Fifteen Suggestions for Developing a Successful Immersion Program

What does an immersion program look like?

Currently, we’re piloting a 14-week immersion program that focuses on an inspirational theme we knew would generate interest. Participants meet for 3.5 hours each Tuesday, with an all-day trip to neighboring institutions on the first Tuesday of each month. During the first half of the semester, the participants hear from on- and off-campus leaders to learn more about the university and its peer institutions. During the second half, they will explore a team project and ultimately deliver a presentation of their findings to the president and provost. Whereas the program’s specific theme is new, and whereas some of the participant makeup is new, the program’s general format parallels many of our other immersion programs’.

Regardless of the type of program, an immersion experience can accelerate the development of people’s leadership skills. Leadership skills benefit every individual, as well as the institution or community as a whole, irrespective of the person’s official position. People with leadership skills achieve more, develop a greater sense of purpose, and improve organizational or community health.

The very structure of an immersion program fosters those skills. Like most of our others, this pilot program challenges participants’ time-management skills in order to build their capacities for new initiatives, raises their institutional awareness, and organizes sustained engagements with diverse perspectives — not only to develop participants’ critical-thinking skills and diversify their problem-solving techniques, but also to encourage institutional thinking over departmental thinking.

Projects dramatically improve immersion programs. A project can help participants not only develop their teamwork skills, but also comprehend the value of collaborating with stakeholders and cultivating champions for the cause. Whereas everyone appears to understand the importance of buy-in, few demonstrate knowledge of how to cultivate it. The early, uncertain stages of our projects include structured conversations and brainstorming sessions with stakeholders, while the participants try to better understand and accommodate the stakeholders’ needs. This investigative process elevates stakeholder awareness of unmet needs. It also invites them to help shape the end result. Both of those aspects often generate champions for the cause. Behind the scenes, the champions then raise more awareness, and particularly if they come from diverse constituencies, they broaden buy-in. Without a project and structured reflection on the process, even immersion programs would have trouble raising awareness of how to generate buy-in.

Perhaps most importantly, immersion programs foster close friendships. Close friendships can lead to sustainable networks for increased knowledge-sharing, collaborations, and potentially even resource-sharing. Connectivity creates an adaptable and resourceful institution or community, capable of responding rapidly to threats and seizing timely opportunities. In fact, friendships succeed where reporting structures and other forced networks fail. Their tangential conversations can blossom into innovations, and intimacy can increase collaborators’ personal investments. That level of friendship necessitates not only ice-breakers, a “Vegas” environment, structured peer interactions, and scheduled time for group reflection, but also topic flexibility to accommodate tangential and idle conversations.

After last week’s day trip, a participant related how much she values our bus rides. The bus rides have helped her, in her words, “really get to know” some of her colleagues. She claimed their new-found friendships already have seeded potential collaborations. Bear in mind, she and her colleagues do not merely desire to maintain their relationships. They better comprehend each others’ needs, skills, and resources, as well as how they fit together like pieces of a puzzle.

That comprehension improves organizational culture and effectiveness, and well-structured immersion programs can not only replicate that comprehension. Well-structured immersion programs can scale it.

Here are fifteen suggestions for developing a successful immersion program:

1. Elevate the program’s profile by creating a competitive application process.

2. Clarify time and other obligations in the call for applications.

3. Further raise the program’s profile by outsourcing the participant-selection process to a committee.

4. Coach the selection committee to choose participants based on their diverse backgrounds, experiences, access to resources, …. In other words, select to create the best program experience. Selection is part of the design.

5. Schedule the program to meet routinely for multiple hours at a time; more frequent meetings can require fewer hours for fewer weeks, but less frequent meetings demand more consecutive hours for additional months.

6. Create a relevant ice-breaker activity.

7. Incorporate a relevant team project into the experience.

8. Craft a project charge that is broad enough to encourage team ownership but specific enough to provide structure.

9. Consider reserving a day for participants to shadow relevant but diverse colleagues, community members, or professionals.

