Unit 3, Activity 2: Changing Tools, Not Processes

The change process I was most recently a part of (as was the entire world) was the addition of web conferencing tools, specifically Microsoft Teams and Zoom to our online learning environment. Prior to March 2020, our Distributed Learning (DL) school scraped together tools like Skype and Big Blue Button as there was no district-provided tool. With the shift to global online learning, our district successfully added Zoom and Teams to address how public schools can continue education amidst a global lockdown In the implementation stage group and personalized training was available. 

The benefits of this project were, the one-to-one training to address individual needs and skill levels. It seems that there was a lot of leniency from staff, parents and students as everyone was just trying to get by.  Similarily, people did not have a choice. In hindsight, it would have been beneficial to slow down the overall process, clearly communicate expectations and processes to staff, and to offer more consistent and persistant training. 

The overall goals were communicated broadly by provincial health and education ministers. They were communicated briefly by district and school administrators. I am not aware of a project plan. Therefore this project lacked some of the aspects Watts’ definition of good project management, Strong planning skills, good communication, ability to implement a project to deliver the product or service while also monitoring for risks and managing the resources will provide an edge toward your success” (Watt, 2014, ch 1) which raises the question of acceptable exceptions for emergency processes. 

In exploring the barriers further, this same process would not be as effective today as people’s patience is wearing thin. Also, if this was a decision based on analyzed data (Marsh et al, 2006) it would have been helpful to share this with impacted users. This same mind set was also a barrier as stress meant there was little focus and processing. Similarily, communication was a big challenge. Redesigning how teachers communicate with students at the same time as the tool is being implemented is not an effective plan.  Limited skills was also a challenge. There was a marked absence of philosophical and practical background. This led to limited resources such as research and concrete techniques for engaging students. There were a handful of strategies being passed around on social media such as scavenger hunts and virtual field trips, but as the resources were so limited these got old, fast. One of the greatest drawbacks was how the web conferencing tools allowed teachers to connect to students who were already engaged in their learning. It did not work to re-engage inactive students.

In my practice I foresee taking a Frankenstein approach and using portions of a variety of  methods. The clear visual aspect of the GANT chart is appealing (Watt, 2014, ch. 1). Gant is highly visual and straight forward. Outlines tasks and timelines.Also, the Project Management Institute (the PMBOK guide) offers ways to delegate and collaborate on a project. “PMBOK is the fundamental knowledge you need for managing a project, categorized into 10 knowledge areas:” (Watt, ch. 4). 

While this project met the initial need to continue to offer education in a global lockdown, it does cause us to reflect on the resulting successes and opportunities for growth. Luckily, the use of these tools are ongoing and are now operational but the implementation had a clear start (March 2020) and end time (June 2020).

References

Marsh, J., Pane, J., & Hamilton, L., (2006). Making Sense of Data-Driven Decision Making in Education: Evidence from Recent RAND Research. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

Watt, A. (2014). Project Management. Victoria, BC: BCcampus. (ch 1 -4)

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3 thoughts on “Unit 3, Activity 2: Changing Tools, Not Processes”

  1. As a parent of a younger child who experienced these changes, I appreciate your post’s insight into the thoughts from the other side. You raised an interesting point regarding “exceptions for emergency processes” and it made me think back to what I’d read and I couldn’t recall anything regarding emergency or urgent change, though it could be I’ve forgotten. You also mentioned the rapid change experiencing some difficulty due to lack of communication, unclear expectations, limited skills, etc. Having gone through the experience now, what would you change about how the change was made to make it a smoother and more effective process for teachers and students?

    1. Thanks for your comment, David. I too have two young kids and from the parent perspective I was impressed by the effort teachers showed to quickly adapt for the benefit of the students. From the teacher perspective, in hindsight, I would have been much kinder to myself. I also don’t remember any reference to emergency change/process management, but I do think there are several exceptions that need to be made during a global emergency in contrast to a carefully planned response. An important part of that emergency response is to more clearly outline roles in decision making and affirm lines of communication between the ministry and school districts.

  2. An excellent post, as usual, Kristin. When everyone was undergoing this change, it all happened so fast, nobody really had the time to think it through with any clarity, yet it was relatively successful. So much could have gone wrong, and it’s a testament to the skill, passion, and dedication of teachers that it went so well. While there were definitely some growing pains, my two daughters has relatively positive experiences at the end of the last school year.

    In response to David’s comment, the only mention I recall of emergency change was when Weiner (2009) observed that an organization is likely to value a change when it’s deemed as urgently necessary. That certainly applies here!

    Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-4-67

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