Welcome to the fifth edition of our From the Field series, featuring interviews with expert practitioners of competency-based education. Rene Eborn, who recently joined Motivis Learning, lends her expertise in moving projects, including implementing CBE, forward successfully.
Title: Vice President of Product, Motivis Learning
AVP of Academic Technology, Southern New Hampshire University, IT Associate Director, University of Utah, Director Academic Programs/Special Projects, Western Governors University, Director of Online Learning, Weber State University, Registrar/Director of Advising, Western Wyoming Community College, Distance Learning Coordinator, Utah State University
What makes her awesome:
Rene leads successful teams by focusing on the most important aspect of every partnership: building relationships. Her dynamic approach of cultivating stakeholder collaboration allows her to design and implement successful educational technology initiatives. As a strategic leader in higher ed program development, she understands the pain points educators and school leaders experience as they design and implement new programs. During the course of her career, she “crossed over” into Informational Technology to ensure that she is able to provide solutions to some of the most perplexing problems facing students, educators and institutions today.
In short: She plants thoughtful seeds that grow and blossom into ed tech gardens of solutions.
Rene has served in many different capacities throughout her career, all of which have allowed her to develop a proven method of change management and excellence in product development and implementation.
What led you to Competency-Based Education?
I started my career in higher education in the field of continuing education, where I developed a passion to provide access to education. Initially, my introduction to this was when I had the opportunity to migrate independent study programs, and turned them into online classes when online learning was brand new. I quite literally grew up in this space.
The emphasis, for me, has always been as an experiential learner, and I worked in many different schools to help them implement technology. I found that you can spend a lot of money on ed tech, but if people don’t use it, it’s a wasted opportunity.
Cultivating learning environments that enable student success is also an important part of my journey. Students come to us like swiss cheese with a lot of holes in their learning. In education, our most important responsibility is to help them understand what those areas are and what students need to obtain skills they need. We don’t want to fill those holes of knowledge with just anything, we need to be prescriptive and ensure that what they learn will help them meet their goals.
Why is change management so key to successful implementation?
I realized the power and importance of change management in education early on. Prior to coming into higher education, I worked in industry for a while—a company that was ultimately acquired by Blackboard—where I learned various business strategies, including project management and the importance of change leadership. I found in higher education, that technology initiatives are more successful when change management strategies are employed prior to implementing changes to process and technology.
The most important thing to remember when working with people is that we all have to feel connected, want to do it, find the value in using it. If employees are not invested in the change or feel personally connected to it, it’s difficult to get any implementation off the ground. Whether I was managing and developing online courses at University of Texas, the University of Florida, UMASS online, or implementing an entire state system, I found implementing change management processes ensured successful results.
What are the best ways to address stakeholder adversity to change?
When faced with resistance to change, it’s important to understand why there’s pushback.
More likely than not, people push back when they’re afraid, so it becomes important to understand the root of these fears. I have found it helpful to create use cases that address them.
The most frequently heard concerns include, but are not limited to: fear that jobs will go away, an increase in administrative burden, there will be too much paperwork, excessive process management and a desire to streamline the paperwork that you can’t avoid, and trying to address process with paper. In this case, it is beneficial to have them walk us through the process which was something I did when I documented the business process at the University of Utah.
People do things because that’s how they’ve always done it, which, as we all know, is not necessarily the most effective way to make programs work. You can take your biggest critic and have them be your champion by finding out what their issues are and then being empathetic to these concerns.
Is there a proven process for ensuring project success?
Yes. Absolutely! I refuse to let projects fail or products not reach completion. To ensure the success of any project, I insist on following this framework:
1. Strong Stakeholder Sponsorship
Project success is highly correlated with the relationship the project sponsor has with the project outcomes. The sponsor is the liaison between the customer and the project team. When issues arise with quality, scope, budget, resources, or schedule, the Sponsor assists in aligning expectations.
2. Project Management Strategy
Following simple project management methods are key to project success. The steps I recommend include:
- Project initiation
- Project planning
- Project execution (including various agile sprints/methods)
- Project closure
3. Communication Plan
Equally as important to project success is communication. Who is going to be impacted and who needs to be a part of the initiative? Who are the best people to advocate for the initiative? Get them together to plan—this planning team is empowered to lend their voice not only to the project itself, but also evangelize to their peers and clients. Include regular updates to all key stakeholders. I always create an ongoing communication plan.
4. Vendor Relationships
Key to the success of every project, especially when we are dealing with education and technology is the cultivation of good vendor relationships. These relationships often make the process of implementing new technology so much less painful, and ultimately, when I am leading a project, that is my primary goal: to make the project as painless as possible. Establishing good vendor relationships is instrumental in making that happen.
When we move forward together in education, everyone benefits, especially our students. The convergence of data, technology and the relationships we forge enable lifelong learning success. When we are mindful of developing both the internal and external relationships necessary for project success everyone wins: the project itself will succeed and all of the stakeholders will be empowered through the experience of thorough and effective communication. Success is built through solid, collaborative relationships that help us continuously improve education and strengthen the learning experience.