10. Invite diverse, but relevant contributors.

11. Schedule regular opportunities for reflection and discussion, away from contributors.

12. Have participants anonymously evaluate contributors in order to make program improvements.

13. Build time into the schedule for meetings with project stakeholders and for general project development.

14. Require a project presentation before an esteemed audience.

15. Additionally raise the program’s profile by utilizing that esteemed audience in a closeout ceremony.

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Professional Development as Rewiring the Institution for Adaptability

Here at the Center for Teaching and Learning, we have been socially networking the university in order to create a more adaptable institution, capable of rapid changes. By bridging the silos of academic departments and colleges, we thus far have facilitated not only the development of new ideas but also actual changes to the university’s organizational chart and processes. We’re becoming a stronger institution in the face of unprecedented technological, economic, and social changes.

In the spring, we will start bridging the gap between faculty and staff, and ideally, we’ll expand this framework to better connect the university’s employees with the surrounding community — the latter’s goal being to facilitate mutual sustainability and growth — and then with other TBR institutions to diversify the available problem-solving skills and overall knowledge and other resources.

But I had missed an additional component that’s structurally necessary for this vision.

Change-leadership scholar John P. Kotter (2014) suggests an additional component in the facilitation of rapid changes. Kotter argues for a dual organizational system, which our Center already facilitates minus a key ingredient. Counterbalancing the university’s hierarchical bureaucracy, a network of passionate people in Kotter’s ideal organization explores threats or opportunities and promotes rapid changes that the hierarchy otherwise cannot address in time. Here at Austin Peay, our Center’s cohort programs network people from across the organization who feel a sense of urgency and want to be change agents. But after they help communicate the change vision, if the administration cannot merely implement the change — as it could, for instance, in the relocation of our Career Services from Academic Affairs to Student Affairs — then the change initiative gets redirected to a taskforce within the very same bureaucratic organization. In other words, the bureaucracy recaptures it and deprives it of its momentum.

The solution? A facilitated (not chaired) guiding coalition.

Like a taskforce, the guiding coalition would further research what is already being done here and at peer institutions, what has been done here and at peer institutions, costs, available resources, … but it also would have design-school-esque facilitated discussions to “[identify] and [remove] barriers which slow or stop [this] strategically important activity” (Kotter, 2014, p. 32). That last part is what a taskforce cannot achieve.

This extra component to Kotter’s dual organizational system will enable us to oversee not only idea generation, but also, at least in certain instances, implementation. For a stronger Austin Peay. For a stronger community. For a stronger higher educational system.

Reference

Kotter, John P. (2014). Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Advice for Developing Leadership Skills and Opportunities

The following four strategies and fourteen skills should help any faculty member achieve a rewarding life of leadership.

Increase your visibility. Most campuses offer plenty of opportunities for faculty to venture beyond their departments. Join the faculty senate. Request assignments that require you to meet cross-campus colleagues. Apply for inter-departmental professional-development programs. Volunteer to help with campus-wide events. Diversify friendships and stay visible.

Identify role models and learn from them. Certain people demonstrate admirable skills, behaviors, or attitudes that warrant careful study or even selective emulation. Buy them coffee. Socialize with them. Learn from them. If they’re historical figures, read about them. Never under-appreciate life’s many models for success.

Assume challenging, but not overwhelming responsibilities. Specifically, seek responsibilities that encourage you to read about and develop the following fourteen skills:

1. time-management skills: leaders organize their complex schedules to decrease strains on their working memories and increase their workflows, with scheduled times to reflect.

2. stress-management skills: leaders first and foremost apply intentional strategies to reduce the likelihood of stress on the front end, scan for early warning signs, and then have tactics ready to lower stress in the moment.

3. interpersonal skills: leaders interact positively with others, even when disagreeing with what they say.

4. listening skills: leaders go out of their way to truly understand what others need and want.

5. collaborative skills: leaders ensure everyone has a voice, role, and stake by appreciating differences and emphasizing commonalities in pursuit of co-authorship.

