Overcoming Staff and Faculty Resistance to New Technologies

Technology upgrades are becoming critical to universities that want to survive the digital age. New systems are replacing antiquated software that was introduced years ago when they were bricks and mortar, and the concept of a ‘digital campus’ didn’t exist.

Decision makers are in a delicate position as they face pressure to innovate while knowing that staff and faculty are likely to push back against change.  

Staff and faculty value the stability of their existing routine, so the reticence to adopt new systems is understandable.

The resistance of faculty to changes in utilizing technology and managing that resistance may be among the most pressing challenges for leaders in academia (Berge & Muilenburg, 2001; Moerschell, 2009).

To overcome the objection to new technologies and ensure a smooth transition, start with these key strategies.

 

Choose platforms that are easier to learn

Whenever evaluating a new platform, one of the primary factors should be the ease at which students and staff can learn how to use it effectively.

A lot of technology companies try to reinvent the wheel when developing their user experience which is a very insular approach that causes more problems than it solves.

Designing new systems should be done in a way that makes user onboarding easy. By replicating the look and feel of existing systems and making incremental improvements, software providers are putting their users first.

A primary example is Yammer, a business communication tool, which adopted a very similar look to Facebook. The result? Extensive user adoption in the early years after release.

Explain the reasoning

To build interest in technology before it is released, it is important to provide staff with precise reasons for the decision. Be open about why the new platform is essential. Make sure that the logic is linked directly to relevant and personal outcomes.

For example

“We’re introducing this technology to build student community,”

Should be replaced with:

“We’re introducing this technology because our students continue to report that they feel unsupported and the ongoing dropout rate is unsustainable. We’re making this change to avoid potential job cuts in future.”

It is also valuable for staff to see examples of other colleges that have successfully implemented the technology. Use a case study to show how another university has changed for the better.

Showing how issues will be solved will also help convince staff that the initial pain is worth it for the long-term gain.

 

Find a champion

Your internal champion is your quarterback. They coordinate, control and take responsibility for delivering a successful rollout. They can’t do it all on their own, but they’re calling the shots and making sure everyone else plays their role.

The internal champion should be a respected leader within the university with a track record for getting things done. They should be afforded autonomy to make decisions about implementation as they arise. Internal back and forth is certain to hurt adoption.

Having an internal champion keeping everyone moving in the same direction increases the likelihood of a successful rollout.

Planning is paramount

There are inevitably a large number of moving parts in technology implementation, and it is imperative that they all align.

For example, setting up staff training and then realizing the IT department hasn’t completed system integrations creates a poor first impression for staff. Users disillusioned by a disappointing first experience with new technology can be some of the most difficult to recapture.

 

It’s necessary to have a clear plan so that everyone knows what needs to happen and when. The timeline should give staff adequate notice, so people don’t feel rushed, but shouldn’t be so long that you lose momentum and excitement. And as the saying goes, any deadline is better than not having one.

Another essential part of the planning process is determining use cases for the system and informing staff how their current workflows will change.

Establishing when and how staff will use the new system drives usage and prevents faculty returning to their ‘old ways.’

Train for success

The trainer plays a critical role in generating staff buy-in. Highly engaging training events are a must. Staff will resent a technology that they don’t understand - fear of the unknown can be powerful.

It’s also crucial to align training with the workplace culture. If staff have a preference for recorded online demonstrations that can be more convenient, run training events in this format. If they prefer constant interaction with the trainer, a seminar event is more suitable.

Throughout the training process, provide incentives to staff to show that their efforts to learn the new technology are valued. If staff feel that learning the system doesn't lead to any reward or outcome, they can quickly undervalue the tool.

Those encouraging the implementation, including the internal champion, must become experts in the technology. Learn the frequently asked questions, so staff receive an answer quickly. Having internal experts builds confidence in the system and reduces the need for back and forth with the vendor, which takes time.

Implement a two-way feedback loop

Once the new technology has been rolled out, provide staff with both positive and negative feedback regarding their technology use to give them a chance for further learning and improvement. This process can also help them build on what they learnt during the training sessions, and often leads to ‘super users’ who develop a deeper understanding of how to get the most out of technology. It may also inform the structure and content of additional training sessions.

