Guest post by Eric Kunnen, Director of Distance Learning and Instructional Technologies, Grand Rapids Community College, and a member of the Ask Dr. C program, a free question and answer service for Blackboard users.

The use of technology like Blackboard often boils down to awareness and, in the end, communication is key.  Often, faculty need to know “why” to use a certain tool and, from there, the “what” and “how” of features can follow.

This post is intended to provide some ideas and strategies to communicate effectively with faculty at your university or college.

Step 1: The Message

The first step to enhancing adoption of any technology is to spend some time thinking through what topics, techniques, and tools are important to the teaching and learning process.  This can include your own perspectives, things you have learned at conferences, like Blackboard user groups or BbWorld.  It can also be as simple as asking faculty what technologies are useful to them and what kinds of training they would like to see offered. To get a holistic view of faculty perception, I often recommend deploying an online survey to collect feedback from instructors.

It is also helpful to pay attention to listservs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media for ideas and topics that the academic community is actively discussing.  For example, take a second look at the mass email “invitations” to webinars that you may receive to highlight upcoming events on topics related to teaching and technology. (Some of these emails are worth unsubscribing to, but others stand as great inspiration for your campaign!)

Equipped with the ideas from your own faculty, or those that you have discovered on your own, consolidate the concepts or topics into a short list of objectives that allow you to clearly present a concise message to your faculty.

Step 2: Identify and Target Faculty

Next, decide who you want to send your message to.  This email can go to all faculty, but other times you may want to target a group of your instructors by their interest,department membership, or their current usage of technology.

Use campuses email groups or spend some time researching and finding groups of users to narrow and target a specific group.  Here are a few techniques to help find users:

  • Blackboard Admin Panel Last Login Search – As a Blackboard system administrator, click on the “Admin” tab and then ”Users”.  Under ”Options”, choose “Last Login”, and use the date fields to search for users based on the last login date.   This report can be helpful to discover faculty that may not be logging into the system, which can allow targeted messages about upcoming training sessions.
  • Blackboard Admin Panel Courses without Content – As a system administrator you can use the “System Reporting Disk Usage” report to find courses that are empty.  This is a great way to send an encouraging note to faculty to make them aware of the value that Blackboard can provide for students.
  • bbStats Building Block Active Users Report – This free Building Block is available on www.oscelot.org and can be used to discover the top users of your Blackboard system. These faculty can be a good resource to tap for assisting in providing commentaries or testimonials.
  • Custom SQRs – If you are technical or have a database administrator that can assist you, you can locate several scripts that can be run against your database to find groups of instructors and users based on tool usage or nearly any other kind of metric. These queries are run against Blackboard’s Open Database, and pretty invaluable for increased insight.
  • Project ASTRO  – The free Advanced System Tracking and Reporting Building Block can be installed on your server to provide you with faculty and courses that are using (or not using) various tools on your system.  Tools such as wikis, blogs, gradebook, content, assessments, etc. are all parts of the ASTRO report..
  • Starfish Early Alert and Other Applications –Applications that integrate with Blackboard, like Starfish Early Alert and others, can be useful to discover users that are inactive.  As an example, the “Instructor Inactivity Report” provided by the Starfish system allows administrators to find faculty, identify their last login date, and when they last accessed their course(s).

Step 3: Provide Rationale and Example Uses

Using the list of users gathered and identified above,prepare a custom message.  For new users or those that haven’t logged in, you may want to highlight the advantages of the system, including any student comments or survey information that you feel comfortable sharing.

You can also focus on concepts like “ease of use”, or ways in which the Blackboard tools can save them time or help them be more effective.  Example use cases provide a good way to help faculty learn “why” they should use Blackboard.  Faculty testimonials and student comments can provide excellent rationale, too.

It may also be helpful to use system activity information from bbStats, or other reports, to convey the high levels of usage within the system.  Additionally, you can highlight faculty who are using tools thoroughly as a shining example of quality.

Step 4: Connect with Opportunities

Once you convey the value of your technologies and tools, be sure to include some information on how to get started!  Is there a training session coming up?  How about tutorials or tip sheets?  Is there a place to go to get help? If you have those resources you should include them in your message to make your communication more meaningful.

This may seem obvious, but when communicating with faculty about technology it’s very important to ensure that they know where they can learn more about “what” to do, and also gain the ability to use the system to help them answer the “how” to do it questions.

Step 5: Send the Communication

Finally, it’s time to send out your message.  Carefully plan and lay out the communication — lengthy and poorly formatted emails will largely go unread, and the workspent in the previous steps will be lost!

I always recommend connecting your email to a print campaign, blogs, newsletters or social media. This will help generate wide exposure on multiple communication “channels”.

Part of your communication plan should include a follow up task.  Be thoughtful about not spamming or over communicating, but a reminder for an upcoming event or training session is often helpful in generating awareness that persists and grows with time.

So what are your thoughts?  What techniques have you used on campus that have been successful in promoting the use of technologies in teaching and learning?

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