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Strategic Learning Environment: Engagement

Last week I ran a workshop with key staff from Schools on engagement with our Strategic Learning Environment. The workshop was ostensibly to look at School plans and revisit our vision to make sure it still encompassed what we wanted it to. I also wanted to try out a plan for a workshop from Peter Bregman‘s Point B: A Short Guide to Leading a Big Change (2007). The workshop is called “JETS” – Just Enough To Start – and the idea of it is that you focus on one change you would like people to adopt, introduce the idea and then enable them to work through issues they might have in implementing it, but tailor it so that they can adopt the change in a manner which suits them. Workshop participants can think through SMART objectives and share their ideas with others. Then you provide continual support and coaching post the workshop.  It is not necessarily mind blowing, but the clarity and common sense of the approach is very helpful. I really like Peter Bregman’s book as it has been instrumental for me in the way that it advocates a devolved model for change and encourages ownership by those affected by any planned changes as opposed to a kind of “change targets” model. It is very readable and offers a very easy to use model to help with change. I would recommend it.

Although looking at where Schools were with their plans didn’t completely fit the JETS model, the notion of ensuring ownership of plans to Schools does, along with the coaching and support model he advocates.  I keep saying that I don’t want to mandate templates onto Schools where they have to report back on the numbers of modules online. Rather,  I would like them to plan the implementation in a way that suits their needs and keep us informed, as well as giving us (ie LDC) the ability to help them with challenges they might face.

So for the workshop, I started with a presentation outlining our vision, what we were trying to achieve as well as including some activities to encourage us all to think about what makes a successful change and why. As ever within about 5 mins the timing had all gone to pieces but we had some good discussions. Key aspects of successful change were identified as follows:

  • building coalitions
  • gaining support
  • good communication
  • providing people with options
  • using language carefully to engage people
  • not working in isolation
  • ensuring buy-in
  • having clear roles
  • ensuring ownership of those impacted by change
  • discussing the positive and negative aspects of impact
  • giving people the space to change
  • approaching change incrementally
  • be aware of disenfranchisement
  • compromise

We then moved on to discussing the particular plans and milestones that Schools had.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, although the extent of the similarities was interesting, each School had a number of things in common, despite planning their implementations pretty much individually.  Most Schools are looking at training and development in the early summer, with a larger rollout in September. For some Schools  (Informatics) this is all modules on Moodle by September 2010, for others, they are waiting to see how the development goes over the next few months before they will know the full extent of implementation in September. Others have a phased approach with certain programmes moving at defined times (Law).  What was particularly striking is that all Schools are considering some kind of minimum standard for module development and some form of template.  This is something where Schools working with the LDC could do some really interesting collaborative work and we could start to see the opportunities afforded by the SLE become a reality.

There are some issues that need to be resolved though…

  • Basic training materials for staff/students
  • Roles in the system
  • Guidance on tool usage
  • Automated module creation
  • Go live/development processes
  • Functionality roadmap
  • Supporting policy eg online assessment and marking
  • Migration of MCQs

The main challenges identified were as follows:

  • How to deal with laggards/late majority/early adopters/resisters and differing skillsets in Schools – what is the impact of this?
  • Can we integrate Second Life (SCHS)
  • Integration with the portal and other systems
  • Engagement with programme teams
  • Evidence that use of educational technologies “works”
  • Support for visiting lecturers and p/t staff
  • Branding
  • Keeping focus on L&T
  • Minimum requirements “skeleton” (Cass)
  • Rebuilding rather than migration
  • Creating communities

In order to overcome these challenges, support is needed in the following areas

  • Scaffolding of the environment
  • Time for development
  • Evidence
  • Analytical tools to support specific disciplines (SEMS)
  • Tools that offer “quick wins” and can change attitudes
  • Review of processes
  • Timelines for integration
  • Testing processes – phased releases, clear development agenda, qa
  • Understanding of the cultural shift to OpenSource
  • Getting external users on the system

There were four main areas of commonality between all the School approaches: minimum standards definition, portal concerns, staff engagement, varied staff skillsets.

By the end of the workshop we were able to build a timeline showing major School milestones for the next six months. Overall, I was really impressed with the level of engagement and enthusiasm from Schools. Now what we need to do is complete this with the support requirements (above), LDC plans and IS plans so that we  have a complete overview map of where we are going. And then follow up with each School to check on progress, as well as running another event in October to see how we are progressing.


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