AdobeUniversities need partnerships to combat ‘change fatigue’

Universities need partnerships to combat ‘change fatigue’

Digital tools can improve student outcomes, but institutions must bring staff along on the digital transformation journey

Higher education institutions need to partner with stakeholders, including students, staff and outside organisations, to stave off change fatigue, according to attendees of an Adobe round table at THE Digital Universities Week UK 2022.

When the Covid-19 pandemic forced universities to close their doors in 2020, staff had to scramble to move their teaching online, encountering numerous new technologies and ways of engaging with students.

“So much change has happened,” said Angela Davies, academic lead for flexible learning pathways at the University of Manchester. “We’re now seeing people slipping back into old habits.”

To retain the positive changes that have happened in the past two years, higher education institutions needed to partner with stakeholders, the panel agreed.

“We need to bring staff with us,” said Helen Laville, provost at Kingston University. “There is change fatigue when it comes to trying to move forward with digital tools. After the pandemic they are not up for more change.”

However, integrating digital tools into curricula can improve the student experience and outcomes, said Mark Andrews, pedagogical evangelist at Adobe. The company has partnered with Teesside University in Middlesbrough to realise the institution’s learning strategy.

“It was about looking at the strategic alignment and for Adobe to add rocket boosters to the strategy they already had,” Andrews said.

“We know that the use of the Adobe Creative Cloud in curricula can have a huge effect on outcomes,” Andrews said, adding that some institutions have seen a marked increase in grades and retention, particularly among students from marginalised groups.

Deveral Capps, dean of Leeds Law School at Leeds Beckett University, said students needed to be digitally literate. “Law is about to go through a seismic shift in the legal services landscape” as artificial intelligence and digital tools change the ways that lawyers work, he said. “Students need to be digitally literate enough to take on those changes and we also have to prepare them for a job that may not exist in 10 years.”

Capps said that a particular challenge was colleagues who were resistant to change, stressing that educators will need to embrace new tools if they are going to produce work-ready graduates. Institutions need strategies in place to combat change fatigue and staff pushback.

John Kerr, learning innovation manager at the University of Glasgow, said his institution found it best to “offer [staff] bespoke mechanisms and put things out in a blueprint, which includes admin support, cost, pedagogy and the scale of these platforms...We spend a lot of time mapping things out for people so that they know what it is about before they start,” he explained.

Participants also acknowledged the reality of digital poverty. “We saw a lot of digital poverty [during the pandemic] and we need to take that into account moving forward,” said Mark Davis, director of IT at the University of the West of England. “We need to personalise the experience and take that on board.”

To personalise the student experience and offer effective interventions, institutions must also engage with students. “It’s great to get students on board and their views are very valuable, but it can be difficult,” said Julie Voce, head of digital education at City, University of London.

However, there was some disagreement about how best to encourage student participation, with some saying institutions needed to rally student enthusiasm to secure their involvement, while others argued that institutions had to embed students’ participation within curricula.

Nevertheless, institutions needed to find ways to partner with stakeholders to promote digital transformation, the participants agreed.

“The pandemic forced us into a particular way of delivery, but now we’re going back to more on-campus delivery, and we need to make sure we take the good things forward, otherwise there will be huge missed opportunities,” said Davis.

The panel:

  • Noemi Azzolina, acting director of the digital learning hub, Imperial College London
  • Marc Bennett, digital adoption manager, Newcastle University
  • Helen Boyd, director of digital strategic projects, University of St Andrews
  • Deveral Capps, dean of Leeds Law School, Leeds Beckett University
  • Mark Davis, director of IT, University of the West of England
  • Angela Davies, academic lead for flexible learning pathways, University of Manchester
  • John Kerr, learning innovation manager, University of Glasgow
  • Helen Laville, provost, Kingston University
  • Hannah Mathias, head of digital education services, University of the West of England
  • Donald McLeod, director of change and transformation, University of East London
  • Alexander Nowak, higher education strategy & management, AJN Consulting, Inc.
  • Steve Rowett, head of digital education futures, University College London
  • Richard Strange, chief information officer, University of the West of England
  • Julie Voce, head of digital education, City, University of London

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