Leadership

While clearly identifying the challenges ahead of implementing assurance of learning, the focus group participants identified numerous solutions to these problems that they had implemented or were in the process of implementing. These are presented along Kotter’s (2002) key strategies for institutional change in the workplace:

VisionExecutive SupportBuilding a Guiding TeamTrainingReward & RecognitionEmpowermentCommunicate for Buy-in
Getting the Vision Right
Establish a simple vision and strategy focusing on aspects necessary to drive service and efficiency
Examples
For some universities the vision was for AoL was to not be an additional requirement for external process but a “basic educational principle” that all educators should undertake in order to strive for continuous development. In contrast, the institutions who focused on the accreditation aspects of AoL as their main aim found it extremely difficult to engage staff. For the most part the desired outcome of universities that aimed for institutional change was the integration of assurance processes into the normal work of unit and program coordinators, and the ongoing sustainability of this without constant agitation by ADTLs and teaching and learning staff. Universities went about this institutional change in a number of ways. As one interviewee summarised, “My goal would be that it just happened as part of everyone’s natural thing and it was no fuss, seamlessly across the school.” Universities went about this institutional change in a number of ways. Professional development and communications were in part about trying to bring about cultural and institutional change within the schools. While support from influential people in the university was important, for the most part participants emphasised organic change at the level of academics.
  • Engaging staff directly with the AoL process
  • Putting together committees with a broad membership at all levels in the faculty
  • Working from the staff that are already engaged to work with the disengaged and the compliant
  • Treating AoL as a change management project
  • Constant reminders across different forums and mediums.
Executive Support
Strong senior management commitment and leadership demonstrating a constant and high level drive for staff engagement until AoL becomes an institutional norm
Examples
Participants talked about the importance of the support of key individuals. These were often people or groups high up in the organisation, with their support acting to indicate the level of institutional support for the approach. This then followed into a big drive to help build support amongst staff in discipline groups, preceded by this high level commitment to AoL.
  • The continuous improvement agenda was strongly driven from the most senior leaders in the university and resulted in a rigorous annual unit reporting process and evaluation of all units and teaching every semester.
  • Engagement began through getting approval for the process at the highest levels of the university, the executives, the dean, the deputy dean, associate deans, and heads of discipline groups.

 

Building a Guiding Team
Developing leadership and champions among unit and program level staff, to share practices and promote the benefits that come from engaging in the process
Examples
Using participative leadership was an important element of successfully integrating AoL in institutions. Delegating leadership responsibilities to key people who were able to influence colleagues created buy-in and eased the transition through interpersonal influence.
  • “ …needing a distributed leadership model to be able to make it to work, so it doesn’t just rely on one person to be a champion. Let them sow a few seeds, and get a few other leaders around to help them spread it a bit further”.
  • Broad assurance of learning committee that drew on a representative from each of the disciplines involved. This served to not only have staff members responsible for interpreting the results, but to have key staff members enmeshed in the process.
  • Foster engagement through interaction with peers, as well as ensuring the process reflected the experiences of the staff involved.
  • University wide policy to criterion referenced assessment to drive change. Assessment champions were identified in each discipline school to guide the implementation of criteria referenced assessment. These assessment champions worked with representatives from discipline school teaching and learning committees and together formed a critical mass to support the discipline leaders in the mapping of learning goals and in influencing colleagues towards the cultural change.
  • Undergraduate and postgraduate program coordinators worked with the discipline leaders for each major in their program.
Training
Providing professional development opportunities to discuss and resolve difficulties and tensions around AoL
Examples
The primary means of engaging staff was the use of professional development activities and strategic communication about assurance to staff.
  • Importance of setting up workshops/professional development as opposed to lectures, and setting up activities as opportunities to develop skills as well as raise concerns.
  • Interactive setting was seen as important in addressing resistance to AoL processes.
  • Workshops featuring staff that had implemented AoL processes well within their programs/units; presenting the experience of someone who shared the perspective of staff was effective means of fostering support.
  • Establish a Teaching and Learning Team of teaching and learning consultants and learning designers with a coordinator that has been pivotal to the successful implementation and ongoing staff engagement.
  • One-on-one support to individual academics to explore and improve assessment practice, development of assessment guidelines and audits of assessment practice.
  • As well as workshops and one to one sessions, participants discussed some of the key resources: web based resources, tools to support and streamline the AoL process, development of generic rubrics for undergraduate and postgraduate learning goals, inductions for new staff (including tutors and casual staff) and sponsorship for staff to attend external AoL conferences.
Reward & Recognise
Demonstrating success and effectiveness by selling staff on the evidence that AoL makes a difference
Examples
Selling staff on the usefulness and effectiveness of AoL was central to getting engagement, staff need to be able to directly see the benefits in mapping, measurement, and curriculum change in order for them to be invested and spend time on the process.
  • Using an online program that made it possible for staff to engage with the AoL data directly, therefore academics were able to work with the data themselves and create charts and analysis cutting across many different levels. Presenting the data as a resource as well as the basis for change and decision-making was important for staff engagement.
  • Taking the initial good-will and buy-in amongst staff and building on it for assurance processes beyond that required by the external bodies, “…what I’ll do now is I’ll take the behaviour changer and I’ll say let’s find someone doing this really well and then let’s promote it”.
  • Using program and unit coordinators who had done AoL well, and having them present at seminars and engage in mentoring and peer support. By recognising these staff members and asking them to share their approach to and experience of AoL, anxiety levels about the process were reduced amongst other academics.
Empowerment
Inclusive and making the process inclusive with academics collaborating in the development and implementation of the process
Examples
To address the concerns about workload it was vital that academics were involved in the AoL process so that they see how their unit fit into the larger picture of the program.
  • The emphasis on a participatory process involved sitting down with subject coordinators and having them work through how the graduate attributes and program learning objectives fit into their subject.
  • Using a mapping tool so that subject coordinators collaborated in not only the mapping of attributes across the program, but identifying and resolving issues around the distribution and gaps in the curriculum. While the teaching and learning team facilitated the process, it centred on the involvement of academic staff.
  • Work on mapping through workshops where unit coordinators in program/discipline teams were asked informally to indicate which graduate attributes were involved in their assessment tasks. Using Post-it notes, they were asked to map out the distribution of the attributes across assessment tasks through a program or major, from which a number of gaps and overlaps were identified and discussed. The resulting maps from this exercise were developed by the Teaching and Learning team, and then presented back to the program directors and unit coordinators, who were then responsible for any changes.
Communicate for Buy-in Examples
Communications about AoL went hand in hand with professional development activities.
  • The key messages that expressed that AoL was a simple process, that should be considered part of normal teaching and learning in fostering improvements in curriculum and student outcomes and that it did not require additional work
  • Acknowledging the degree of apprehension around AoL processes was important, with participants providing examples of work done in directly challenging perceptions that AoL was complex and time consuming in order to make it less daunting.
  • Provide reference material and regular updates on the AoL process, for example, an introduction to AoL guide/handbook, teaching and learning newsletters, websites and AOL sessions at faculty retreats/meetings.
  • Academics canvassed for their feedback on the AoL process with this feedback being used to further develop practice.