For all of the advancements in our civilization, a mighty blow has struck the world with the rise of COVID-19. Yet thought leaders agree – the important trends requiring our focus existed well before the outbreak. The pandemic merely accelerated these changes.
Scott Galloway, a highly acclaimed Professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and serial entrepreneur, asserts that it is nothing short of “consensual hallucination” to believe that our current Covid-19 protocols and plans alone render colleges and universities anywhere near ready to meet the imminent challenges. Yet he also asserts that these Covid-19 challenges are serving as an “accelerant pulling the future forward” and, in doing so, can be just the opportunity that has been missing to transform education “fundamentally in terms of how we deliver value.”
Building Value in Higher Education By Design
To borrow from the sense of the great Einstein: The problems we now face cannot be resolved at the level of thinking that gave us those problems. We can now see the urgency of opening up to new ways of thinking and feeling together.
One way, widely available but largely hidden in plain sight, is through inspired meeting facilitation.
When we began, the founder of Covision Design, Lenny Lind, and acclaimed higher education author and consultant, Kevin Kelly and I began discussions to merge our diverse areas of expertise, we identified a shortlist of “wicked problems” facing higher education:
- declining state funding
- performance-based accreditation
- rising student debt
- declining public opinion
We collectively knew our service offer, a merging of higher education consulting with the proven methods of large-group communication and facilitation, would result in actionable solutions. As we enter the Fall semester, the first of three semesters in AY 2020-21, we can now add another “wicked problem” planning a digital strategy for sustainability beyond 2020.
A worldwide pandemic has illuminated a need to shift embedded thinking that gave us the “old” normal. As communities everywhere struggle to make sense of what has happened, what there is to do now, and how to start, the role of facilitation is critical
Fortunately, the field of meeting facilitation is mature. The tools and methods of supporting great facilitation are tried and true. Only the will to use the skills and methods is lacking.
We at WebStudy Foundation have pulled together pioneers and mature practitioners to apply our facilitation methods to your most urgent situations, now. Our collective challenge is to create a desired future that fulfills the needs of every learner, everywhere.
While the campus environment has grown in complexity with each decade in its attempt to respond to societal needs in human development beyond traditional teaching and learning, is it possible we have lost our singular focus on teaching and learning?
Inter-departmental communication and collaboration are no longer simply nice to have. They are distinct necessities. Some inter-departmental communication and collaboration may not be able to wait for the ‘committee-meeting process’ to unfold. In a post-internet information age, communication needs to be reliable, accurate, and continuously updated. Organizational effectiveness depends on it.
At The Webstudy Foundation, we believe “massive disruption” (that Christiansen predicted in 2011 and now Professor Galloway says is sure to ensue) can, if properly acted upon by design, provide a launching pad for a ‘Digital First’ growth strategy. All stakeholders have wanted and needed faster access to reliable input from cross-functional units long before the pandemic. What if each institution knew exactly how many instructors had a quality online course ready for students prior to the start of each semester? What would be different?
A Fundamental Turning Point in 21st Century Learning
Thanks to COVID-19, academia has been asked to fast-forward their ‘Digital First’ approach of the last two decades into a single academic calendar year. The spring semester resulted in remote delivery of coursework of questionable value. The fall semester is in varying stages of uncertainty with a combination of online, classroom, hybrid, HyFlex, and remote synchronous delivery. Yet the value of any of these options is largely unknown.
We are now in the third decade of acquiring digital competence in alternative means of teaching and learning. So, how are we doing?
Allow us to use approximations to create a context for this discussion. In the U.S. alone, across 6,138 degree-granting institutions of higher education, 1.5 million instructors are serving 26 million students across diverse delivery methods. For discussion purposes, let’s generously assume that at least 60% of the educator workforce have already acquired a level of competency in creating a quality online experience (as a commuter college, community colleges outpaced four-year institutions). That would mean that 900,000 faculty were prepared for the rapid shift to online course delivery.
What about the remaining 40%? Our assumption leaves 600,000 faculty in need of unprecedented support from instructional designers, academic leaders, deans of institutional research, centers for teaching and learning, peers, family members, and neighbors to develop a minimum level of mastery of online course delivery.
The silver lining irrelevant of delivery mode, (online, hybrid, classroom, or mixed), is that the one thing that remains constant is pedagogy or learning objectives for each course/subject. If all 1.5 million instructors focus on their learning objectives – regardless of delivery – then considering this unprecedented disaster, higher education will weather the storm. Preparing for or revising your strategy for building digital competency may now be seen as opportunistic this academic year.
As an example of what is possible, an ASU-sponsored virtual conference, Remote: a Connected Faculty Summit went live in July. Speakers who have spent the last 20 years improving online learning delivered examples of best practices in 88 presentations over two days. The program is available for viewing on demand for six months. At the time of its real-time launch, there were 46,797 registrations by the end of Day 2. Imagine the scale and the reach – another 5,999 people have logged into the On-Demand session since then.
This one opportunity delivered more focused professional development closest to the time when it would be implemented than all previous bootcamps replicated at each of the 6,138 institutions and the plethora of trade-association sponsored professional development webinars. As a former corporate trainer, at NovaCare, we used this guide, “If new information is not applied within three weeks of adult learning, it is at risk of being lost”.
