Santiago de Chile, Chile
For universities worldwide, the quality of education offered to their students is a main priority. This is why, with each new technology that becomes available to simplify learning processes, great opportunities for improvement open up for institutions. Adopting technology effectively often means casting aside traditional, analogue teaching methods, and gradually implementing new tools that offer teaching staff, students and management alike, not only speed, but also greater satisfaction.
However, adopting an e-learning platform can be challenging, even more so if it’s being introduced on a mass scale and transversally at a company or educational institution. In this case, a careful and well thought-out adoption process can be the key to success. Universidad Mayor de Chile, a top-ranking private institution, decided to expand the capacity of its virtual learning systems in order to support the development of its online and blended education options. How did the university do it?
“We have been developing e-learning programs for more than ten years, and over the course of time we have evolved. For several years we developed our own platforms, and then we changed to Moodle. But by around 2014, we had achieved a degree of maturity that required a system on the same level, and we began to implement Blackboard Learn, step by step,” explained Vice-President, Development and Administration, Mario Herane.
STEP 1: Pilot program up and running
The first initiative was to introduce Blackboard Learn as a pilot project, solely for online and blended postgraduate courses. This limited target group meant that the university had greater control, and the results in terms of learning were excellent. While this was going on, undergraduate students and teaching staff continued to use Moodle, and they were given training so that in the near future they would be able to move to new and better virtual learning tools.
“More than anything else, the community warmly welcomed the consistency of the platform, and the level of acceptance by academics and students in terms of its usability was very good. Having a single, comprehensive platform gave us very good results,” said Herane.
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STEP 2: Mass implementation
Since March 2017, Blackboard Learn became the institution’s sole e-learning platform. In order to guarantee its mass implementation and ensure that it really permeated every undergraduate course at the university, it was first introduced to online and blended programs, and also the virtual assistance classrooms for all face-to-face classes.
According to Laura Solís, the university’s Director of E-Learning Development, “the institution’s online synchronous class model is one of its strengths. Here, Blackboard Learn’s Blackboard Collaborate tool offers us a very important solution, because it not only enables teachers and students to be close to each other, it also allows us to respond quickly to their concerns and provide the feedback that only a session in real time can offer.”
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STEP 3: ‘Blending’ education
The university has three courses that are wholly online: Risk Prevention, Public Administration, and Business Management Engineering. These operate and are developed on Blackboard Learn, but the idea is that they should not be the only ones to use it extensively.
“The university is drawing up policies aimed at encouraging all courses to join the blended education model. There is a difference between being blended and simply uploading some material into the virtual classroom. A truly combined methodology is, for example, an inverted classroom, where online interacts with face-to-face,” said Solís.
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STEP 4: Clear methodologies
The university is currently developing blended and online work methodologies so that information reaches all faculties and teaching staff uniformly. To achieve this, the university receives technical and on-site consulting support from the Blackboard Learn adoption team.
“We are developing a training and integration methodology model for academic staff. Additionally, through transverse academic units throughout the university, such as courses in the Administration or Mathematics departments, we are working with teachers on developing blended subjects so that we can make a bigger institutional impact,” said Mario.
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STEP 5: Examples that inspire
Finally, the university’s e-learning team is exploring all the tools available in Blackboard’s toolkit package, in order to boost usage and establish a broader virtual community. One of its best strategies is to create and present sample courses that can demonstrate the online platform’s full potential to teachers.
“We are also creating online repositories, to inform teachers who still know very little about e-learning technology or who are only just starting to look into how to use it. The idea is that the approach should not just be through training sessions but rather that teachers can see that the university is making use of the platform in an integrated manner,” concluded Solís.
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As Universidad Mayor de Chile shows, the success of a technology adoption process depends on various factors, but mostly, it relies on the way it is planned. On the one hand, it is important to follow a step-by-step process, with pilot projects that allow for the impact of the initiative to be measured and enable the implementation process to be perfected. On the other hand, it is also vital to count on the support and advice from the companies offering the e-learning platforms, as their knowledge and experience can enable taking full advantage of the tool’s potential.
Mario Herane, Vice-Principal, Development and Administration and Laura Solís, Director of E-Learning Development, Universidad Mayor de Chile. Photo: AFP Pablo Vera Lisperguer.