6. teamwork skills: leaders utilize their personal strengths to complement the strengths of others.

7. motivational skills: leaders interpret others’ motives and harness their vision by appropriating their language and values when articulating project or organizational goals.

8. conflict-management skills: leaders manage the conflicts that can yield positive changes and either mediate unproductive conflicts or coordinate more productive arrangements.

9. mentorship skills: leaders help others develop and reach their goals.

10. ceremonial speaking skills: whereas not all leaders give speeches, most routinely introduce others and say a few poignant words in public settings.

11. research skills: leaders investigate pre-existing models and other points of comparison, as well as the project’s history, context, stakeholders, and their needs and concerns.

12. project-management skills: leaders organize long-term responsibilities into clear stages, processes, benchmarks, and deadlines with equally clear communication structures and scheduled updates.

13. budget-management skills

14. fundraising skills

The first nine skills do not require a formal position to acquire or use, and they can help you access opportunities to develop the rest. They are the foundation for success.

Venture out, to bring more in. Leadership opportunities and their many intrinsic rewards extend far beyond campus. They are in your disciplinary fields and local, regional, state, national, and global communities. Moreover, off-campus connections and insights can broaden your range of problem-solving skills and resources on campus. They make you a more knowledgeable and skilled resource to the university.

The success of the students, campus, and community depends on your success. Improving yourself improves the lives connected to you. Take the time to be the best you can be — for you, for them, for everybody.

The Role of Higher Education Is Expanding

A former teacher by the name of Sarah Smith recently wrote an article “[blaming] liberal education dogmas for creating a generation of hopelessly ill-equipped teachers.” Smith points-out that, despite her degree in English, she chronically makes spelling and grammatical errors — and that she’s not alone.

Unfortunately, the problem is far more complex than liberal-education dogmas. Reading and writing involve so much more than grammar, spelling, and vocabulary that college courses cannot remediate students, at least not adequately, and still meet its higher educational objectives. Mathematics has a similar remediation problem. Nowadays, educational software supplement many writing and math classrooms to target students’ individual learning needs–but they cannot make-up for the lack of a strong foundation.

In April, the American Association of Community Colleges recommended metrics-based connections and collaborations between community colleges and high schools to ensure college readiness, and as we continue to expand college access with a simultaneous insistence on higher graduation rates, we’ll see more unusual solutions.

Higher education is in the midst of expanding its paradigm. Just as Lincoln’s land-grant universities expanded higher education from developing informed leadership to creating informed citizenship, we’ve recently broadened the focus from improving college access to simultaneously increasing student retention and graduation rates, and likely we will expand again to bridge the gap between graduation and employment. With each of these larger visions come new challenges. Currently, we have unprecedented numbers of first-generation, low-income, and non-traditional students. Politicians, federal and state grants, teachers, high-school counselors, and parents encourage students who otherwise never would have attended college, to now go to college; theoretically, we’re increasing opportunities for the disenfranchised and raising the local resource pool for skilled employees, community problem-solving, and general prosperity.

Unfortunately, because so few of these new students expected to go to college, many come with insufficient background knowledge or skills. Whereas some already had what it takes to get a college degree and needed only the financial resources and social encouragement, others never cared about their education because they never expected to work anywhere but the corner store or in local day-labor pools. Even when armed with individuated software and the most solvent pedagogies, including differentiated instruction, today’s faculty face unprecedented challenges.

Many universities now explore technological and systemic solutions: default scheduling, living learning communities, bundled courses, academic alerts, advising as teaching, introductory courses with extra hours for remediation, first-year experience courses, second-year experience courses, course recommendation software, degree-major recommendation software, degree pathways, redirect advising, grit-scale evaluations …. And I suspect, similar to the American Association of Community Colleges’ recommendation, universities will integrate with community colleges and high schools — and as initiated via service-learning and internships, with local or even global employment opportunities.