As institutions find themselves at this critical turning point, we stand ready to help leverage the brainpower across entire organizations as they ready themselves for the new normal, beyond 2020. Who needs what, by when? Where does your institution fall in digital competence? How would you rate your campus’ ability to mobilize a large workforce to operate from the same hymnal to deliver quality instruction?
- What if you could tap into what takes a committee two hours to agree on in just twenty minutes?
- What if you could take a snap-shot of your campus readiness in real-time?
- What if you could identify who needs what to deliver the course learning objectives, regardless of how it’s delivered?
- What if each Dean had an agreed set of scenario plans to implement as needed?
- What if you could prioritize actions that are urgent and most relevant?
- What if lines of collaboration developed naturally across departments?
- What if the reports you got back helped plan for Spring 2021?
Christensen’s prediction about the solvency of higher education is now front of mind for every Board of Regents, President’s Cabinet, faculty senate, governor, and state government relations director. For the first time ever, all 1.5 million instructors and the 26 million students they serve are at least aware of the demand for the cohesive collaboration needed. The last stakeholder, the public, will see the resilience and tenacity that college stakeholders possess as we build a new path forward.
“Through facilitated engagements, we can help educational institutions get their
large, disparate groups on the same page in the shortest time possible.”
The WebStudy Foundation was created to facilitate meaningful organizational change by bringing “All Brains on Deck”, whether your faculty workforce is 500 or 5000 or 15,000. Through facilitated engagements, we can help educational institutions get their large, disparate groups on the same page in the shortest time possible.
Using twenty-five years of mapping process designs, our experts can facilitate with institutional leaders and their designated ‘Dream Team’ what questions you should engage in that will unearth actionable insights. At the NSF-funded, 2018 SALE Summit, hosted by Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) and Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE), I spoke on collaborative strategies. On the second day of a two-day summit, with an audience of 65 attendees (cross-functional roles, IT, academia, instructional design) from twelve institutions – we asked three pivotal questions:
- Rank your institutions’ state of readiness for digital transformation (scale 1-10)
- Identify the top challenge requiring immediate focus
- From the items identified which challenge IF resolved would move your institution’s rating by two points
In this small sample size, the group average score of readiness was a four out of ten ( ten being highest). Consensus identified ‘faculty buy-in’ as the most important resolution that could move their degree of readiness. The faculty are closest to the student experience when facilitating student completion. What if faculty and administration collaborated on who did what, by when each academic year?
“Very few institutions have a buffer in their budget for
experimentation, committee meetings across three semesters
or top-down decision making from a vacuum.”
Our design methods create the best thinking and collective effort to meet today’s challenges of the times (singing from the same hymnal). The added economic impact now makes this kind of collective effort a prerequisite to university/college solvency. Very few institutions have a buffer in their budget for experimentation, committee meetings across three semesters or top-down decision making from a vacuum.
The Great Do-Over of 2020
In the field of higher education, we are now being called upon to ready ourselves and our institutions for that which we have never known and that which cannot be fully known except through experience. It is as if we are being asked to design an aircraft while we are flying it! “BE READY!”—for exactly what?
Directors of Distance Learning and Instructional Designers (for those institutions that have them) have been called to perform near-heroic round-the-clock planning and training for faculty with varying degrees of proficiency in online course delivery. All of this effort – a true labor of love – is often met with insufficient scenario planning. Communication might be distributed across departments, but are inter-departmental actions unified? While the intricacies of campus operations are complex, can resource allocation be more systematically targeted?
Yet, for all of the upset that the pandemic has wrought, could it be that it has accelerated the reaching of the “tipping point” that most knowledgeable higher education thinkers have known to be there all along? Is it possible that 2020 could be remembered not only for the Great Shutdown but also for the Great Do-Over?
At WebStudy Foundation, we stand ready to partner with those institutions that are:
- Committed to thrive going forward.
- Ready to engage forthrightly in custom-designed questions and challenges posed to all stakeholders.
- Ready to reinvent higher education for the type of institution they are and be ready to serve their constituency (unique for 2Y vs 4Y, public vs private).
The Covision Design methodology that WebStudy Foundation has brought to higher ed is proven. It offers the most powerful means available to align all stakeholders in real-time to engage in any such reinvention. The time for engagement is NOW!
What will it Take to BE READY to Thrive Beyond 2021?
Working with WebStudy Foundation, you will develop a grounded approach and gain hands-on experience with a unique technology to impact the immediate needs at hand. Additionally, you will be poised to meet head-on the existential challenges to higher education delivery that stakeholders and institutions alike have now come to confront.
Are you ready to redefine the future in order to forge a sustainable path forward? Subscribe to our mailing list or click below to watch a 15 minute introduction to WebStudy Foundation CALLING ALL BRAINS ON DECK: Adapting to BIG Change, Quickly. We’ll discuss how collaborative decision-making can be used to solve wicked problems in higher education.
Visionary Thinking and Aligned Action at Warp Speed! The technology is available. The demand is obvious. The time is Now. We invite you to join us in this journey.