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implementing educational technology
26 July 2023| doi: 10.5281/zenodo.8276951

EdTech: The secret to its implementation

The COVID-19 crisis marked a rapid digital turn for higher education institutions around the world, bringing into focus existing and new organisational challenges related to implementing EdTech at the university. Over the course of a three-year cooperation between the HIIG and CATALPA – Center of Advanced Technology for Assisted Learning and Predictive Analytics at the FernUniveristät in Hagen, we took a deep dive into the organisational hurdles that prevent the uptake of EdTech at universities. How can universities best implement EdTech? In this blog post, we provide research-based recommendations for universities navigating the tricky terrain of digital change. 

Organizing Digital Change at the University. The Practitioners’ Field Guide for Implementing Educational Technology

Professor X was considered a great lecturer by students and colleagues alike. Their classes were engaging and often overcrowded with eager students. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Prof. X, like everyone else, moved their classes online due to campus closures. However, unlike other colleagues, who put in extra hours to redesign their courses for online formats, Prof. X simply moved the same material online. As time went on, there was talk on campus of the steep decline and poor attendance of Prof. X’s classes. When asked, Prof. X explained that online learning was just something temporary and things would go back to normal soon. However, things are still not back to normal, there’s talk of hybrid learning continuing and Prof. X. is still refusing to make any changes to their curriculum … 

Organisational hurdles for EdTech

Does the story above sound familiar? Have you or your colleagues experienced similar challenges related to implementing educational technology (EdTech) at your university?

Analysing the experiences of 181 staff members working in higher education institutions and associated organisations in 25 countries, we collected insight on six key organisational challenges universities face when implementing EdTech related to leadership, strategy, infrastructure, networks, resistance, and motivation. 

Data-driven recommendations 

Drawing on this research, we created an online guide The Practitioners’ Field Guide for Implementing Educational Technology. The guide provides practical research-based recommendations for overcoming organisational challenges related to EdTech implementation. This includes best practice examples, concrete steps, discussion guides, and more. In the sections below, we highlight a few of our key findings related to leadership, strategy, and motivation. 

Leading with trust 

University leaders at Prof. X’s institution issued a number of regulations regarding EdTech. This was done without much discussion with teachers and did not take disciplinary differences into account … 

University leaders can pave the way for a smooth transition to EdTech implementation. At universities, the uncertainty and lack of autonomy associated with top-down decision-making may trigger staff members to resist integrating EdTech into their workflows. Therefore, rather than imposing demands or making unilateral decisions, leaders should foster a participatory approach to implementing EdTech that actively involves all stakeholders – teachers, managers, technicians, and administrators. A participatory approach requires clear communication, structured task distribution, and a well-defined strategy to foster a productive and creative environment. Through such an approach, leaders can create an inclusive environment where mistakes are recognised as part of the process and the talents of staff members are rewarded. 

Moreover, a trustful relationship between leaders and staff members is vital for innovation. When leaders offer staff space and freedom to experiment with digital technologies, this can facilitate the emergence of new ideas. This explorative process can be guided by informal leaders, individuals who are digitally savvy and intrinsically motivated to share their experiences with colleagues. 

It is important, however, for university leaders to strike a balance between providing freedom and giving support, e.g. funding, infrastructure, and didactic and technical support. Merely granting the freedom to experiment without guidance or support may result in short-term solutions and hinder the establishment of a thriving innovative culture. 

Finding common ground 

A strategy? Does my university have a strategy for digital teaching? Prof. X wondered again… 

One reason why teaching staff may feel alone or overwhelmed with EdTech is because their institution has not worked out a clear strategy, or if there is a strategy, staff members are not aware of it. In other cases, a strategy may be criticised due to its mismatch from the realities of everyday work. Particularly the workload that comes with implementing EdTech is often underestimated and needs to be assessed carefully when designing a strategy. 

These issues can be addressed by creating a shared vision among stakeholders – teachers, managers, technicians, and administrators – which can serve as the first step in developing an institutional strategy. A common vision should focus on understanding the different motivations, skills, and purposes for using EdTech as well as forming a pathway forward. Again here, a participatory approach, including diverse voices in discussion is key. This ensures that different perspectives and also disciplinary technological needs are taken into account. 

Winning people over 

Prof. X thought: Why should I be bothered? This is just another hype from the university leadership, it will never last. I have no time for such nonsense. 

Lack of motivation among staff is another obstacle for EdTech implementation. We found that productive and imaginative use of EdTech depends largely on the people who use it and their motivation. In this line, we identified how intrinsic motivation to use EdTech can arise from a variety of sources. Becoming more confident using digital tools was one of them, as an example from one research participant shows:

“I have to say, once you master a few tools, that [didactic difficulties are] no longer an issue. These are tools that just really work as well as pencil and paper by now.” 

This can be achieved through independent experimentation but also through training or technical support. Other drivers for motivation are student feedback, expressions of gratitude from leadership or monetary rewards.

Exchange and cooperation between colleagues can also spark motivation when new ideas are discussed and tried out. The prerequisite for this exchange is for university leaders to ensure space and freedom to experiment with different technologies. Teachers’ experiences should then be directly incorporated into the decision as to whether certain digital formats make sense or not:

“We can exchange ideas relatively quickly. … Sometimes the scientific team comes and says: “Hey, I have an idea, could we somehow make a tutorial out of it or could we somehow produce some cool video or something on this topic?” 

Maintaining a work-life balance for teaching staff has also emerged as an extrinsic factor for promoting motivation. The additional workload that arises from the implementation of EdTech, whether through the acquisition of competencies or finding suitable tools, must be recognised and compensated, for example monetarily, through the reduction of teaching time, or through promotions.

Our take-away message 

Technology will likely continue to impact different facets of university life. We hope our research and the practical recommendations from our guide may empower university staff members to take charge of digital change at their institutions. EdTech can be used as a vehicle to rethink our approaches to teaching and learning as well as to create connections between diverse voices, disciplines and perspectives. Embrace your own digitalisation path! 

This post represents the view of the author and does not necessarily represent the view of the institute itself. For more information about the topics of these articles and associated research projects, please contact info@hiig.de.

Melissa Laufer, Dr.

Head of Research Programme: Knowledge & Society

Maricia Aline Mende

Student Assistant: Knowledge & Society

Marvin Sievering

Student Assistant: Organizational Resilience and Creativity (ORC)

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