In addition to providing staff with feedback, it’s important to ask them what they think of the new technology. What's working? What's not working? Analyse all the information provided (which will sometimes conflict) for patterns and then present any trends back to the vendor. The value of this process is not just improving the technology - it helps staff to feel involved and increases buy-in.

Celebrate the successes

It’s important to share the positive impact that new technology is having within the university. Positivity is contagious, and when a staff member hears that other people have breakthroughs with a new platform, it encourages them to overcome the initial pain of change.

The added benefit is that staff will start to share the methods they used to build momentum, feeding into further success.

Summary

Universities are in a situation where they must upgrade existing technology or face being left behind.

It’s important to understand that throughout this process, staff will resist change. Accepting this is critical so you can put effective strategies in place.

Following these steps will put your university in a much better position to continue innovating, which will ultimately lead to a better experience for both students and staff.

Successful Online Education Strategies

The overwhelming growth in online education is undeniable. Universities must adapt to changing market conditions or risk becoming obsolete. With few exceptions, colleges that remain solely ‘bricks and mortar’ will go out of business. Losing students to those who offer more flexible and convenient study options can be counted on for those that don’t adapt.

Transitioning to online education can be both daunting and challenging, especially when a university doesn’t have the forward-looking nature that a successful transition requires.

Success will come from an understanding of the significance of the problem and a willingness to adapt.

By taking these measures, universities can successfully transition towards online education.

 

Provide easy ways for students to connect, communicate and collaborate online.

Students need a community to thrive. In years gone by, robust discussions took place in classrooms and lecture halls amongst students and academics. Losing that critical part of the learning process would be detrimental to learning outcomes, so it’s important to facilitate productive communication using technology.

A key focus is to encourage online discussion among students. This culture is created by building content delivery around collaboration, rather than relying on students to make it happen.

Academics need to spend time facilitating conversations. Ultimately, that time investment will pay dividends as students learn to crowdsource support from their peers, rather than relying on email.

 

Embrace new technologies.

In a recent study, 73% of students surveyed recommended that their university review and change its digital strategy.

The introduction of new technologies is critical.  Existing systems do not meet the unique needs of online students, and will often leave them frustrated. Don’t rely on learning management system forums or emails for communication and collaboration.

Facebook will rarely work, and relies on an already actively connected community. It also carries significant privacy risks and affords very little control.

Purpose built platforms assist colleges in creating a thriving online ecosystem and are a much better alternative to platforms not made explicitly for education.

 

Personalize the learning experience.

It is imperative that online students are not overwhelmed with irrelevant or poorly timed information.

Provide both academic and administrative information when it is needed, and ensure it is always relevant. Dumping information is a recipe for overwhelmed students and a fast road to failure. For example, why provide students with a PDF at the start of the year with due dates when students can be sent push notifications throughout the semester?

 

Accept the risks.

"The biggest risk is not taking any risk... In a world that's changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks." - Mark Zuckerberg

Traditional Universities tend to be bureaucratic and have a very low-risk tolerance, which makes sense given one of their primary functions is producing high-quality research that faces heavy scrutiny.

Unfortunately, this risk-averse nature is in itself an enormous risk. Failing to introduce new technology and reticence to change will cause failure.

Technology implementations do not always go to plan. Issues may occur. Having said that, once it ‘clicks’ - the rewards are significant.

Set realistic expectations and encourage and facilitate continual improvement with a firm commitment to institutional change.

 

A strategic whole of institution approach is required.

University leaders must drive change, and a cohesive approach is critical. The most successful institutions have dedicated senior positions, such as a Chief Innovation Officer, to coordinate the changes that take place.

These dedicated staff members exist to drive the vision of the university. There will always be people that resist change, particularly when it has historically been avoided or siloed. Navigating this environment is complicated, and without senior staff support, it will often fail.

 

Invest in the digital campus.

The digital campus is becoming just as important as the physical campus, yet investment in online technologies pales in significance. Universities are still spending $100M on new buildings, yet skimping when it comes to the online environment.

Why not invest in world-class, modern platforms?

 

Summary.

Universities are accepting that a tidal wave of change is coming. The next few years present a unique opportunity where some will excel, and others will fail. Those that invest in the future will succeed, and others will look back and wonder what happened.

Be Apple, not Kodak.