The role of higher education is expanding. And that expanded role comes with growing pains. The transition appears to — or perhaps does — lower the value of a degree, not merely by increasing the percentage of people with degrees (an elitist argument that we should strike from the conversation), but also by allowing students like Sarah Smith to graduate with higher-order skills but without an adequate remediation of their basic skills. But we’re working-out the kinks, and I have complete faith that we’ll get there.

And for someone who calls herself illiterate, Sarah Smith did write a great article.

Unbundling Higher Ed: An Insider’s Perspective

Shrinking state funds, increasing oversight from foundations, competing for-profits, underemployed families, rising tuition, technological disruptions, the uncertainty of future employment sectors, the diminishing perceived value of higher education, and incessant calls for “change” challenge the public university system at its very core. That challenged core affords opportunities, most notably for the private sector — opportunities of which faculty need to take note.

What sort of opportunities? Michael Staton (2012), cofounder and CEO of Inigral, argues that since the collapse of music albums, newspapers, and the industries that depended on them, our constant online engagements transform the conceptual framework for understanding all services, even educational ones (p. 3). Staton goes so far as to define “college” “as a packaged bundle of content, services, experiences, and signals” (p. 4). He insists that this conceptual framework screams “market opportunity” that the university system won’t be able to conceal or protect (ibid). While collecting and analyzing more data than overworked faculty can, entrepreneurs can unbundle and more efficiently produce or distribute many of higher education’s component parts: course content, content sequencing, content delivery, feedback, credentials, coaching, professional networking … (pp. 6-9).

Jeffrey J. Selingo of The Chronicle of Higher Education recounts a conversation with Clay Christensen, Harvard business professor and expert on disruptive innovation. In that conversation, Christensen argued that prohibitive costs warrant new models for higher education. According to Christensen, “The history of innovation tells us those new models are not going to come from within higher ed. They will come from new entrants” (Selingo, 2013, p. xiv).

We already see new entrants and the start of this unbundling process. In 2011, venture capitalists devoted $429 million to educational companies, with an unprecedented 124 educational start-ups (Selingo, 2013, p. xi). Former senior vice president of the Lumina Foundation of Education and president emeritus of the University of Northern Colorado, Robert C. Dickeson (2010) claims, “The extent of the privatization trend has gone beyond outsourcing and now includes both tactical and strategic alliances that hold great promise” (p. 4). The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, for example, endorses collaborative partnerships to improve productivity and efficiency (Eddy, 2010, p. 23). At the 2013 SXSWedu Conference, the president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education shared his having had a recent meeting with a university president who sought a public-private partnership to improve the university’s student-success rate (Lyman, 2013, par. 4). Entrepreneurs no longer have to “seize” opportunities. University administrators solicit entrepreneurial solutions to their most pressing problems.

Companies provide expansive online course supplements with videos, assessments, plagiarism-detection services, essay-grading features, and instant feedback. Here at Austin Peay State University, Degree Compass offers insights into the future of course registration: a third-party service informs student progressions through degree pathways based on individual and comparative historical data. In Fall 2013, we began piloting institutional coaching through InsideTrack. Are these problems?

Instead of digging-in our heels, Staton (2012) argues, we should dig-in our shovels and build the foundations for not only stability, but more importantly institutional, faculty, and student success (p. 11). As best-selling entrepreneurial author Seth Godin (2010) reminds us, “If we can put it in a manual, we can outsource it. If we can outsource it, we can get it cheaper” (19). Cheaper can lower tuition and decrease the amount of debt students and their families incur. So the question becomes, What do we do that can’t be outsourced or automated? Or put more melodramatically, If digital or other services unbundle us, what of value do we have left?

Of course, this melodramatic search for a ghost in the educational machine overlooks the obvious. The professorate and on-ground collegiate experience provide well-documented, irreplaceable value — most notably, in faculty-student interactions and engagement with peer diversity. Professors model the thinking patterns, attitudes, and behaviors — what Staton (2012) calls the “meta-content” in faculty-student interactions (p. 24) — that lead to student success and lifelong learning. Sustained engagement with diversity fosters critical-thinking skills and prepares students for global citizenry. Entrepreneurs couldn’t easily unbundle or more efficiently distribute what, in its core, is a collection of quality human relationships.

