Learning to Change: ICCHE-ACHE Conference Recap

by Christine Scherer

On February 8, 2018, I attended and presented at this year’s ICCHE-ACHE Great Lakes Joint Conference. The conference theme was Learning to Change, and many of the presentations focused on the necessity and challenge of change, especially in professional/continuing education. I was also lucky enough to present on accessibility in online education and shared the story of our office’s continuing growth in this area.

Keynote: Change Management and Conscious Competence

The conference began with a keynote by Carolyn Nordstrom, the Vice President of Faculty and Academic Resources at Kaplan University. Drawing upon her decades of experience in teaching and higher ed administration, Carolyn talked about change management theory through a higher education lens.

One of the most interesting concepts she shared was the idea of conscious competence versus unconscious competence. Unconscious competence happens when someone is able to do something without really knowing why. The example she shared was her own ability to use her car’s GPS–she knows what buttons and what information to enter to make it give her directions, but if something goes wrong, she has no idea what to do about it. Conscious competence, on the other hand, means that a person is not only able to do something, but understands the inner workings of how and why the thing works.

What does this have to do with change and the many challenges around it? Carolyn said that, if someone is told to change something they’re unconsciously competent at, it can feel like a real threat. Because they don’t know why their current process works, just that it does, it can be hard to see the benefits of the change. And if learning their current process was a long, difficult, or painful journey, the prospect of having to do it all over again without understanding the reasons why can seem daunting. For effective change, it’s important to do more than just show people how to do a new thing–everyone also needs to understand why it’s happening. Not only will this make the change easier, but it will give people better control over the processes and systems that they use in their work.

Revitalizing Mature Online Courses: Student Employability

A panel of learning designers, instructional technologists, and accessibility coordinators from the University of Illinois – Springfield talked about their experiences in revising “mature” online courses. UIS has had a robust online program since the late 90s, giving them decades of experience and expertise in online course design. On the other hand, the sheer volume of courses and faculty mean that it’s difficult for the staff to check in on every course… and so some courses haven’t been revised or updated since the late 90s, too.

There were many factors that the team looked at when revising a course that’s a decade or more old. Quality Matters, accessibility, and universal design for learning standards were all areas of focus, and areas that we at Northwestern had in common. One thing that UIS does differently, though, is a focus on employability. Tammy Craig works in the online learning department as a career specialist, and she spoke in depth about the team’s work on helping their graduates translate what they learned in the class into job benefits. And a lot of that starts with the content of the courses themselves. In talking to employers, she’s found that while many graduates leave with exemplary technical skills and knowledge, students are sorely lacking in soft skills like critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. As a result, the team recommends that faculty find ways to incorporate practice with those skills into their courses–and to make those skills a clearly stated part of the learning objectives. It’s a different approach, but it’s one that their students seem to appreciate.

A Changing World

The landscape of higher education is changing, and none faster than continuing education and distance learning. It was a great experience to spend a day with other continuing ed professionals and learn about the challenges and opportunities that they see in all those changes.