In this section we point to some interesting examples of change management within the post-compulsory education sector. They range from examples of organisation-wide transformation to smaller steps that nonetheless represent significant cultural shifts.
We have focused on examples that are relatively recent at the time of this update to the guide (2013/14) and, especially, on a number of projects that have drawn on and built upon previous Jisc work rather than starting from scratch.
Examples in this section are drawn particularly from the following Jisc programmes:
Institutional approaches to curriculum design (2008-2012)
Curriculum design touches upon almost every aspect of an institution’s business processes from aligning its portfolio of courses to its Mission, through market research and course development to quality assurance and enhancement, resource allocation, timetabling, recruitment and assessment. However the curriculum also encompasses the practice of educational design, based on sound understanding of how people learn and how they develop as capable individuals with different subject specialisms.
Curriculum design therefore represents a complex interplay of administrative and pedagogic activities. At times these appear to be parallel worlds with different stakeholders and vocabularies and change is fraught with difficulty.
However, as a result of a four-year programme of Jisc activity (2008 to 2012) we now have considerable insight into the relationship between these activities and ways in which they can be better aligned conceptually and better supported by technology.
You can find more information about the outcomes on the Jisc Design Studio curriculum pages.
The University sought to transform the institutional culture and practice of curriculum design via a new approval mechanism that represented a significant departure from previous arrangements. The proposal involved the traditional validation event being replaced by a process during which an Academic Moderator oversees an iterative development phase informed by stakeholder engagement with learners and employers and where reflection on the design is evidenced by multimedia artefacts using a wide range of capture technology. The key finding was that, despite a well thought out and executed programme of stakeholder engagement, shifts in culture and pedagogy were slower than hoped for.
The University attempted to embed a new form of entirely negotiated learning through coaching. This presented change management challenges in many forms: student readiness for new types of learning; business processes that did not fit non-faculty-based learning and changes in University strategy during the life of the project. The project report presents a very honest assessment of the challenges and how they were tackled. The project ultimately achieved considerable success in enhancing learning and teaching practice through moving away from the idea of a personalised curriculum for a particular target market and embedding the practice of coaching in the curriculum in a more widespread way through staff development and working with student ambassadors.
The University reviewed processes supporting design and delivery of the curriculum and realised that the number of interdependencies between processes makes it very hard to actually change anything. Their response to this was to change everything! It was decided that an overhaul of the entire undergraduate curriculum and associated processes was required. A re-write of the undergraduate curriculum, linking learning outcomes to employability outcomes, revising the programme approval process, developing an online curriculum database and introducing many new systems for students including a new VLE, personalised timetabling and online assessment submission was accomplished within a year.
The project report and evaluation are accompanied by a frank series of stakeholder interviews presented as a publication entitled ‘In the throes of change’.
The University sought to enhance the pedagogic practice of learning design through the piloting and evaluation of a range of tools to enhance practice and make, often tacit, design knowledge explicit.
The project evaluation report contains an interesting analysis on the discourse of resistance as regards academic use of the tools.
This highly decentralised University took a somewhat surprising approach to reviewing its approval processes by adopting a Lean approach. Lean is about adding value for the customer (in this case the student) through the elimination of waste (non-value adding activities). Despite the distinctly non-academic language, the concepts were applied to deliver considerable benefits in terms of improving curriculum processes.
The project was an interesting exercise in change management having to deal with many institutional myths and the evaluation includes some in-depth analysis on resistance to use of the new technology. The overall outcome was however that academic staff ultimately felt empowered by greater process transparency.
Assessment and feedback practice
Assessment and feedback lies at the heart of the learning experience, and forms a significant part of both academic and administrative workload but it appears that, right across the UK, students are less satisfied with assessment and feedback than with any other aspect of the higher education experience.
A review of the assessment and feedback landscape for Jisc in 2012 revealed that this is an area of practice that is “stubbornly resistant to change”. The following case studies represent a few examples where significant change has been achieved. See also the final summary of the outcomes of the Jisc assessment and feedback programme.
The universities used student fellows to work with lecturers and students to develop technology for specific assessment problems, and to evaluate its use.
