Walden University had certain goals in mind when it partnered with Digital Measures by Watermark: to improve faculty profiles on the university website and streamline regional and programmatic accreditation reporting. Walden faced a challenge every university reckons with when implementing a faculty activity reporting solution: engaging faculty to use the system—especially when your faculty members are dispersed across the globe.
During the implementation of the Digital Measures platform, Walden set a new standard for ensuring its faculty were invested in using the system. Walden started the implementation in March 2017 and rolled it out to faculty in January 2018. While these practices were used with remote faculty, they are a roadmap for success that traditional institutions should also consider. Here are Walden’s seven best practices for engaging faculty.
1. Include Faculty From the Start
Walden’s initial implementation group consisted of people in the institution with the technical expertise to structure and support new software, including IT representatives and people familiar with campus data sources who knew what needed to be pulled into the activity database. While the technical team did the necessary groundwork for initial setup, Walden formed an advisory council made up of faculty and program leadership from each of the schools and staff from various departments, including the library and Center for Faculty Excellence.
“With feedback from faculty across the university, the advisory council finalized a name for the system and branded it as the Faculty Insight Tool (FIT),” said Alexandra Aragno, associate director of operational excellence at Walden’s Center for Faculty Excellence. “The council also had a great recommendation to increase faculty ownership by allowing them to choose what profile information would be displayed on Walden University’s website.”
2. Pilot Test with Multiple Groups
“The key to a successful launch is running pilot tests to work out any kinks,” said Jim Lenio, executive director of Walden’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment. “After conducting two pilot tests, the first with new incoming faculty and the second with existing faculty, we discovered differences in needs and could then tailor specific resources and guidance. The pilots also built a group of faculty advocates who were supportive and excited about the new system.”
During the first pilot with new faculty, the Walden team learned the group’s challenges and concerns and made adjustments before testing the platform with current faculty.
“It was a big win,” said Aragno. “We surveyed the pilot groups and used those results to develop guidelines that became best practices. We also tweaked the system to provide additional guidance in individual screens, based on the most frequently asked questions and concerns.”
The pilot tests revealed that FIT was intuitive, so the biggest hurdle in engaging faculty would be buy-in.
3. Communicate Often and Everywhere
The Walden University team communicated with faculty early and often by using various channels and methods, including newsletters, emails, presentations and videos.
The team didn’t wait until implementation to start communicating about the new program, but rather started with teasers in the monthly faculty newsletter to give as much notice as possible. As a part of that initial process, the team also requested that faculty members step forward if they had used the software at another university.
“One of our respondents had been a Digital Measures administrator at a different university,” said Lenio. “She provided us with valuable insight, including a list of questions and things she wanted us to consider. It helped us see what had been done elsewhere.”
In addition to using various communications methods, Walden found it important for faculty to hear about the new program from different audiences. The first official communication about FIT went out by email from Walden University Interim President Dr. Ward Ulmer and Chief Academic Officer and Provost Dr. Eric Riedel. The team is now working closely with deans and directors to continue promoting the use of the system by all faculty.
“It’s important for university leadership to lead the way in initial communication to help set expectations and encourage engagement,” said Lenio. “When it’s clear the entire organization is invested in improving faculty engagement and reporting, it helps foster the collaboration needed for success.”
4. Socialize the System
The Walden team worked to socialize the new system throughout implementation so faculty were invested by the time it rolled out. Because Walden’s faculty is dispersed across the world, the team had to develop and implement various engagement methods to get the buy-in they needed. They started the engagement process by allowing faculty to submit and vote on names for Digital Measures, giving them a greater sense of ownership and investment in the platform.
“When we sent out the survey, we shared a 30-second video that showed faculty what the system looked like at that time,” said Lenio. “It walked through screens and had a voice-over so it wasn’t this mysterious thing that’s coming that no one’s ever seen. We wanted to give them an inside look before picking a name. In the end, faculty voted for the name Faculty Insight Tool, or FIT.”
