Colleges and universities face increasing pressure to innovate, but a bold strategic initiative requires buy-in from a range of stakeholders.
Communicating new ideas to naysayers may be the hardest part of the process, writes Sydney Johnson for EdSurge. Strategic communication came up as a common obstacle among the 35 higher ed leaders who convened last March for an academic innovation conference at California State University Channel Islands.
Tech jargon, particularly the words “disruptive” and “innovation,” can raise a red flag for some people, writes Johnson. Silicon Valley vocabulary might go over well with trustees but “doesn’t work for faculty or staff,” says Kristen Eshleman, director of digital innovation at Davidson College. Some faculty members see technological innovation as a threat—especially if they’re unsure about the motivations of the person behind the initiative, writes Johnson. And what counts as an “innovative” idea can vary from department to department.
Instead of using Silicon Valley buzzwords, here’s how some campus leaders build buy-in for their initiatives.
1: Make innovation more transparent
Davidson’s innovation department uses a platform where faculty and staff can weigh in on ideas, submit suggestions, and check the progress of a particular idea.
And at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Paul Jurasin, the director of new technology programs, meets with every department head to clear up any misconceptions about the university’s innovation process.
2: Simplify the process
Many colleges still use “a broken method for surfacing and supporting academic innovation,” says Matthew Rascoff, associate vice provost for digital education and innovation at Duke University. Campus leaders need to create “opportunities for inclusive collaboration,” he urges.
One step is to shorten your applications for seed funding that supports academic innovation, suggests Jeff Martin, an academic affairs expert at EAB. Institutions typically require long, complex applications for instructional seed funding. But you can encourage faculty participation by simplifying applications down to three or four fields, including a short description of the experiment.
3: Encourage faculty and staff to take risks
Kris Williams, the former president of Henderson Community Colleges, recommends that leaders “make it safe for faculty to fail when trying something new and provide at least small monetary support for the effort.” Williams adds, “at Henderson Community College, that support comes from the College Foundation.”
Richard Rhodes, the president at Austin Community College, adds that “you have to allow your faculty and staff to take risks. By supporting them you’re giving them the opportunity to explore and discover new and innovative ways to help students find success.”
4: Learn from students
“Start by listening to [your] students,” says Elsa Núñez, president of Eastern Connecticut State University. “The millennial generation is native-born to technology and is brimming with ideas on how to use it. Check out all the 12-year-old entrepreneurs giving TED Talks if you want to see how the youngest generations are leading the way. Adults would be wise to follow.”
You can even ask students to pressure test new ideas. Michigan State University‘s innovation hub, for example, asks faculty fellows and students to play “the ultimate provocateurs,” says Jessica Knott, the head experience research. The students take an idea and “destroy it completely, and we learn from that,” says Knott (Johnson, EdSurge, 4/5/18; Ullman, eCampus News, 7/3/18).
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