Technology Adoption Series: Driving Success Through Executive Sponsorship


Gillian Fielding, Digital Skills Manager at the University of Salford discusses how senior executive sponsorship elevated the use of  e-learning, e-submission and e-marking.

June 10th saw the first of three webinars, hosted by Blackboard, focusing on best practices in driving technology adoption. In this first webinar, the University of Salford’s Gillian Fielding discussed how strong executive leadership drove the success of Project Elevate, a key strategic University-wide project which lead to a major cultural shift to e-learning, e-submission, e-marking.

In 2012-2013, as part of a Transformation Programme, Project Elevate was initiated partly by the need to upgrade the University’s virtual learning environment (Blackboard Learn) and improve the quality of the student experience. Elevate impacted every taught module, every member of academic staff and every undergraduate student and set about raising the effectiveness of Blackboard Learn to offer a more intuitive, consistent and improved online experience for students and academics.

As well as upgrading from Blackboard 8.0 to version 9.1, Project Elevate brought about many changes in the following areas:

  • E-learning: It defined the University-wide standards for virtual learning environment module presence, ensuring that all Blackboard Learn modules met the same baseline criteria to ensure uniformity.
  • E-submission: It enabled assessed academic work to be submitted electronically via Turnitin or Blackboard (except exemptions for work that would be impossible to submit electronically)
  • E-marking: It made e-marking mandatory.
  • Roles for academic staff: It enhanced the capacity and capability of academic staff in deploying modern teaching tools.
  • Roles for some administrative staff: It achieved efficiencies in academic administration.

An essential factor in driving the success of the project was bringing together a Project Board driven by an Executive Sponsor, and included representation from university areas such as the Academic Development unit, stakeholder groups such as the IT department, training from Human Resources, the Library, School Operation Managers, the Students Union and users (academics, students and administrative staff). Most importantly, Project Elevate was chaired by a very proactive Pro-Vice Chancellor Academic who was student driven and “totally understood where he wanted to go on the journey and what we needed to do to get there,” said Gillian. “He was there at every meeting, chairing the meeting and asking the pertinent questions and driving it forward.”

With the Project Elevate Board comprising of key stakeholders across the institution it meant that everybody had “a voice” in the project. The project’s secret weapon, however, seemed to be a student union board member who was able to voice student concerns. “Having a student voice made their view difficult to argue with when making vital decisions,” said Gillian.

Implementing ‘Change’

“Change can’t be delivered without fundamental support and training in place,” said Gillian. “We packed the training courses with as many innovative ideas as possible so that they appealed to the most technological and digitally capable members of staff.” Training was initially conducted by video, which outlined the Elevate aims. As a follow up, staff were placed in the students’ shoes, in a flipped experience, and were asked to experience the best and worst of the current Blackboard modules and were asked to reflect on this experience. The workshops were designed to enable staff to work on their own modules and not a training environment, thereby staff were doing the work they needed to do in the training. The Project had TEL Champions in each School supporting colleagues and working with Central Support and the Heads of School. QR codes, hashtags and surveys were used to keep the feedback coming and a dedicated helpdesk and drop-in surgeries were available throughout the project to support learning.

Training 725 Staff in 10 Weeks

Regular checks, reporting and evaluation of training attendance remained vital to the project. To pragmatically, get 725 staff trained in in 10 weeks, the team had to rigorously measure progress. By reporting weekly to the University Executive, this included identifying those who cancelled training or who had booked and not attended training. With an executive level push, all training was completed in about ten weeks. Gillian explained, “We knew we had to get people through training for this project to take place and having the leadership encourage Heads of School to make sure their staff attended was crucial and meant we got people through in 10 weeks.”

Tips & Tricks – to Get Senior Executive Support

Gillian also discussed a number of ways to get the support of a senior executive team. Firstly, she advised identifying how technology can meet the specific agendas of executives and thereby help them to “get the message”. As an example at Salford, the number one driver for the Pro-Vice Chancellor Academic for implementing Project Elevate was to improve the student experience. Secondly, you need be able to show executives how technology will help them to meet this agenda. Gillian goes on to say that, “you need to think about the things that will get their attention. Different people are interested in different agendas. For example, a Finance Director may well be interested in cost savings and will look at the utilisation of virtual classrooms and tools such as Blackboard Collaborate to reduce travel costs.”

To find out even more ideas about how you can get executive level involvement, you can view the recorded webinar here.