Jason Dewling, VP, Academic and Research, Olds College
I’ve sat through one too many presentations about Technology and Education where the keynote speaker presents in an evangelical fashion with mesmerizing slides and prophetic utterances about the future of Educational Technologies. I’m often left feeling incompetent, confused, and disillusioned. As a leader of a community college, I was faced with this experience being the baseline for many of our instructors. I knew there was a need to move our institution along.
I’d like to share a few insights into how we, at Olds College, moved forward in a way that really created an environment for success for both our instructors and students.
Creating the Environment for Success
When you are considering moving forward with any change, spend some time considering ‘why’ you’d want to make the change.
In Education, there are several stakeholders and the answer to ‘why’ is very different for each group. In our situation, our administration was on board so we were faced with answering the ‘why’ for three groups: our instructors, our students, and don’t forget our IT department. In the case of each group, we were able to find a champion who would use their equity and influence to position educational technology initiatives for success. Essentially, this became the College’s guiding coalition.
"When you are considering moving forward with any change, spend some time considering ‘why’ you’d want to make the change"
For our instructors, they were definitely motivated to create a meaningful learning environment. We didn’t put them all through the same training or expect a certain level of proficiency. We simply kept talking about moving forward and using meaningful and appropriate technologies.
In the case of our students, they were motivated by a change in the learning experience. Most were tired of an ineffective “sage on stage” and they were looking more for skills for the 21st Century. Quite frankly, the Internet really didn’t change our teaching approaches until it became mobile. When it was tied to a desk, the teacher still had more access and it certainly became easy for a teacher to complement their content with a Google Search. Once it became mobile and WiFi started supporting widespread access in learning environments, it started changing the relationship between teacher and student. Teachers still have a role in providing insight and expertise but in preparing students for the future, their role is more of a curriculum facilitator. Let’s face it, what teacher knows more than a single Google search? If you’ve accepted that reality, then we aren’t content owners anymore, rather our role as educator shifts to helping our learners become learners for life.
In the case of our IT department, they were motivated by a big challenge and solving complex solutions. If you’re in an organization where your IT department administers a security and lock-down orientated approach, then you’re going to have major challenges. If you’re blessed to have a service-orientated model, like we did, then maximize their desire to serve your stakeholders. It’s not very often you’ll get your IT department driving your Educational Technology but you certainly don’t want them standing in your way providing roadblocks either.
Once we had to buy in from our key stakeholders, we were able to mobilize quite quickly. It was a ginormous leap forward for the College and it led to some unintended consequences. You too should be ready for these gifts of innovation.
Quite honestly, when we started exploring our path forward, we had one faculty member say, “rather than follow, why don’t we blaze a path for others to follow.” This was a gift to our organization as it became our battle-cry and it allowed us to pursue our path with boldness and an edge that is rare in Educational circles.
In the following years, we were able to implement Google for Education, cloud-based solutions for corporate services, Open Education Resources, more web-based resources and actually use YouTube in the classroom without fear of it freezing. In fact, we could stream live video in over 500 places on campus at the same time and still have the bandwidth to spare. Our programs also started to consider alternative ways to deliver the curriculum. We have a few programs that moved to block delivery, others have moved to accelerated delivery, our business diploma moved to project based delivery and we started doing blended delivery across our campus and regional communities. Finally, we created a fully operational video studio to support video-based curriculum supports and mobile friendly modules of the curriculum.
These unintended consequences were not part of the plan. This initiative was not about the bandwidth or a tablet, it really was about the institution taking a huge risk into the unknown and embracing pedagogical risks in the way we engaged learners. We simply wanted to provide an environment for meaningful integration of technology so our students were prepared for the real world. If we had played it slow or were modest in our approach, we would have missed out on all this educational innovation. I can’t underestimate the cultural shift when people feel safe to embrace risk. By nature, educators are often risked adverse but if you want the best out of your people and your students, then you have to be deliberate in creating the safe place to fail. Dr. Ken Robinson has a lot to say on this topic and I’d encourage you to watch his TED talk.
So the next time you are feeling your angst of the latest technological buzz, I’d suggest you stop and pause and consider the following key considerations:
1. Answer the question ‘Why’
2. Choose your Champions wisely
3. Develop a guiding Coalition
4. Dream Big and unleash people’s creativity
5. Expect the unexpected once you create an environment where risk is embraced
Founded in 1913, Olds College is integrated with Canadian learning and applied research community specializing in agriculture, horticulture, and land and environmental management.