Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Technology has become an essential part of modern society. However, it can be difficult to adopt new technologies, particularly in areas where it has traditionally been ignored. Students today don’t just ask for technology tools to enhance their learning: they actually expect them to be available already. Blackboard not only realized this, but also the fact that when a university or school decides to implement a learning management system like Blackboard Learn, teachers are suddenly confronted with a vast number of new tools to use and the transition can be very difficult for them.
This is why Blackboard Academic Adoption was created: to be an international consultancy group that aids institutions introduce Blackboard Learn. It should be noted that this tool has nothing to do with implementing technology, because the people involved in the process are not technicians but teachers with many years of experience in education, student-teacher relationships and the change towards online education. Eloisa Viggiani, a Blackboard Senior Strategic Consultant based in Rio de Janeiro, is one of those people.
Viggiani’s team ensures that clients make the most of their investment in education technology: they pave the way to online education, look at cultural issues and design virtual learning systems. Eloisa explained that the process to adopt Blackboard Learn must involve the whole institution, not just teachers and the technology area; they have to deal with human resources, senior management, deans, principals and students. The team implements a strategy to create an environment of innovation and technology implementation at institutions, one where teachers feel safe and are able to experiment and leave their comfort zone.
The consultant added that her team’s greatest challenge lies in dealing with naysayers who doubt that technology can really help students learn and make teaching more didactic, interesting and entertaining, which is precisely what Blackboard accomplishes through multiple platforms designed to help students in their learning process. But there’s another side to the coin, teachers need to change their mindset in order to achieve these objectives.
Universities are focusing on two major sectors. The first is digital natives, young students who are used to technology and who use it to learn. The second group comprises adult workers who need to improve, complete their university education or take a master’s degree course to advance in their career. Technology is fundamental for both sectors: for the former, it is part of their culture; for the latter, it enables workers to effectively manage their time. All this translates into a collaborative construction of knowledge, where students teach and learn from the teacher, and vice versa.
Process to help institutions adopt Blackboard Learn
First they need to fully understand the institution they are working with. They find out where it is, its staff’s goals, what issues it’s had in the past, and which challenges it needs to overcome. To begin, the team interviews the principal or any other official with a deep understanding of the institution’s academic matters with the purpose of gaining insights into its mission, vision, and plans for the future.
Once the team has a clear grasp of the client’s expectations, they begin to assess the institution’s standing. They carry out an anonymous survey of the teaching staff and ask the following questions about the institution’s status quo: Are they already using technology, and how? What are the benefits of technology for student learning? How confident are they when using the tools? What hinders a proper implementation of technology? To answer these questions, they also study the institution’s past technology use statistics. These two initial steps are performed remotely and take around two to three weeks, depending on interviewer and interviewee availability.
During the third and fourth weeks there is a series of workshops, interviews, focus groups and sessions with various members of the institution’s staff. First, the team conducts interviews with key individuals in the e-learning ecosystem and with the project’s sponsor, usually a senior manager who wants the Blackboard team to be fully aligned with the institution’s strategy and vision.
Then they set up focus groups of around 10 to 12 extremely different people, to ensure variety: experienced teachers with younger ones; teachers from different faculties; some who have worked with education technology and some who have not. They also set up groups with the technical and technological support team, with course and faculty leaders, and with students from different faculties, age groups and university areas. Lastly, there is the professional services group, including the communications, institutional design and training staff. Each of these groups receives very specific questions and exercises and participates in open discussions and other interaction dynamics to help Viggiani’s team fully comprehend the university ecosystem. These two days are very intensive, and enable Eloisa’s team to gain the best understanding of the institution’s staff.
Then come two or three days of results analysis. Afterwards, the team holds one-day working sessions with groups involved in more operational aspects (i.e., if the results of the interviews and focus groups show that the institution needs to improve teacher support on training). This could mean that even though there are training sessions, they are not well designed or structured enough to be useful at all teaching levels, or that some staff members are better trained in the subject while others need to start from a lower level, etc. At this point, Viggiani’s team forms a working group with relevant teams depending on the subject, to determine and implement the most suitable course of action. The new team draws up a highly operational, step-by-step plan, explaining each member’s tasks and which resources they need.
The product of all this work is a report containing the analysis of the situation, the needs to achieve the institution’s strategic objectives, and a very detailed operational plan laying out the steps to follow. This includes a timeline, a list of resources, and graphics. They also create a control panel containing several metrics and key performance indicators, which allows measuring the progress of the adoption process up to the achievement of the strategic results. The team clearly defines the key steps and criteria for success, as well as the measuring and control methods. The entire process lasts a total of eight weeks.
After delivering the personalized report and the control panel, phase two begins. At this point, the university should begin implementing the various steps, including certain e-learning processes, updating institutional policies, etc. Eloisa stays in touch with the client
during this second phase to review stages, evaluate any difficulties during the process and, every three months, hold a working session and determine which processes need to be improved or redirected. The team provides assistance throughout the entire three-year process, and each year a new evaluation is carried out and a new plan drawn up, with new steps and new metrics on achievements and needs. The process can be longer depending on the magnitude of the required changes and on the client.
The main point Viggiani noted was the importance of fully convincing those who could actually enact change at an institution about adopting technology, regardless of their decisions to acquire Blackboard Learn specifically. If an institution’s teachers and management are not convinced of the benefits technology can bring to modern education, no technology is ever going to work. The consultant also said that a fundamental part of this process is ensuring that an institution’s top management gives the teaching staff the credit they deserve for introducing technology. It is hard work, which includes reevaluating the institution’s teaching approach, learning how to use new tools, studying, experimenting with new teaching processes, among other activities; therefore, it is important to have all that effort recognized.
The work Eloisa and her team do is important to ensure that universities in Latin America and everywhere in the world understand the importance of technology in education, and that even though it is a complex process that calls for a new mindset, it is ultimately a very satisfying and enriching process. It is a matter of collectively constructing wisdom, teaching and learning.
Eloisa Viggiani, Blackboard Strategic Consultant