One of the most common questions I get during onsite readiness assessment visits is, "What can I do, as a leader, to support learning analytics across my institution?" While working with varying institutions, I observed several key ways in which senior leaders such as Deans, Department Heads, and Provosts can support the progress of a learning analytics initiative.
- Information Sharing: The first aspect to consider when engaging early on with an initiative is spreading the word; sharing the true and clear information about the initiative within the institution. As leaders, others look to you to help guide the overall strategic direction and vision. This doesn't mean one leader alone within the institution can or should lead a larger scale initiative like learning analytics. The President or Provost cannot be the only one sharing information with other departments or creating a collective strategy; it has to be trickled down throughout the rest of the leadership team. For example, Provosts need to feed it to Deans, Deans to Associate Deans, Associate Deans to Department Chairs, etc. Creating this sort of information dissemination creates a strong foundation for building the initiative.
It is not always easy to control the interpretation of messaging as it spreads across campus, but ensuring your delivery of the true, correct message helps dampen the potential gossip surrounding it. Information sharing also empowers those who work under leadership to continue to share the message across departments. Increased information sharing about the true message is always for the better.
- Expectation Setting: This next step is one that I found many leaders perform to help properly prepare staff for a larger initiative such as learning analytics. Even if you feel you have expressed support of the initiative in other ways, actually setting expectations to begin the work makes all the difference. For example, setting an expectation during budget meetings that resources will be allocated to this new initiative for a particular duration is an excellent way to express support. Setting this expectation also upholds the importance of the initiative's priority. Vocal expression of support, followed by the action of creating expectations around what work will be required, is compulsory for the staff to believe that the initiative is a priority and will happen.
- Consistent Messaging: Once information is shared, transparency about the message is created and expectations are set. It is then helpful for leaders to provide consistent messaging to their staff. Message consistency serves to reiterate the true and correct message that has been established. In my observations, I found that some leaders were happy to support an initiative when speaking about it originally, but the message of support seemed to wane as time went on. This could be due to changes in leadership priorities. Consistent messaging regarding support can be difficult when there are many different priorities grasping your time, efforts, and approvals. However, an initial statement of commitment, backed up with consistent messaging throughout the project, demonstrates a connected, involved, and dedicated innovator.
Keeping the focus pointed in the right direction lets everyone involved know that this is still important and a priority. These are likely things you already do on a daily basis. Holding true to your word goes a long way to those who are watching and taking cues from your guidance. Share your conviction.
- Collaborative Thinking: Every learning analytics initiative grows and changes over time, as it should. Continuing to involve staff, colleagues, and even students along the way is fundamental. Welcoming new ideas and new takes on the current processes and implementation plans are all dynamic ways to lead the changes within your institution. If you want to change something, you have to do it, show it, and lead it. This needs to be done at every opportunity. Your students, your staff, and your colleagues are all watching and will, ultimately, see and do the same. Allow others to feed their passion, curiosity, and enthusiasm into the next steps; collaborative thinking is contagious.
One of the best things we can do in Higher Education (HE) is to learn from each other. Most senior leaders are attempting to do what is best for those they lead, for their institution, and collectively across HE. This article is just a reminder to continue on with those efforts.
Keep an eye out for the next edition of "Trends Unpacked" in May. We will explore Part 1 of the technical challenges we witnessed with co-author Amanda Mason, Senior Business Analyst at Unicon.
Here's to continuous growth and improvement!
- Pineda, L. & Lynch, P. (2017). "Trends Unpacked: Organizational Challenges (Part 1)."
- Pineda, L. & Mason, A. (2017). "Trends Unpacked: Technical Challenges and Learning Analytics (Part 3)."
- Pineda, L. & Lynch, P. (2017). "Trends Unpacked: Organizational Challenges (Part 4)."
- Pineda, L. & Lynch, P. (2017). "Trends Unpacked: Technical Challenges and Learning Analytics (Part 5)."
- Pineda, L. (2017). "Learning Analytics Adoption and Implementation Trends: Identifying Organizational and Technical Patterns"