HOW TO REDESIGN A COLLEGE COURSE USING NCAT'S METHODOLOGY
XIV. Building and Maintaining Consensus
From working with more than 200 course redesigns, NCAT has found that the most serious implementation issues encountered had to do with building and maintaining consensus about the redesign among all stakeholders: students, parents, faculty, professional staff, and senior administrators. The need for shared campuswide understanding of the redesign plan begins when it is developed; it continues through the pilot period as the plan becomes real; it becomes even more necessary during full implementation as more students, more faculty, and more staff get involved; and, equally important, it must continue on an ongoing basis.
Redesigning a course is not simply a faculty project but, rather, a solution to a recognized, institutional problem. The sustainability of that solution is based on continuing institutional agreement at all levels. Ongoing communication with all stakeholders about the redesign’s effectiveness keeps the goals of the redesign and its outcomes clearly visible. The team needs to keep everyone updated on student success rates, student satisfaction, and cost reduction and to remind everyone of the situation prior to the redesign. Even though the team may be familiar with those facts, others in the institution may be new or may not know the history or be aware of the reasons the change was made.
Some institutions have not encountered those implementation issues because they foresaw them and dealt with them in advance. Others did not anticipate them and had to deal with them in mid-redesign. Some worked on resolving the issues constructively and ended up with successful redesigns; others backslid and abandoned key aspects of their redesign plans as consensus among various stakeholders waned.
We encourage you to pay special attention to how you will achieve initial and ongoing consensus among:
Achieve initial and ongoing faculty consensus about the redesign.
The biggest implementation issue faced by most redesigns is achievement of consensus on a variety of issues among all faculty teaching the course. Because course development in the traditional format is usually done by a single faculty member working independently on a single section of a course, the redesign of an entire course (all sections) by multiple faculty can present a number of challenges such as reaching agreement on core course outcomes, instructional formats, topic sequences, and a common website. And because instructors are usually not used to talking about such issues, they need time to work through them. As several institutions have commented, however, this can be a good problem to have. Collective decision making and departmental buy-in are key factors that lead to successful redesigns.
About two-thirds of institutions have reported challenges about the redesign when it comes to achieving faculty consensus within a department. Some of this was attributed to leadership issues—for example, interim department chairs who were reluctant to press resisting faculty. All institutions stress the need for strong leadership and administrative support to overcome those challenges. Some team leaders thought they had solved the problem of faculty buy-in at the outset but were surprised to find they had not communicated as effectively as they thought they had. Team leaders thought they had their colleagues’ support, but when the redesign got under way, they discovered that the opposition was stronger than anticipated. This underlines the importance of constant communication to check signals and maintain momentum.
Achieve initial and ongoing consensus among campus offices.
Institutions frequently encounter challenges associated with preparing others on campus for the redesigned format. Most such challenges involve advising, wherein advisers do not provide correct information for students or simply misunderstand what the course is about. Team leaders need to constantly and consciously market the redesign to key campus constituencies that know little about the new format and how it differs from more-traditional offerings. Taking a proactive approach by offering sessions about the redesign model for various campus offices, explaining the benefits of the redesign to student government officers and organizations, using the summer to visit advisers and coaches to describe the benefits of the new approach, and addressing colleagues’ concerns immediately can help during the transition period.
As full implementation continues, the team cannot assume that those who were informed about the development of the plan at the onset of the pilot still support the redesign. Some campus offices may have thought the redesign was merely an experiment rather than a permanent change. In addition to keeping departmental colleagues informed, the team needs to be sure that advisers and others who work with students know that their ongoing support is needed.
Achieve initial and ongoing consensus among senior administrators.
Institutional commitment to a course redesign includes building and sustaining that commitment throughout the life of the redesign. In the course of implementing a redesign, things happen: lead faculty members leave or retire; departments get reorganized; presidents and provosts get new jobs. Faculty members—on their own—can show and have shown spectacular success in creating highly effective new learning environments, but for those successes to be sustained or for them to have real impact on the institution as a whole, both departmental leadership and institutional administrative leadership need to play active and continuing roles.
You will inevitably encounter problems in implementing your redesign as you make a transition to a new form of instruction. Without a full commitment to preserving the key elements of the redesign while addressing the problems you encounter, the institution may simply abandon the redesign, thus forgoing either the learning gains or the cost-savings benefits or both.