Once the name was selected, the advisory council worked with the marketing department’s creative team to design a FIT logo to brand the system. The team believed it would foster additional buy-in from faculty while giving it a strong visual representation in communications. Another way the team socialized the system was by introducing it at Walden University’s National Faculty Meeting, a time when faculty and academic leadership come face-to-face for professional development opportunities.
“We created a one-page handout summarizing the FIT that was given to each faculty member at registration,” said Aragno. “We also set up a table where advisory council members could share information and hand out giveaways to promote the FIT ahead of rolling it out to faculty.”
After the National Faculty Meeting, Walden provided various tools and training methods such as webinars and presentations geared to different groups. As additional questions were uncovered, the team created videos in two to five-minute increments to help clear up any confusion and facilitate easy interaction with the FIT.
Now that the system is fully implemented and faculty are using it, Walden is looking for ways to continue socializing the FIT.
“We’re looking at rewarding faculty through small gifts that can be obtained through an online store,” said Lenio. “Faculty who entered the minimum information requested into the FIT would receive a code they can use to get one of the thank-you items, such as a laptop sleeve or mug with Walden branding.”
5. Make It Easy—and Beneficial—for Faculty
When customizing the FIT, Aragno emphasized the importance of making things as easy as possible for faculty. One of the ideas was keeping help text, training materials and information within the system. It keeps faculty from losing momentum by allowing them to stay within the system when looking for help.
“When learning a new system, people don’t always read instructions and help guides first,” said Aragno. “Many faculty are savvy and can go in without direction because they intuitively understand how to navigate the screens. But, we provide materials for faculty who may struggle so they can go in and figure it out quickly and more easily.”
Walden also wanted to make the FIT beneficial by enabling faculty to customize their profiles on WaldenU.edu. Hundreds of Walden faculty have taught for 10 to 20 years or did academic work elsewhere for decades, which can make it hard to condense that information into an online profile. The FIT tool organizes the information into such categories as degrees, awards and published works. Faculty can choose which content they want to display online, even allowing them to showcase all their information or a select few items in a single category.
6. Share Clear Expectations
Like an effective syllabus, it’s no wonder faculty appreciate specific directions and clear expectations.
Initially, the Walden team directed faculty to specific areas of the FIT to help populate the tool with the most useful information. To help narrow the scope, faculty were asked to input data going back five years. The data included basic information such as their degrees, awards and honors, public service and a biography. More in-depth data included published works and presentations.
The Walden team also focused on conveying an accurate estimate of the time commitment required and encouraged faculty to work with their supervisors to set reasonable deadlines for having things in the system.
7. Provide Parallel Support to Leadership
Post-launch, the team is focused on helping leadership understand what kind of access they have to the system, including what they can do with it and how they can use it for reporting. For example, they can tailor the information for program-level meetings with faculty and include valuable data in various reports and communications materials.
“We give information they need in digestible chunks and enable them to be more active in engaging faculty to use the system and fill in missing data,” said Lenio.
Walden’s Lessons Learned
Go Campus-Wide: Walden University decided to implement the FIT to all faculty across all programs from the start. If it started with one program, integration may have been delayed as faculty constantly adjusted so the tool could accommodate a wider set of disciplines.
Promote Early Wins: Walden recommends celebrating the early wins and sharing them with stakeholders who may need more encouragement. This helps to motivate the faculty and leadership and keeps the positive momentum going.
Over-Communicate: In addition to promoting early wins, the Walden team emphasizes the benefits of over-communicating about the system. It’s important to constantly update stakeholders on new features and capabilities, benefits and achievements, and new tools to promote the system. For example, the Walden team created a brief FIT commercial for the faculty newsletter. It presented the tool in a fun and visual way.
About Walden University
For more than 45 years, Walden University has supported working professionals in achieving their academic goals and making a greater impact in their professions and their communities. Students from all 50 states in the U.S. and more than 150 countries are pursuing their bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees online at Walden. The university offers more than 80 degree programs with more than 400 specializations and concentrations. Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, hlcommission.org. Walden is one of more than 70 institutions in 25 countries that make up the Laureate International Universities network. For more information about Walden, visit WaldenU.edu.
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