If we were to play devil’s advocate in support of the disaggregation of higher education, we might conclude that what entrepreneurs can unbundle and redistribute can enable faculty to concentrate their efforts where they have the greatest impact. Any degree of “flipping” a course, for example, aims to relegate solitary learning practices (like watching lectures and taking quizzes) to online engagements and, more importantly, to open the classroom to in-depth peer-engagements and faculty-student interactions. Automated course-registration systems and outsourced institutional coaching — another two examples — can liberate academic advising for more valuable faculty-student interactions. From this perspective, the faculty’s time is not only precious, but also poorly allocated. Disaggregating the professorate does not necessarily diminish, but rather potentially augments the professorial role in student development and learning.

Since the 1950’s, the faculty’s role has changed from scholar to “academic professional” (Sorcinelli et al., 2006, p. 2). In large part thanks to Ernest L. Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered (1990), the professorate transcended “the tired old teaching versus research debate” (Boyer, 1990, p. xii), specifically by shifting attention from teaching to learning (Sorcinelli et al., 2006, p. 3). Faculty redirected their attention from defining their responsibilities to exploring the different means and venues for student learning. This new direction enabled a more diverse interpretation of the professorate. In Boyer’s (1990) words, “The richness of faculty talent should be celebrated, not restricted …. Such a mosaic of talent, if acknowledged, would bring renewed vitality to higher learning and the nation” (p. 27). While temporary-faculty contracts centered on teaching, tenure-track and tenured positions exploded with responsibilities, ranging from the acquisition of grants to the performance of administrative duties (Sorcinelli et al., 2006, p. 4).

In part due to the disaggregation of services that can be standardized or automated, faculty responsibilities continue to diversify, most notably to include co-curricular learning opportunities. Academic advising, for instance, is in the process of transforming from course registration to “an educational process” with its own distinct learning outcomes (Campbell and Nutt, 2008, p. 4). Similarly, George D. Kuh (2010) highlights student employment for its potential integration with the curriculum (para. 4). In fact, Kuh (2008) speculates that higher education can frame both on- and off-campus employment “so that work enriches, rather than competes with or is orthogonal to, an institution’s learning goals for its students” (p. xii). One might go so far as to claim that service-learning has enabled universities to formally explore, beyond internships, how to expand educational oversight and credit to community practices. From advising to other co-curricular interactions, faculty increasingly impact student learning inside, between, and outside classrooms with greater intentionality. In other words, this process of automating or outsourcing low-value work in fact has the potential to concentrate the faculty’s high-value efforts on the very essence of education, while broadening the physical and temporal domain of student learning.

But that potential utopia can give way to a potential nightmare if faculty don’t take the lead in these externally imposed frameworks for change. We operate in an environment in which the only way to warrant funding from foundations, private donors, or even certain components of state funding formulas is to make constant changes, regardless of whether those changes clearly benefit students before broader implementation. If the faculty do not take the lead by proactively (but selectively) implementing national trends, then foundations or entrepreneurs might influence administrators, state legislators, or the governor to implement them without faculty insight or oversight, and student movement to a degree could supplant the primary reasons for the degree.

Disaggregating services can help us identify, assess, improve, or even reimagine the packaging and delivery of services we already, albeit often unconsciously, package and deliver to students, alumni, and the community. Unbundling, automating, and outsourcing services can improve efficiency and liberate otherwise encumbered human, technological, spatial, or financial resources.

But if faculty willfully ignore or blindly reject the growing number of external models and pressures for such approaches, then those who reside solely outside the classroom will doubt and ignore the ghost in the educational machine. Unaware of the differences between content and meta-content, they will manage these changes in the absence of those who should lead them.

