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Panel Session: Connecting Theory and Practice in a Change Project - And What I Wish I Knew Before I Started

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Connecting Theory and Practice in a Change Project - And What I Wish I Knew Before I Started

Tagged Division

Faculty Development Constituent Committee

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Elizabeth C. Harris University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Elizabeth Harris has been part of the University of Wisconsin Madison’s College of Engineering since 2012. She approaches Engineering Education opportunities by leveraging her background in cognitive and systems engineering in addition to her background in education. She particularly enjoys working to improve the effectiveness of institutions, and the experiences of students, faculty, and academic staff by addressing the holistic ecologies present around teaching and learning in Higher Education. She does this by partnering to foster, create, and explore cultural and strategic interventions, in addition to practical.

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Using the multi-million dollar transition of a large, public University to a new learning management system as a use case, this panel paper will discuss the initial change management theories and philosophies identified, and how they translated into practice.

This project was complex, and required technical, cultural, and relational change across the University. The unusual project structure was such that there were 2 co-owners of the project - one from central IT, and a faculty developer from a distributed teaching and learning group. This pairing brought together the strengths of strong technical backgrounds, and softer skills such as change management, consensus building, as well as 2 distinct perspectives.

The common assumption is that the technical change process will be the most time consuming in a project such as this. However the most complex changes that were needed - and really drove how the technical changes were approached - were cultural and relational. The campus had a long history of central and distributed resources working together more tangentially, but for this project to be optimally successful a new level of partnership was needed. Addressing this first with School/College administration and the faculty developers who would be supporting the technical move was done intentionally. The goal was to foster these relationships, build trust, and develop project buy-in from these critical partners, before engaging with the end-users - the faculty/instructors and students. Once the implementation partners were on board, it was time to reach out to faculty and students. By addressing the technical and cultural changes that had been identified by the project and partners earlier in the process, the communications and change management strategies to bring faculty and students on board were easier to identify, and more effective when implemented. Since the project was a partnership, faculty developers within specific schools and colleges could address the specific needs of the people they supported, in addition to the larger campus outreach. This was particularly critical in schools/colleges such as the College of Engineering who traditionally have operated with a strong culture that is distinct from much of the rest of campus.

The ability to have the change approach be customized to the needs of a school/college was a linchpin of the success of the change management, and the project overall. Many of the early philosophies of the project carried through successfully to the end, but many morphed and changed as lessons were learned. Using this project as a use case allows other faculty developers to learn how change management practices can scale, how they often are most important in areas that are viewed as tangential, and how faculty developers can participate in non-traditional ways in order to serve their faculty’s best interest, and improve their students’ experiences.

Harris, E. C. (2019, June), Panel Session: Connecting Theory and Practice in a Change Project - And What I Wish I Knew Before I Started Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33153

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