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Understanding Change

Instructional decisions are most often, and most appropriately, made by individual instructors. Especially for that reason we have many false notions about how change takes place in a large, multiple-college institution. We're usually puzzled, for example, when successful implementations of technology in one department at one college are not immediately adopted by other departments at the same college--or by the same departments at other colleges. Indeed, the transfer of successful technology implementations remains one of our biggest challenges.

We need to learn about change and about the pace of change through a department or college or district. The following has appeared in the 1993 Ocotillo Report of the Mechanisms of Technology Implementation and Evaluation Group, in substantially the same form as it appears below. In fact improving Schema I: From Idea to Reality, on pp. 34-35, is the focus of a current Ocotillo Group: Mechanisms of Change. It is included in this document because we need to develop and use a common language for describing how change takes place. Further, understanding how change works is a precursor to making good decisions about how to support technology innovations.

Evaluation of innovations can be pretty risky. Some would argue that too close an evaluation of innovations can have a chilling effect, to the extent that fewer (and tamer) innovations are attempted. And others will counter that we need to learn from each others' mistakes as well as from successes--and how would we know unless evaluations are performed?

The 1993 Ocotillo Group tended toward the latter argument: that we can build on each others' successes and learn from each others' failures, recognizing that evaluations will work best in an atmosphere of trust and support, where they might be disastrous in a hostile environment.

The pages that follow present a description of technology infusion as it occurs within the district. And with this description the Ocotillo Group hoped to present a vocabulary and a schema for talking about technology infusion. (In fact, both the vocabulary and schema apply to many more kinds of infusion than just technology infusion.) And with the vocabulary and the schema, they hope to provide innovators and managers with a common way to think about particular innovations and what those innovations need to succeed.

Two Cultures. Instructional decisions regarding technology (actually, most instructional decisions, at all) take place at the intersection of two different cultures. One is the culture of community and consensus. A department may agree on a text for a course, or the instructional council agrees on a course outline, or the instructors of a given course collaborate on the technology applications that will be used as part of the student's learning experience.

The other culture is that of independent professional. Most notably evidenced by the large numbers of part-time faculty, but it is also seen in the myriad of small and large instructional judgments that are made by all faculty. The instructor may decide to change the emphasis in the standard course outline. The instructor may decide this semester to include a technology component in a course, as a way to solve an instructional problem that has occurred, only to choose a different solution the following semester.

Given that individual faculty judgment is a strong aspect of the culture, the schema for technology infusion must not ignore the individual. Given that a college is also a community, the schema must also reflect the striving for a sense of consistency and commonalty.

The coexistence of these two cultures implies that we might consider two different schema for describing technology infusion.

From an individual innovator's point of view, one first gets an idea, experiments with it to learn more about it, tries it out on a small-scale and, if successful, on a larger scale. During this time the idea may be revised or abandoned if it isn't working out. On the other hand new vistas may appear from initial, tentative uses. In fact, small scale implementations may reveal profound side effects which encourage or discourage further work.

From the organization's point of view--the department or college or district--an innovation catches on sporadically, and over time. Many individuals are first interested in learning about the idea, and later in trying it out. Much later the idea may be in routine use at some locations and, at the same time, other individuals are just getting the idea and wanting to experiment.

Since technology is continually changing, we will always be asking the questions: "What technology should we use? And where? And when?" And for that reason we really ought to come to grips with how we make those decisions. And we ought to set in place procedures and employ methodologies that encourage us to ask appropriate questions, and to avoid inappropriate ones, so that we can support different innovations well.

Schema I: From Idea to Reality. The following schema is proposed as a guide in understanding the development of ideas for the application of technology to instruction from the individual's point of view. This schema is intended to be a classification schema. It may be used to develop methodologies and procedures for evaluating technology decisions.

In this schema there are five zones. The first is the zone of Getting the Idea. Sometimes this can happen in a reflective state, but it most often occurs in contact with others, both at the college and outside, through conferences, Internet communications, professional journals, the popular press, etc. In MCCCD, Ocotillo has provided one forum for sparking ideas. In any case, an idea hits home, sparks further ideas, and leads the individual to want to learn more.

