An Operations Checklist for Adopting Higher Ed Tech Innovations

Author: Judith A. Pirani

 “The lesson learned was that, in addition to providing viable software, successful dissemination must also focus on the adopting institution’s implementation and ongoing support needs.”
—Russ Little, Sinclair Community College in Sustainability, Partnerships, Focus on Users: Lessons from Sinclair College’s Student Success Plan

Putting a great idea into practice is exciting and stimulating, and it can be all too easy to overlook the operational underpinnings—the processes, policies, and resources that actually make a solution work. The experiences of NGLC grantees scaling student success innovations enabled by technology provide a checklist for others to follow, especially when encountering challenges with the nuts and bolts of implementation in a new setting.

CHECKLIST

  • Solidify support from senior leadership.
  • Assess the readiness of IT systems and administrative services.
  • Institute sound data management to collect evidence and verify student outcomes.

Solidify support from senior leadership.

Senior administrators can provide help in three ways:

  • Aligning an innovation with a college’s institutional mission and priorities
  • Securing institutional buy-in and involvement
  • Supporting the allocation of finite institutional resources—such as finances and faculty and staff time—to your innovation

Project Kaleidoscope is an initiative by Cerritos Community College (CA) and Lumen Learning to develop and scale an OER-based general education curriculum. Rather than using models that emphasize individual faculty adoption, project leaders took an institutional approach to adoption, This approach allowed senior academic leadership to align the project with strategic goals, to engage and support faculty, and to evaluate and improve results on a macro level.

To gain support from faculty, students, and staff, the University of California Online Education (UCOE) team enlisted the assistance of the UCOP provost, who then demonstrated support through her direct involvement in program outreach to the campuses.

Committed senior leaders can assist when funding and resource issues arise. SRI International conducted an external evaluation of these grant projects and identified insufficient resources as a commonly expressed challenge by grantees. In their final progress reports to NGLC, several project teams attributed this to insufficient budgeting for administrative and project management staff. This dynamic forced team members—often faculty, IT administrators, or academic administrators—to juggle multiple project roles as well as their other responsibilities, stretching their availability and adding stress.

Assess the readiness of IT systems and administrative services.

Student success efforts that involve changes in instructional approaches, content, or support for students permeate an entire institution. Therefore, you need to map your student success innovation’s touch points to your institutional systems and processes and determine their readiness to support the innovation.

One focal area, of course, is an institution’s IT structure, including the potential impacts of central and department IT organization-managed systems and policies.

  • Sometimes the problem can be as mundane as the web browser. The University of the District of Columbia Community College reported that partner South Texas College required a more versatile web browser than the standard version of Internet Explorer installed on its campus computers.
  • Other times, the issue may be more complex. In its final project progress report to NGLC, Eckerd College discussed how its Moodle-based IPAL project required close interaction with central IT, which manages the college’s Moodle LMS, to discuss IPAL’s integration and to alleviate any IT security concerns.

Another area to consider is administrative services, such as processes and computer systems that handle personal, academic, and financial information. For example, the University of Hawaii found that the State of Hawaii procurement and human resource system was not agile enough to work within the grant timeline, so the project switched to the procurement services of the University of Hawaii Foundation, and utilized the University of Hawaii system for student hires and temporary workers.

 

Institute sound data management to collect evidence and verify student outcomes–retention, educational attainment, and academic achievement. 

At a time when the need to substantiate student success outcomes has never been greater, SRI noted that most of the colleges participating in the grant projects did not have norms around evaluating the learning outcomes of their courses. Academic departments may keep course pass rate data, but they did not combine this information with data on student characteristics. That made it challenging to examine the impacts of their innovations on different student populations. 

An Iowa Community College Online Consortium project lead, Tracy Sleep, described the circumstance succinctly in a blog post:

“You have, most likely, already heard the terms big data, learner analytics, educational data mining, predictive modeling and more; but, do you think about the timeliness of your data, the resources in place to act upon your data, or the collaboration needed to take action based on your data?... It is the collaborative actions and resources provided by the institution and its members that make the difference in student success and completion.”

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This post is part of a series on technology-enabled innovations designed to promote student success. Read the first post and view the infographic for a summary of the findings from NGLC’s first wave of grantmaking. All findings are drawn from an external evaluation conducted by SRI International as well as grant recipients' results and observations. 

Judith A. Pirani (judith.pirani@gmail.com) is a consultant who researches and writes about higher education technology issues for NGLC and EDUCAUSE. 

 

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