other problems down the road.

4. Create a Community of Support
Part of the needs assessment process can include an inventory of campus assets. These assets include processes, committees, and people who are already in place who can make a positive contribution to change management on campus. It is just as important to effectively leverage the assets that are working as it is to know where the needs are. I am often faced with faculty who are frustrated because they are not sure where they should go for questions about changes in eduction technology. Again, creating a culture of communication on campus will go far in alleviating this frustration and increase buy-in.

5. Do Not Reinvent the Wheel
Although this process has to be customized to the needs of each campus, it is important to understand what has happened in the larger academic community around the LMS. Some have gone for hosted solutions, some host on campus, some have gone open source and others commercial. There are those who are looking at “open pedagogy” and open tools outside of the LMS. Research into how other universities have managed those changes can help your campus make decisions and avoid pitfalls which can include things like letting the vendors drive the conversation or allowing one or two administrators make the decision for everyone for expediencies sake. The price will be too painful in the end. Talk to other campuses but make collaborative decisions based on what works best for your university. You do not need to find the best LMS but the best solution for your particular campus.

Bonus: Hire a Consultant
This is the self-serving suggestion at the bottom of the post. One strategy is to find a consultant who can help facilitate the discussions on campus, assess the needs, and help create a community of support. There are advantages to bringing a neutral party on to campus. A consultant can help keep the spot light on the strategic plan, the needs of the students and faculty, and teaching and learning. Many of the perceived needs on a campus may not need a new technology solution at all but a better support structure for the current systems, or a combination of solutions. A consultant can also help customize the process to properly assess the needs of your campus where as a vendor is already coming in with a pre-packaged, one size fits all “solution.” For instance, your campus may be ready to talk about what is beyond the LMS. In fact my thinking right now is that so many of the learning management systems are essentially the same (with one or two rising to the top) that the LMS vendors should be more concerned with facilitating change management than software sales.

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