6 ways to encourage COE instructors to become grassroots innovators

As the leaders in higher education innovation, COE units are increasingly interested in new approaches to learning and program development. However, many COE leaders still struggle to identify and engage with instructors who are willing to experiment with learning innovations. While innovative instructors might exist within COE units, many do not share their efforts with colleagues or peers. Therefore, it is difficult to replicate their efforts.

Despite instructors’ tendencies to innovate independently, academic leaders can take proactive steps to encourage new approaches across the institution. Discover six strategies that you can use to foster more grassroots learning innovations and create a culture that encourages greater unit-wide collaboration. The first three strategies will help you surface innovative faculty, while the remaining practices provide organizational frameworks and incentives to ensure your institution successfully invests in the most valuable experiments.

1. Shorten applications for seed funding

Institutions typically require long, complex applications for instructional seed funding. A simplified application, which includes no more than four fields and a brief experiment description, will encourage greater faculty participation by lowering administrative barriers to financial support.

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This practice is particularly helpful for time-strapped adjunct and professional faculty. While they might lack knowledge about university systems, a brief application will give them the necessary nudge to use their outside experience to better inform their teaching responsibilities.

2. Reduce the size of seed grants

Seed grants allows institutions to make a smaller investment prior to a larger monetary commitment. While these funds are critical to any successful learning innovation, highly competitive processes can discourage some instructors from participating or seeking support.

Though it seems counter intuitive, encourage greater participation from faculty members by lowering the amount for each awarded grant to a few thousand dollars at most. Lowering the per-grant cost can allow academic leaders to spread funding more widely among the faculty, promoting instructional experimentation at a larger scale.

3. Pinpoint data signaling effective instruction

Learning management system (LMS) platforms are a rich source of data for student engagement and curriculum development. Progressive COE units often find that student LMS activity is not only correlated with greater course engagement, but can actually help students retain knowledge throughout their academic careers.

Although instructors might vary their use of LMS platforms, COE units use student activity data to pinpoint “hot spots” of LMS activity. These hot spots help academic leaders identify which approaches best drive learning.

4. Use faculty feedback to assess an innovation's replicability

In addition to assessing LMS engagement, COE leaders can also use faculty member feedback to assess the replicability of innovations prior to additional funding. Since the most impactful practices are easily replicated across different areas of study and teaching styles, it’s important that COE leaders understand the potential benefits and flaws before rolling out the effort across units. Institutions that link seed funding to the completion of an assessment not only ensure that faculty members reflect on their successes and failures, they allow administrators to learn from these lessons and use them to drive future decisions on seed and pilot funding.

5. Intensify funding and support for best-in-class innovations

After shortening the application and offering more opportunities for seed grants, COE units will likely see a growing cohort of supported instructional experiments. While there are numerous investment opportunities, academic leaders can organize the assessment process through a tiered pilot framework.

Gates Govern Elevation Toward Scale

Virginia Tech Requires Buy-In from Affected Units before Increasing Support

Gates Govern Elevation toward Scale

As the above example from Virginia Tech shows, faculty and project managers predict the institution’s role in supporting the practice at scale. Before a unit-wide or campus-wide implementation, faculty and project managers must create a business plan outlining the institution’s role in supporting the innovative practice before gaining approval and financial support from institutional leaders.

6. Require sign off from impacted campus units

Once academic leaders are ready to roll out an instructional practice across units, they need to assure that affected faculty and administrators are fully ready to support and implement it. From the initial seed funding to the pilot test, affected unit leaders should anticipate the innovation’s impact on their departments. This will ensure that support processes are in place and impactful innovations won’t be derailed as they reach greater scale on campus.

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