Advice on EdTech from experts in Higher Education
In this blog, we thought we would take a break from sharing our views on technology in education and ask expert practitioners what they think. We have reached out to those involved in leading the digital transformation of prestigious Higher Education institutions and asked what advice they would give someone managing a major EdTech project.
There were many learning points, but we have managed to distill the results into three top tips (well, this is a blog after all).
Sometimes all the great technology now available can be distracting, but all the experts we interviewed stressed that it is of secondary importance. Without a clear and unambiguous vision for how a project is going to improve or transform pedagogy, then it is doomed to fail.
Our experts stressed the importance of being absolutely clear about how we are going to improve current teaching or learning.
As Albert Añaños (Distance Learning Projects Director, IESE) put it, “we have to know what is the need that is not being solved today or the need that can be solved in a better way - this is so important.”
It’s not sufficient just to have a good reason. The purpose of a project has to be set out and communicated clearly and unequivocally if the project is to be successful.
Most project management guides talk about the importance of engaging others. What was clear in our interviews though, was that successful Higher Education projects depend on a broad and deep engagement with more stakeholders than you would expect with projects for other industries. As Giuseppe Auricchio (Executive Director of Innovative Learning at IESE) put it, “decree does not work in Business Schools”.
Having the Dean or Vice Chancellor’s endorsement is, of course, a major plus, but almost every stakeholder may need persuading of the merits of both the project and the proposed solution.
An evidence-based approach helps. “Academics need research to believe in a project”, according to Ine Windey, ITEC, KU Leuven. She recommends “recruiting ambassadors – enthusiasts within the relevant faculties” to join the project team to overcome reservations.
Established teaching methods have helped the world’s prestigious Universities and Business Schools build their reputations and educate many cohorts of students. Persuading academics and others to change their approach can be a tall order.
And it’s not just the academics. Ine Windey said, “often students are far more eager than educators to adopt new technology, but for a few departments, it is the faculty members who lead the way and the students who need to be convinced”.
There is no substitute for experience.
Duncan Peberdy (Senior Lead Digital Learning Spaces at Jisc) has found the best way of encouraging digital transformation in Higher Education is to “hit the road”. Duncan has organized technology roadshows for over 20 of the UK’s Universities in the last three years. Creating “pop-up” digital teaching spaces that highlight how the latest technology and specialist furniture can transform teaching and learning wherever he goes.
Leaving the technology in place for typically a month, educators in each establishment (and their many visitors), experiment and work out for themselves how they could change the way they work using the latest EdTech available.
Having a setting for people to gather has additional benefits. Duncan encourages Universities to arrange a meeting of their Senior Leadership Team in the learning space while it’s on campus. Having the Vice-Chancellor, the Bursar, and others in the learning space can dramatically shorten the decision-making process.
One of the UK Universities he works with said “bringing us all together to experience the roadshow in the same location for a single meeting has probably driven our project forward by 2-3 years”.
This quote leads us to another important point.
Convincing others takes time.
Projects can move quickly at times, of course, but only when everyone is aligned. Small steps towards a clear vision make progress more certain. Taking full advantage to learn from both successes and failures on the way.
Giuseppe Auricchio summed this up nicely:
“Through experimentation over time, sometimes literally one faculty member by one faculty member, we deliver a solution to a need. They try it once, twice or three times. It becomes a pilot, and after a pilot, we scale across the whole organization. It’s a slow process, but the only one that really works”.
Our experts agree – there is simply no scope for technological solutions that need to be explained to staff or students. According to Albert Añaños, the time available for training is a “few minutes not hours” and “both professors and participants need to feel instantly comfortable with the technology”. This has to be considered at the very start of a project and dealt with in depth at the design stage.
There are so many demands on the time of both educators and learners, neither are willing to commit hours to learning how to use complex solutions. Nor should they.
Another point came out loud and clear from our interviews. Our experts are knowledgeable and proficient users of technology, but education is their business and their primary focus. They select the optimum solutions for their specific challenges and rely heavily on their partners to deliver and implement the right technology. This makes a selection of the right systems integrator critical for success. Experienced, knowledgeable, reliable, and trustworthy partners are just as important as the technology itself.
Those are the three top tips we gathered from interviews.
Summarizing many years of incredible achievement into “top tips” is difficult, so our apologies to our experts for the “advice we left behind”. We find our continued conversation with experts in Business Schools, Universities and Corporate Learning Departments essential and very rewarding. We hope you find these top tips useful too.