Tech is the Easy Part of Tech Adoption

Author: Mei-Yen Ireland

Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS) requires more than the implementation of technology.  Successful iPASS work utilizes technology reforms to ignite transformative change in how students experience the institution. The goal is to improve student success. The Community College Research Center (CCRC) developed the Readiness for Technology Adoption (RTA) framework  to focus on the adoption (rather than implementation) of technology and to assist institutions in identifying specific issues that may need to be addressed in order to prepare for transformative reform.

Achieving the Dream asked its 15 iPASS grantee institutions to complete CCRC’s Readiness for Technology Adoption (RTA) Self-Assessment to prepare for their iPASS projects. Achieving the Dream staff designed a survey and process for the institutions to use that would maximize engagement and facilitate an honest discussion about the institution’s preparedness for the work. (To learn more about the process, read my post, Is your Institution Ready for Transformative iPASS Reform?)

These results show the strengths and needs of iPASS grantees identified through their self-assessment. They provide a snapshot of the experiences of higher education institutions that are engaging in the meaningful and challenging task of transformative change.

  • Institutions felt most prepared technologically.  Technological readiness focuses on institutional capacity related to the deployment of new technology.  High readiness in this area is not surprising as deployment of the technology is one of the more straightforward aspects of iPASS.  While never easy, there is often a solution that can be logically identified.  
  • Designing and implementing an effective training and support model is a big concern.  Almost all institutions mentioned one or more challenges related to training end users (faculty, staff, students) on the new technology. Some of the challenges are capacity of project leads and IT staff to deliver training and ongoing support, lack of resources to support strong training, no proven structure for providing training that results in adoption, and confusion about which department “owns” the training and ongoing support process.
  • Cultural and behavioral change causes the most anxiety.  Across the board, the institutions felt least prepared in areas related to cultural and behavioral change, organizational readiness, and motivational readiness.  Common barriers to motivational readiness included time, stakeholder uncertainty about the sustainability of the effort, resistance to change, and capacity.
  • Effective communication presents one of the biggest barriers to success.  While 12 of the 15 colleges believed their iPASS vision is clear and well-defined, their confidence in communicating this vision across the college to build urgency and catalyze change was comparatively low.  They did not feel prepared to clearly communicate the value of the work and the specific benefits to all stakeholders. They also recognized that initiative fatigue, resistance to change, and capacity issues are important concerns that may shape how stakeholders receive information and affect their perception of the vision for iPASS.

Recommendations

The themes from iPASS institutions that completed the RTA Self-Assessment indicate several recommendations and reminders for those pursuing iPASS reform:

  1. While it may be easy to assume an institution is prepared for iPASS based on technological readiness, it is important to assess project, organizational, and motivational readiness.  Many institutions found the RTA Self-Assessment process enabled them to have a rich, honest conversation about their strengths and weaknesses, address misconceptions, identify areas to work on and discuss a way forward, and reinforced the notion that big reform requires everyone to work together.  Consider using the RTA Framework or contact Achieving the Dream about the survey tool and process that you can use at your institution to engage in these meaningful conversations about readiness early in your iPASS work. 
  2. Strong communication and collaboration between the IT and advising departments is essential to successful iPASS reform.  This is particularly important because structural and process change in iPASS requires strong training approaches and the communication of defined workflow roles, responsibilities, and decision-making power. Many iPASS institutions have formalized the cross-functional and cross-hierarchical teams that they convened to complete the RTA into an ongoing iPASS taskforce or advisory group.
  3. The reality of initiative fatigue can have an impact on organizational and motivational readiness.  Aligning your iPASS effort within your institution’s larger student success agenda may be an important starting point for establishing the vision for the project and generating buy-in with stakeholders.  Achieving the Dream adapted Completion by Design’s Loss-Momentum Framework to assist iPASS institutions in mapping all of the college’s efforts and student support technologies.
  4. Defining a clear vision of benefits for iPASS at your institution is important and communicating that vision across the college to build urgency and buy-in for the project requires additional strategy and preparation.  In her recent blog post, President and CEO of Achieving the Dream, Dr. Karen A. Stout, offers key recommendations for building an engagement strategy for iPASS, including developing and communication the vision and leveraging iPASS champions.
  5. Identifying and empowering decision makers in multiple cross-functional teams will support a successful adoption and increase buy-in for the new tools and processes.  Laurie Fladd from Trident Technical College emphasized the importance of team composition in her recent blog post, 3 Lessons for Kickstarting Transformational Change.
  6. Recognize small wins to build and maintain excitement and urgency for iPASS reforms.  Short term measures capture the early adoption of change and can help further catalyze the institutionalization of change.  Several iPASS institutions are building short-term metrics of success into their action plans, in order to ensure that they celebrate small wins and use them to maintain momentum and refine the reform work throughout the project timeline. 

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Mei-Yen Ireland is Associate Director for Data and Technology for Student Success at Achieving the Dream and is the project lead for Achieving the Dream's initiative that provides strategic assistance to iPASS grantees.  Follow her on Twitter @MeiYenIreland.

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