The second zone is Learn More About the Idea through exploring, reading, research, etc. In this zone one just wants to see what a given technology might be good for. Perhaps no instructional problem is identified at this point. The goal is just to sit behind the wheel and see where it takes you. In some cases the experiment may be to take a technology developed for one purpose and see if it can be put to other uses. In this zone, a person explores the limits of the technology and gets a feel for its potential uses. If the technology is being used elsewhere, the fastest way to learn may be to combine individual exploration with a close examination of its current use.

Zone three is the Small-Scale Implementation. After playing with the technology, a potential use may be identified. The small implementation is a live test of that potential use. This test may be as modest as a single assignment in a course, or as extensive as a theme around which a course is organized. However, the small-scale implementation rarely involves more than a single instructor in a single course. Small scale implementations tend to be idiosyncratic and contain high levels of personal involvement and time commitment. In this zone, the instructor often measures success by student outcomes as well as by the ease with which it fits into the rest of the course structure.

Zone four is the Large-Scale Implementation. Having experienced success in the previous zone, we're ready to involve other instructors, perhaps in several courses, perhaps at several colleges, in the innovation. This implementation contains an entirely different set of risks than the small implementation did. The other faculty may not be true believers, nor even familiar with the idea at all. Success in zone four depends on resolving issues about appropriate training of those involved, suitable standardizations, and support needs. Success depends on the proper organization of materials, keeping to a common timetable, and establishing procedures so that the idea can be self-sustaining. Success in zone four is more difficult to measure. Student outcomes and faculty perceptions are important, but so are an evaluation of the procedures, standards, and budget.

In Zone five the instructor and others are routinely using the idea. It is now self-sustaining and supported by the normal operational budget. Faculty and students are comfortable in the regular use of the idea. In fact, they expect to be using it.

Within each zone, faculty and other initiators revise and rethink the idea in the context of current experience. Even in the idea stage, a person is already customizing it to their own purposes. Some projects never develop beyond the small-scale implementation, but are continually revised and improved at that level.

Schema II: Adopting the Innovation. Substantial changes happened in Zone four of Schema I. The challenges for success in that zone had more to do with involving, training, and coordinating the work of others, than directly with the innovation itself. In many respects it moved out of individual decision and control to a more community effort. In fact, preceding the move to Zone Four, there was probably a group decision to attempt the large-scale implementation. For this reason, the focus on the individual is inadequate in Zone four; we need a schema which can give us insight into the movement of the idea through a community. CBAM (Concerns Based Adoption Model) is a schema which has been used for precisely this purpose: to understand the process by which an innovation moves through an organization, in the context of a large-scale implementation. CBAM is a comprehensive, grounded, tested and complex system, developed over many years. It provides both a theory and a framework for understanding the dynamics of successful implementation of any innovation in an organization.

Those who are familiar with CBAM can use its concepts and vocabulary to shed light on some of the issues that arise in Zones 1-3 of Schema I, but its main focus is: Now that we've decided that innovation X is valuable, what do we need to do to get X into routine use?

During the early stages of a project, an individual may define and redefine it many times as its salient features become clearer and as it meets the reality of student use. These salient features, however, are difficult to change once in Zone Four, Large-scale Implementation. In fact it is crucial to success in Zone Four that all participants have a clear understanding of the "expectations during the initial implementation phases." (Taking Charge of Change, Hord, et al, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1987) CBAM uses the concept of Innovation Configuration to clarify and communicate the variety of ways the innovation can be implemented successfully, and it clarifies the critical components of the innovation. During the implementation, the innovation configuration can be used as an evaluation guide, both to promote the success of the innovation and also to address the question of how well the innovation has been implemented in terms of its own description of success.

CBAM is based on several assumptions about change:

  1. Change is a process, not an event.
  2. Change is accomplished by individuals.
  3. Change is a highly personal experience.
  4. Change involves developmental growth.
  5. Change is best understood in operational terms.
  6. The focus of facilitation should be on individuals, innovations and the context.
CBAM works as a tool for guiding the infusion of an innovation, once the decision has been made to implement it.

It's a River, Not a Lake: Understanding Change
© January 1994 Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction (MCLI)
Maricopa Community Colleges

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