The student fellows were co-constructors of the research and development acting as insiders and change agents, developing an understanding of assessment principles, familiarity with technology, and research skills. The success of the initiative was such that it grew from an original team of 17 student fellows to a total of 60. Some have even extended their brief to work on other areas of technology innovation.
Building on previous experience of working directly with students having furthered the research informed teaching agenda by means of the Winchester Research Apprenticeship Programme (WRAP) the student fellow interactions were found to be qualitatively different because as fellows the students are much more in the driving seat and have considerable credibility and power in the discourse of change.
The university set up a centralised online tutoring system, consisting of a blog and email and Twitter accounts, for students on a distance learning programme. All programme communications between academic tutors, administrators, participants and associate staff now take place via these utilities.
The system allows tutors to give better support to students as they have full access to all previous communications and, despite initial resistance, it has improved staff satisfaction in a programme team that has seen its FTE halved over the last few years.
The University has undertaken a large scale study of all aspects of electronic assessment management (EAM).
The report on this work looks at available technologies, business processes and the all important aspect of attitudes of different groups of stakeholders and the change management approaches needed to successfully implement EAM.
The university was seeking to enhance the process of providing feedback and reviewing Jisc work in this area led it to recognise the use of audio feedback as a potential way of transforming the timeliness and quality of feedback. The context of this work is a collegial institution where the centre imposes relatively few requirements upon staff. This means that the pace of change is slow and generally requires much persuasion and nurturing to implement.
Throughout the project the emphasis was on encouraging staff who were willing to test and then embed new techniques into their practice to disseminate this to their colleagues.
Jisc has found the following definition of digital literacies to be useful:
"By digital literacy we mean those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. For example, the use of digital tools to undertake academic research, writing and critical thinking; digital professionalism; the use of specialist digital tools and data sets; communicating ideas effectively in a range of media; producing, sharing and critically evaluating information; collaborating in virtual networks; using digital technologies to support reflection and PDP; managing digital reputation and showcasing achievements."
Developing such literacies can be a major change for both staff and students alike and there are many resources from the developing digital literacies programme to complement the following examples from the Jisc transformations programme.
The University sought to improve the capacity of staff to support and engage with new, more online ways of working essential for future success. It recognised however that change initiatives related to specific system implementations often fail and lead to accusations that technology is driving the change. They therefore looked to adopt a generic change programme promoting “Doing Digital” as “the way we do things round here”. The premise behind the approach was that whilst projects deliver the capability to do things differently, there is a need to focus on the change management necessary to ensure that changes in working practices are adopted to take advantage of this new capability: to ensure that things are done differently
The University set out to explore digital literacy and its relationship to employability: they were also aware that take-up of library induction sessions was a low despite a need for the skills. They found that 87% of students think they are digitally literate and attracting them to training requires nuanced marketing to identify the benefits for them.
As a result of better understanding student attitudes the University developed the “Get the Digital Edge” campaign which also includes guidance on relation to social media and employability.
The university set out to improve the transition of international students into a blended learning environment, through development of their digital literacies. There was a perception that there might be a digital divide effectively excluding some students from their learning unless they were enabled to be comfortable and capable in a digital environment.
Furthermore, evidence from international student focus groups and interviews, indicated that international students initially struggled with adapting to different pedagogies. They found that BYOD was more prevalent than expected and that the ‘literacy’ issues students struggled with related particularly to digital footprint, netiquette and information authenticity and use.
The main outcomes of the project were a change to the priorities that staff identified and new ideas on the way in which they might engage students. The University now prefers to talk about digital fluency rather than literacy.
Improving the overall quality of the student experience (hopefully with an impact on NSS scores) is a priority for many learning providers. Working directly with students as active participants in change projects is a new experience for many institutions but there is considerable good practice to draw on and it brings considerable benefits.
There is more on the subject of students as change agents in our resource hub.
The university decided to respond to the changed fee regime by charging maximum fees and focusing on quality of the student experience. It realised however that the diversity of its student support services and lack of formalised information sharing could cause issues eg a bereaved student may require counselling, financial support, academic support, etc. If each individual service was unaware of the student’s dealings with the others, the student may have to repeat themselves several times adding to their distress.