 

 

References

 

Boyer, Ernest L. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professorate. New York, NY: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Campbell, S. M. & Nutt, C. L. (2008). “Academic Advising in the New Global Century: Supporting Student Engagement and Learning Outcomes Achievement.” peerReview. 10 (1), pp. 4-7. Web. 7 July 2013. <http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/pr-wi08/prwi08_AcAdv.cfm>

Dickeson, Robert C. (2010). Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Eddy, Pamela L. (2010). Partnerships and Collaborations in Higher Education. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Godin, Seth. (2010). Lynchpin. New York, NY: Penguin Group, Inc.

Kuh, George D. (2008). Forward. Five Impact Practices: Research on Learning Outcomes, Completion, and Quality. Jayne E. Brownell and Lynn E. Swaner. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges and Universities.

Kuh, George D. (2010). “Maybe Experience Really Can Be the Best Teacher.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Web. 15 July 2013. <http://chronicle.com/article/Maybe-Experience-Really-Can-Be/125433/>

Lyman, Frank. (2013). “Making Public-Private Partnerships Work in Higher Education.” The Huffington Post. Web. 16 June 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-lyman/making-publicprivate-part_b_2884747.html>

Selingo, Jeffrey J. (2013). College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students. New York, NY: New Harvest.

Sorcinelli, Mary Dean; Austin, Ann E.; Eddy, Pamela L.; Beach, Andrea L. (2006). Creating the Future of Faculty Development: Learning from the Past, Understanding the Present. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Staton, Michael. (2012). “Disaggregating the Components of a College Degree.” American Enterprise Institute Conference, Stretching the Higher Education Dollar. August 2, 2012. Web. May 2, 2013. <http://www.aeig.org/events/2012/08/02stretching-the-higher-education-dollar>

Perception Management in the Campus Workplace

Higher education thrives on debate. Faculty and staff have diverse expertise, and the resulting conflicts force campus representatives to reevaluate their positions and develop broader frameworks for their actions. In the end, different understandings yield stronger operations and more effective services. Ultimately, interpretive differences strengthen an institution.

University employees who assert opposition, however, run the risk of not only making enemies, but also sabotaging their career opportunities. Far too often, I encounter faculty and staff who have irked enough colleagues that their careers hit walls. These employees routinely offer their services, but no one takes them up on their offers. They apply for administrative positions, but they go nowhere.

Faculty and staff have to manage how their colleagues perceive them. But perception management does not mean avoiding conflict. The university system depends too much on conflict for its employees to avoid it. Instead, perception management means offering a different perspective without others feeling attacked.

How do you do that?

1) Provide sufficient opportunities for others to speak. Many refuse to interrupt when they can’t find significant pauses or other conversational cues. They need opportunities to enter the conversation gracefully. Also, people process information differently. Whereas some process verbally — that is, by discussing — and jump quickly into conversations, others mull-over new information or translate it into a more familiar framework before responding. They need more time. A simple solution would be to ask periodically for others’ thoughts or questions and to sit back quietly until they finish responding.

2) Acknowledge what others say. Simply rephrasing others’ statements before developing or changing a topic can improve the social dynamic. So too can validating others by openly appreciating their ideas.

3) Help develop ideas before arguing against them. Arguing about minutiae kills ideas before they develop, and nobody likes a serial idea killer. Instead of starting with why not, first explore how to.

4) Smile and laugh. Smiles and laughter are contagious and feel good. If you want to promote positive feelings about you, then you have to promote positive feelings while people are around you, especially during disagreements.

5) Focus on people’s strengths. In higher education, we work with the same colleagues for decades. In an environment where so many people can’t get fired, finding fault with others gets old fast.  Search for positive characteristics in every single one of them, or risk a lifetime of a hostile work environment.

Many of us have advanced degrees in fierce autonomy and contentiousness. Professionally, we identify flaws and propose alternatives. Those are our strengths. Those are our institutions’ strengths. Ironically, the very characteristics that strengthen the institution can weaken its sense of community. Our professional strengths can cripple our careers.

These five simple tactics can help us manage our colleagues’ perceptions of us. They allow us to provide alternative perspectives without others feeling attacked. They synchronize both professional and institutional success.