How you can reduce the 3 primary risks to learning innovations

For learning innovations to take root on campus, COE leaders need to reach beyond their early adopters to instill a culture of innovation among the larger “early majority.” These faculty members are typically interested in experimenting with new techniques, but are hesitant to risk their classes and reputations on unorthodox pedagogies.

In order to foster a unit-wide culture of innovation, COE leaders must address the three primary risks to faculty learning innovations: pedagogical, technological, and social risks.

1. Pedagogical risk

Leaders must convince the next wave of adopters that the pedagogical underpinnings of learning innovations are sound. In this way, COE leaders can create more opportunities for innovators and support staff to demonstrate the effectiveness of emerging instructional techniques. Institutions have employed two main strategies to accomplish this:

Arrange for faculty to shadow experienced practitioners
While adopting entirely new instructional modalities can seem daunting, innovative institutions understand the importance of giving faculty members space to shadow experienced practitioners. When early-majority faculty members see unfamiliar techniques in action they can visualize and adapt their own strategies into their unique curricula and teaching style.

Create opportunities for learning innovations test runs
Often, a faculty member’s apprehension can serve as a strong deterrent to proposed learning innovations. Whether it’s concerns about the effort needed to redesign a course or the possibility that the course won’t resonate with students, COE leaders can mitigate these fears by allowing professors to experiment incrementally. For example, some progressive institutions allow instructors to teach in active learning classrooms for one to three class sessions, rather than dedicating an entire course to the innovation.

2. Technological risk

Faculty members are enabled to adopt new instructional techniques when they trust that there will be smart tech support available, without burdening the institution with massive IT or staffing costs. While faculty members are increasingly capable with their technology use, the risk of new tools failing in class is enough to dissuade many from changing their teaching routine. In order to mitigate this risk, COE leaders should implement the following two suggestions:

Tie incentives to completion of technology trainings
Faculty members are notoriously busy and frequently off campus, so optional activities like technology workshops are considered a lower priority. By tying participation to incentives, like new computers, COE leaders are able to boost training participation. Faculty members leave with higher levels of digital fluency and comfort with new instructional tools.

Track and target support where it’s needed
In order to anticipate faculty tech needs and create support plans, institutions should assess faculty information and technology needs as they apply for seed or pilot funding. This early awareness allows institutions to ensure technology promotes rather than impedes instructional innovation. In addition, anticipating technology use negates the need for an expansive and expensive on-call IT staff.

3. Social risk

Public recognition goes a long way in encouraging faculty learning innovations. While you don’t have to go so far as to change tenure requirements, redesign competitions and showcase events are effective at hardwiring the social rewards of learning innovations. Institutions can foster more unit-wide support with these two strategies:

Empower faculty to reward their peers' innovation
A small competition for instructional innovation can energize faculty members to rethink their curricula and delivery methods. The prospect of outdoing their colleagues and receiving public recognition often elevates participation levels and leads to better course redesigns. Institutions can make innovation challenges into a campus-wide effort by using other faculty members to judge the winners.

Publicly showcase effective pedagogical redesigns
Annual events reinforce a cultural focus on effective teaching. Not only do showcase events recognize innovative faculty, they serve a vital educational function because they expose other faculty members to successful and replicable teaching practices.

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