About half of all institutions cite the need to build institutional commitment to redesign outside their home department, especially among senior administrators. Participants frequently cite leadership and administrative support as factors in sustaining and expanding interest in redesign. In some cases, redesign is encouraged by system-level leadership; another team notes support by trustees as a factor. Like the building of acceptance within the department, however, the broadening of institutional commitment requires continuing attention and support even under favorable circumstances.
Ensuring Sustainability: The Fundamentals
Once a successful pilot has been conducted, once the bumps in the road have been smoothed out, and once full implementation is in place, most institutions expect that sustainability would be a given. After all, the redesign has both improved student success and reduced instructional costs. Why wouldn’t the redesign be sustained? Making the assumption that redesign will automatically be sustained without continuing attention will turn out to be a big mistake. Because course redesign is so different from the traditional way of teaching in higher education, it must be continually sold and resold to all campus constituents. As the players change, continued focus on building and maintaining consensus cannot be underestimated.
Executive Leadership. The important role of senior administrators does not end when full implementation occurs. Senior administrators need to be prepared to support the redesign and to guard against the desire of some to backslide to the traditional format. The provost or president will need to remind those wanting to go back to the old way of the reasons the redesign occurred in the first place and what the evidence is that proves its ongoing success.
Faculty Leadership. Strong and continuing faculty leadership of the redesign is crucial to sustainability. Even though the individual providing the leadership may change, the importance of the role does not. The designated leader must continue to ensure the consistency of the course among sections as well as adherence to policies and procedures established initially. The leader also serves as liaison with other departments and divisions whose support is needed to maintain the redesign.
Ongoing Data Collection. Some institutions believe that demonstrating the initial success of the redesign through data comparisons is sufficient to generate campuswide consensus. They assume that similar results will continue, but they neglect to continue collecting and analyzing the data that support that continuation. Many institutions have initially seen a small increase in student success after the first term of implementation, but as they continued to tweak the redesign and become more familiar with how to implement it, the number of students successfully completing the course continued to grow. Through ongoing measurement, institutions can see continuing improvement that will help sustain consensus.
Ongoing Communication. It is important to continue communicating with campus offices and other departments on an ongoing basis to keep them updated on student success rates, student satisfaction levels, and cost-effectiveness and to remind them of the situation prior to the redesign. While the team may be familiar with those facts, others in the institution may be new and may not know the history or the reasons the change was made. Letting them know about the successes other institutions have achieved using course redesign will make them feel they are not outliers but, rather, part of an important new trend.
Some institutions have developed a handout that explains the new way the redesigned course is being offered. Advisers can use such a handout to assist them as they explain the redesign to students. Students can take the handout with them to review later. Some institutions have worked with the college newspaper to publish an article that explains the redesign and includes data to demonstrate the successes students are experiencing.
Orientation of New Personnel. Changes in personnel are common at most institutions, particularly among part-time instructors. New full-time instructors are also hired from time to time. Turnover at the department chair, dean, and executive levels occurs nowadays more frequently on most campuses than in the past. New faculty and new administrators need a good understanding of why the redesign model is used, how it works, and what benefits it offers. New faculty, staff, and administrators should learn about the redesign from more than just an e-mail or a data report. They should be invited to visit the classroom or lab and talk with students, with tutors, and with faculty. They need to see firsthand how the redesign works and how all constituencies are benefiting.
Financial Plan. To ensure long-term sustainability, a financial plan that keeps the necessary technological infrastructure current and functional will be needed. Such things as upgrading or replacing computers, hiring lab tutors, and buying new versions of the commercial software require ongoing investment. Some administrators mistakenly believe that the creation of labs/computer classrooms is a onetime investment. Others may not remember that the original course redesign actually saved resources for the institution while improving student success. Unless administrators are reminded annually how cost-effective the redesign is and what its important components are, they will forget. Some institutions annually calculate how many instructors would have been needed to teach the same number of students in the traditional format, and they compare those costs with the costs of the redesign. Such data provide evidence to remind administrators why providing needed resources is important.
NCAT recommends that all institutions develop an annual plan to sustain the course redesign. Do you have an ongoing plan to: