An evolving case study from the Faculty of Environment and Technology at the University of the West Of England.
Top-down organisational change, however necessary, can be unsettling. It exposes skill and knowledge gaps, and is expected to be rapid. The Learning Innovation Unit was established within the Faculty of Environment and Technology at UWE Bristol to support the University’s stated ambition to be “digitally advanced, agile and responsive in the way we work”. The unit’s role has been to realise terms such as ‘digitally agile’ and create conditions where understanding of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) is tactile, exploratory and supported by colleagues and peers.
The pressures on academics from the twin demands of teaching and research can result in little time for academic staff to engage in organisational priorities; workshops, events, and e-mails are proving to be less effective channels to reach people. The unit decided to follow best practice and reach our audience through video, drawing on the enthusiasm of innovators who are highly regarded by their colleagues to become advocates of TEL; many refer to these as the ‘change champions’.
Video is a powerful tool used extensively in the commercial sector to reach challenging markets. We would not expect any firm to take a new product to the market nowadays without a presence on YouTube. Video conveys information and emotion, but in our context, most importantly, credibility. Our strategy however is about more than content marketing; video is accessible, easily digested, and saves time.
What do I get and what do I give?
Our approach when communicating change at the first stage has been to engage at the individual level; ‘what do I get and what do I give’ are fundamental questions that have to be answered for academics with significant time pressures. We developed case studies that focused on workload challenges rather than on technology: these included teaching to large cohorts; delivering block teaching; and bringing fieldwork into the lecture room.
Students have to benefit from using learning technology and can also be one of the biggest drivers of change; they can reinforce benefits, particularly if learning has been improved on their programme of study. This is the next level of engagement when communicating change: how does this fit with the people that I work with or support?
Organisational needs tend to be the last thing that people focus on but it is vital that academics see that they are contributing to a plan that secures the longer term reputation of their institution. Senior leader representation is essential when engaging staff around change, as it demonstrates that the change has been well considered; all these things reassure staff, and visibility of senior management only serves to increase their own credibility within the organisation.
Involving staff in a story
Communicating change should not be a one off event or one-way flow of information. Those affected should be engaged in conversation and be offered every chance to ask questions. We followed our film up with a Q&A session at the faculty teaching and learning conference, and are now working with those who have been influenced to engage with our programme to document their journey via video case studies. This way we are involving staff in a story that moves from our early adopters into the work of the majority of staff, developing a narrative around change that is owned and articulated by our faculty community.
Our TEL film and Q&A can be found at http://go.uwe.ac.uk/telfet
e-Learning Project Manager
Faculty of Environment
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