• Jennifer LePage, MAEd.

Building a strategy to move beyond the classroom

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

There is no way, in this current madness, that education can return to its ‘normal’ position in delivery, expectation or sustainment. Students can’t go back to campus and have the same experiences previous cohorts had. Faculty can’t rework or redeliver their same content in the same way. Administrators can’t chart progress or process in the same manner like this time last year. COVID, the economic downturn that has ensued, and the loss of some physical freedoms are all contributing to a change in the experience of what post-secondary education is.

Added to this is the increasing reliance on digitally enabled content to make sense of the world and the future. Most students and faculty have the ability to get to a computer, smartphone or tablet to check the news, learn how to solve a problem, or crowdsource a solution to a problem yet to be solved. If you are involved with a community college, a vocational school, or even a university, this is a challenge directly to the previously considered ‘privileged’ information available to your students from your highly skilled and knowledgeable faculty and research staff. The need for the teaching hasn’t changed, your faculty and research staff aren’t less capable or relevant, but the way school is approached will need to be reimagined in this year and in years to come.

In order to meet the demand for quality, relevant, and interesting education, schools will have to rethink how they deliver that education to future cohorts of students. To do this, they will need to consider where they are now, what kinds of change management and communication they will need, and then create a disciplined plan in order to execute a successful move into the digital or reimagined future.

How are the school, the students, and the faculty prepared for a new digital campus today?

First things first, you need to step back and consider what your school is to your students, the community, and the services you provide to the ecosystem that is your education space. Why does the school exist? What is its ‘north star’? Keeping this information in mind as you work through the changes needed to move your organization into a more digitized environment is going to be important. There are many ways to do this including reviewing your organization’s business plan, strategy canvas, or mandates and charters.

You also need to consider your faculty and administration. Can you determine their ability to get the learning outcomes and department performance measures together in a meaningful way? Are they continuing to teach content because they like it or because it will prepare future students with the competencies they will need to succeed once they graduate? Are your administrators asking your faculty to provide reporting and administrative activities that are aligned to the digital technology available to them? Does your faculty and administration have the design thinking and new technology awareness needed to move to a digital space? Not every school will end up online, nor every subject or teacher, but consideration needs to be given in this increasingly digital space for the relevancy of the content being taught in your institution and the availability in other channels for free or in a more robust presentation.

The final thing to consider with building a strategy is the technology and infrastructure within the organization that will either prohibit, inhibit, or progress students’ access to the quality education and experts within your faculty and staff. Do you have the ability to embrace new ways of delivering and accessing content? Do you have a way to measure prior learning or acknowledge advanced progress in a subject or area? Are communication and testing tools robust and ready for the ‘always on’ teacher or learner? Do you have the support by way of administration, library services, and student communication to be able to assist students wherever they are? Infrastructure includes both technology and workflow as well as support and reporting.

How much change are you going through and how are you managing the change?

Change management still sounds like a buzzword to some, even after nearly twenty years of its’ use. That said, managing change by planning, communicating, measuring, and reporting is incredibly important to a project or program’s success. In managing the transition to a more digitally forward learning space, it is important to consider your audience, namely: the ‘customers’ (students, organizations, and community sponsors), faculty and staff; and finally vendors, service providers, boards of governors and others who need to be informed of your activities.

Your customers need to know about your continued commitment to continue to serve in the manner that they need and with the same dedication to educational excellence you have always strived to provide.

Your faculty and staff need reassurance, training, new measures for success, and an opportunity to participate in the change with their own perspectives and expertise from their own areas.

Your stakeholders need to know how your plan will continue to support your key mandates, how to request assistance and how to deliver the supports you need as an institution to make the change a success.

Plan Backward

From experience, and good project planning principles, it is often best to start at the end and work your way back to the beginning. Consider what you want to be known for once your transformation is complete to your stakeholders: students, staff, faculty, board, and community. List the difficulties and challenges you may face and what you may do to mitigate these. Create the steps in broad strokes as if you were telling someone about your success and work back step by step until you get to where you are today. Each of those steps may be a project or part of one and these can be tackled when you come to execution. Employ a project manager with the ability to consult, not just execute the project to completion so that you can consider and push ideas around collaboratively with others to build a more resilient plan. Plan for false starts and hiccups in your timing and reporting.

In all, while moving from the classroom into the digital world of teaching and learning may seem like a daunting one, it is not hard if taken in steps and with the cooperation and support of all those affected. It may be useful to run a town hall meeting (or several) to help faculty and staff understand the mandate and allow them to seek clarification. It may be useful to use Appreciative Inquiry as a change and planning technique in order to help mitigate some of the natural fear of change and the perception of the loss of control. There are lots of online resources available at little or no cost as well as additional consulting and planning assistance from Learning Operations.

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