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Community By Design

Recapping our experience at the Inaugural Leading Academic Change Summit


Everyone talks about “academic transformation” as code for the urgent imperative to reconsider the value proposition, return on investment and teaching/learning modalities for today’s “traditional” university. But we had the invigorating opportunity to be in the room and co-facilitate as 67 senior administrators charged with translating the code wrestled with their theories of change and action. The first not so shocking revelation is… that no one has the playbook. The second thing that hits you is that this is one engaged and helpful group of experienced colleagues, eager to learn from each other. By filling the room with a mix of academic change agents from the worlds of public and private; two-year and doctoral granting; Community colleges, research institutions, university systems and Iveys, the summit succeeded in catalyzing genuine camaraderie among a group that traditionally hasn’t had such a network.

The attendees were fLAC Summit Attendeesrom all over the country, their roles ranged from Chief Technology Officer to Academic Strategist to Vice Provost, and 90% of them had been in their current roles for six years or less (nearly two-thirds for three years or less). As Dr. Joshua Kim noted, “This was a convening for weird academic people.  Those of us who don’t really fit in with traditional organizational structures and lines of authority.” Despite the different job titles, most of them are charged with designing into the white space of the future, and anyone who works in or around a university knows how hard that is.

The Education Design Lab had the pleasure of facilitating two sessions. The first was entitled “What Constitutes Academic Transformation”. We felt it pertinent to define the parameters and challenges facing these dynamic change agents as they work to toward academic transformation in each of their unique roles. In the pre-event survey, most summit attendees identified that though they have the support of faculty and administration in their various academic transformation projects, institutional culture and lack of resources are their greatest challenges. We wanted to expand upon this by defining a framework for “academic transformation”. Through a collaborative design thinking exercise, the group identified the top four conditions necessary for change as:

1. Resources (both financial and personnel)

2. Faculty incentives for participation

3. Clear vision from leadership

4. Alignment to university’s strategic vision

These four conditions (and the collaborative mapping used to identify them) provided context for the remaining sessions at the summit, including small group analysis of several case studies in academic transformation efforts, and “Lessons for Innovators” from Peter Eckel, as well as a keynote from Peter Senge entitled “Leading Organizational Change.”

At the close of the summit, The Education Design Lab facilitated “Creating a Vision for the Future”, a workshop designed to explore whether this group wants to become “a thing.” Setting up three categories of support — Context, Community, Curation — we asked the groups to brainstorm the needs and roles an ongoing  learning community might provide.  While everyone acknowledged that context is important, i.e., understanding threats, opportunities, research, experimentation, they voted for community and curation as the two most useful value propositions for an ongoing learning environment to support academic change. Community is fairly obvious, but setting up a manageable network, wit_K1B0679h learning and sharing opportunities will be tricky. Everyone is busy, some have different expertise, mandates. But the participants clearly wanted to make room in their busy lives for this community as they see it as an excellent way to accelerate their own learning curves in what is admittedly a fast changing movement that doesn’t allow for insularity. Similarly, curation was viewed as critical since administrators and faculty owning the transformation portfolio are called upon to recommend and evaluate everything from platform vendors to analytics tools to processes such as managing culture change and strategic partnerships. The result was an animated discussion and  vision board created by a talented graphic recorder who helped us synthesize the needs of a national learning community that might support transformation.

In many ways, the Inaugural Leading Academic Change Summit served as a true catalyst and energizer for meaningful connection and, frankly, optimism. It certainly fostered more questions than it answered. But maybe the optimism comes from being in a room full of change agents. The future we envision seems possible.


What academic transformation projects are you working on right now? How would you like to see a community of academic transformation agents agents support each other?