One the positive outcomes from change efforts at higher education institutions across the country has been a sudden increase in the number of positions created and filled over the last two years with individuals charged to lead their institution’s academic transformation initiatives.
We are observing the emergence of a new, interdisciplinary field within higher education administration. Many of these new academic transformation positions are now housed for the first time within academic affairs and are filled by faculty leaders who have emerged as “change agents” among their colleagues. In some cases, they are managing a complex combination of instructional design and technology staff, faculty development centers, and learner analytics units. And, while many of these individuals are expert in the integration of innovative pedagogies supported by emerging technologies, understandably they are less well versed in the sorts of organizational change theories and change management approaches that will be necessary to make innovations scalable and sustainable within their institutions.
Recognizing this emerging field, that these individuals are seeking support networks and professional development opportunities, and that their existing networks may not be providing these opportunities, the Center created the national Leading Academic Change Summit in December 2014.
Co-sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the first national annual Summit brought together 60 academic innovation leaders, representing public and private universities, colleges, and state systems offices from across the nation. The attendees of the first Summit are on the vanguard of the emerging field of academic transformation in higher education; they brought a wide range of experience to this newly minted area, including: college faculty, business and industry, IT, instructional design, learning sciences, and K-12. Almost all (94%) had been in their roles as academic transformation leaders for 6 years or less, and more than half for 3 years or less. In their current roles as transformation leaders, more than three-quarters are currently affiliated with the academic affairs departments. When asked the primary reasons for attending the Summit, the top three responses included: 1) looking for ideas or inspiration to help them in their job; 2) wanting to advance their thinking about leading academic change at their institution; and 3) wanting to make or strengthen bonds with people that will help them do their job.
The Leading Academic Change Summit provided a rare and exciting opportunity for these transformation leaders to meet with peers and learn about the portfolios of work underway. During the highly interactive 2-day conference, participants shared insights into how people learn and how that knowledge can be combined with emerging technologies to truly transform and improve the student experience.
“The Summit connected individuals from across institutions who are dedicated to academic change work,” said MJ Bishop, Director, USM Center for Academic Innovation. “It gave us a chance to exchange ideas and aspirations, and discover what is working to create the most effective and efficient learning environments that enhance student success.”