I’ve just completed the first draft of a chapter for a book on integrating technology in post-secondary educational institutions that I am writing with Albert Sangra, of the Open University of Catalonia. The book is based on 11 case studies, five in North America and six in Europe.
One of the things we looked at is the use of strategic planning and its value for e-learning. Here are my preliminary conclusions (Albert may have other views on this):
First it was clear that technology integration is more likely to occur in those institutions that have a flexible institutional plan in which the strategic importance of technology is recognized. This is particularly important for ensuring that the financial implications of technology integration are understood and acted on, as well as for communicating the importance of technology integration to all key staff.
Second, and in our view, most importantly, successful planning requires the development of compelling visions and goals for the use of technology within institutions. Too often in the case studies, vision was limited to supporting current administrative processes and classroom teaching methods, rather than using technology to lever radical change directed at new and better learning outcomes, greater flexibility for students, and increased cost efficiencies that are measurable through a formal process of evaluation.
Third, integration and innovation are more likely to occur when there is a process to draw faculty and instructors into the visioning and strategic thinking around the role of technology for teaching and learning. The same applies to staff within administrative areas for administrative applications of technology.
Fourth, for successful technology integration, an institutional strategy must be fully supported by all members of the executive team, and that support needs to be continued over a considerable period, including changes in executive teams. Some of the most successful institutions in integrating technology had consistent strategies and key people in senior administration in place for many years. Other less successful institutions in the case studies often suffered from a lack of shared vision at the executive level, or continual changes in directions or key personnel.
Fifth, technology planning should be an ongoing process. New developments in technology with profound implications for teaching, research and administration, and pressures on institutions from changing economic and social contexts that could be addressed to some extent through the intelligent application of technology, are likely to continue well into the future. Thus the need for ongoing technology planning is not going to go away, and should remain a feature of future institutional planning.
Lastly, once strategic direction is set for technology integration, a process needs to be put in place to create and maintain an environment that supports and encourages the integration of technology. An individual or group needs to be mandated to manage this process.
However, more important than strategic planning was strategic thinking about the way technology could transform the organization. This means focusing on:
- the learning outcomes that are required in a knowledge-based society and how technology can help develop such outcomes,
- developing competencies in the use of information and communications technologies within specific areas of study,
- more flexible delivery of programs to accommodate a more heterogeneous student body,
- the redesign of courses and programs to integrate technology better,
- better services to students, and
- greater efficiencies in both teaching and administration (namely, better outcomes at less cost).
Unfortunately, we found little evidence of this level of thinking in most of the case studies, the emphasis instead being on improving ‘business as usual.’
How does this fit with your experience? Does your institution have an institutional plan that includes the use of technology as a strategic direction? Has this helped the institution? Is strategic planning just a pointless waste of time? Your views, please!