The university used an enterprise architecture (EA) approach and drew on work at the University of Derby to undertake a service design review of the process students go through to access support and to develop a new process that reduces the number of touch points the student experiences and enables support services to respond more effectively to their issues.
The University investigated use of social media to support learner transition into HE and retention during the first year of study. The context is a dispersed University with many part time and work-based learners and many work placements during the first year.
The work had a particular focus on making authentic examples of the study experience, including teaching, learning and assessment activity (TLA), visible to pre-enrolment students to help manage realistic expectations and the University described its ”emergent understanding of a virtual campus constituting participation in TLA activity, rather than an emphasis on digital estate”. The work shows how researching both the theory and practice of previous Jisc projects and understanding their context can make them more useful and the University used previous Jisc project managers as critical friends.
The University was keen to improve student support: the creation of a one-stop-shop for services was however impossible due to the nature of the University estate and there was also a desire to make support available on a 24 x 7 basis. The University drew on experience of creating simulation tools for health study in order to create a virtual Student Advisory Model (SAM). Students receive guidance from an avatar known as SAM (whose characteristics are tailored according to those of the student enquirer).
Keele University also used a service design approach which prompted a review of how Keele manages and monitors its interactions with its students, both in terms of recording individual interactions, and the nature of those interactions. The creation of a virtual service was an interesting exercise in change ultimately welcomed by staff who felt it complemented what they already do and freed up time for more value-added activity.
The University wished to support its environmental strategy by designing, evaluating and deploying an effective student-led energy intervention for official student accommodation blocks. Student accommodation often offers utilities as part of a fixed price tenancy agreement.
The project is thus particularly interesting in change management terms because it required the development of an in-depth understanding of student perspectives on resource consumption in order to motivate them to participate when there were no specific financial rewards (indeed the converse was probably true ie “it’s free so make the most of it”).
Poor data quality gets in the way of many learning providers meeting their strategic objectives and it is a particularly thorny problem to tackle. Any attempt to improve business processes or supporting information systems often needs to tackle data quality first thus raising all kinds of issues around culture, trust and ownership making it imperative to employ change management skills as well as data and information management.
The managing course information guide has a lot of information on this topic as do the following case studies:
The university attempted to tackle the problem of achieving full integration of data in its various learning, teaching and research systems primarily in order to provide better quality data to support staff performance management processes. The performance management project however later scaled down its IT ambitions and focused much more on cultural change prompted by a realisation that IT alone shouldn’t be used to drive cultural change in this sensitive area. This left the IT team to convince senior managers of the need for investment in middleware that would have little immediately visible impact and also of the need for cultural change around data ownership.
The case study describes how it went about this by convincing people on the ground through identifying real pain points that they could relate to and by the use of EA to deliver a roadmap and effective governance.
The university was keen to transform its approach to management information and move forward with a business intelligence dashboard. This was seen as key to changing how the University works, communicates and delivers the student experience. It was soon realised however that the quality of finance and HR data was significantly better than the quality of student data.
The University’s change board considered whether to move forward anyway in order to drive improvements to student data but, concluded that this would lead to a lack of confidence in the dashboard overall which would place the whole programme in jeopardy. A project to improve the quality of student data was therefore undertaken first.
The university undertook a major initiative in terms of developing a new executive reporting service. It found change management to be the biggest issue: there was a lack of trust in the data (both “at source” and “as presented”). It also identified the need to create a culture shift amongst senior managers away from spreadsheet thinking to an appreciation of the importance of high quality data and the need to fund backend personnel as an inevitable focus on wanting explanations for short-term ‘bumps’ in the data, was directing resources towards knee-jerk requests for ad-hoc reports.
It also recognised that creating such a reporting service is a multidisciplinary activity and that an IT-focused solution would be bound to fail. The University also had an interesting observation about how agile project management methodologies were being applied in practice:
"We have found that the term ‘Agile’ is bandied about as cover for not following a process and not providing documentation. If ‘Agile’ methods are to be used they should be formalised in the same manner as any other methodology."