Northern Illinois University has earned a reputation for seamless integration and upgrades of instructional technology tools. The secret is planning, says Jason Rhode, assistant director of the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. Here he offers a few suggestions for getting an upgrade right.
Allow plenty of time. NIU allowed about nine months for its Blackboard Learn upgrade, which allowed plenty of time to prepare the campus.
Don’t start from scratch. NIU tapped into SLATE (Supporting Learning And Technology in Education), the Midwest Blackboard users group, to find out what worked — and hadn’t worked — during other schools’ upgrades. “We asked what questions we should be asking and what gotchas we should be watching out for,” Rhode says.
Avoid surprises. Communicate upcoming changes early and often. Explain what’s happening many times and via multiple channels. NIU’s upgrade communication plan worked so well that other universities have borrowed it.
Get faculty input. Whenever possible, allow faculty to influence the schedule. It will increase buy-in and may help you circumvent problems. For example, NIU gave faculty a say about when the upgrade to Blackboard Collaborate 12 would take place, better ensuring it happened at a time least disruptive to faculty.