They say the first steps are the hardest, and that's certainly the case for college managers looking to implement any large-scale change programme. This is particularly evident when it comes to areas that staff may not naturally be used to engaging with, such as using digital technology in the classroom.
Adopting new technologies and ensuring they are used effectively within your organisation is no easy task, but there are a number of steps that are common to successful transitions, which college managers should consider when coming up with their own strategies.
1. Create a shared vision that everyone can buy into
For staff to get behind the digital solution they need to feel as though they have a say in its direction, as well as buying into the benefits – creating improved outcomes for learners, new efficiencies and ultimately freeing up their time to concentrate on core values.
Bring staff in from the start to create a shared commitment. A good way of doing this is by forming a technology or e-learning steering group to float ideas. This will also give you a testbed to pilot projects and ensure usability.
2. What skills do you already have?
If you've not done much with digital technologies before you may worry about having to build a skills base from scratch. Actually, in many cases there will already be innovative practice taking place within your college, you just have to find it.
Forward-thinking college managers start by identifying their staff who are already using digital technologies in their work, then go about understanding how this can be easily replicated. Using peer observation to learn to do as others do can be a good way to do this, as used by Henley College, while South Worcestershire College set up 'teach meets' to share best practice among peers.
3. ... and what can you bring in
Recognise that you won't know everything, and don't be afraid to look for external help. Whether it's a certified subject matter expert or simply a neighbouring college that you know is an exemplar in technology use, engaging with a third party could teach you a thing or two. Hereford Sixth Form College claim to take a 'magpie' approach, looking at lots of different examples from others and spotting for 'gems' they can apply to their own work.
4. Know one size doesn't fit all
Not all subjects will find the same use in a particular digital solution, but that's not to say that they shouldn't use technology at all, just that others might be better suited. For example, construction staff at South Staffordshire College found it difficult to get enthusiastic about using Moodle for the virtual learning environment, but they really liked augmented reality apps for bringing the subject to life. Their success here has led them to be much more receptive to embracing other technologies too.
5. Constantly assess, and move on
As with any change programme, you'll undoubtedly come across bumps in the road that make the transition hard. What matters is how you respond to these setbacks. Constantly assess what's going well and what could be better. And if a particular concept isn't working, try something new.
Talking to staff about their experiences is a crucial part of this. Sharing cultures such as through show-and-tells or continuous professional development session can help to make sure that no-one feels like they're on their own, and allow you to succeed together.
Allen Crawford-Thomas is subject matter expert of strategy and business process in further education and skills at Jisc, which provides digital solutions for UK education and research