Cultivating Change in the Academy

Ann Hill Duin
Edward A. Nater
Farhad X. Anklesaria

It’s mid-April 2012, and spring is in the air. It’s time to cultivate change.

This collection of 50+ chapters showcases a sampling of academic technology projects underway across the University of Minnesota, projects that we hope will inspire other faculty and staff to consider, utilize, or perhaps even develop new solutions that have the potential to make their efforts more responsive, nimble, efficient, effective, and far-reaching. Our hope is to stimulate discussion about what’s possible as well as generate new vision and academic technology direction. The work underway is most certainly innovative, imaginative, creative, collaborative, and dynamic.
As a collection, these chapters are about cultivating change at the University of Minnesota. Each team has worked in their patch of land. Each team has prepared the soil, chosen the seed, applied a small amount of fertilizer, and tended the garden with great care. It’s not all corn and soybeans. Some planted bulbs and flowers, others planted vegetables, and a few planted acorns in hopes a huge oak will emerge in time.

When seen together, they represent a new landscape, a new academy.
So, what needs to change?
We need increased focus on student success. Here's why:

In a recent article in the New England Journal of Higher Education, Butler (2012) shares the current reality regarding the state of American higher education:
The official University of Minnesota 2012 Report to the Minnesota State Legislature states that graduation rates in 2012 at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus, were 54% (4 year), 69% (5 year), and 70% (6 year). This indicates increased success, as in 1997 the four-year graduation rate was 15%, and in 2007, the rate was 41%. While the past decade has focused largely on increasing graduation rates by increasing the academic profile of entering undergraduates, we contend that the projects in this collection represent the change needed to continue this increase. These projects need continued cultivation as we focus on effectiveness throughout the academy; note the evidence of improvement in learning, research, and outreach/engagement.
Second, while online activity is clearly at the core of the academy’s future, we need to challenge the assumption that we need a big, expensive program to get things to happen. These projects do just that.
Most recently, Harvard and MIT have committed $60 million to offer free online courses, and two Stanford professors along with U. Michigan, Penn, and Princeton have formed a company, Coursera, to offer interactive courses. Key to these massive initiatives is a focus on a big investment in mainstream courses.
Consider the theory of the Long Tail (Anderson, 2012) and that our culture and economy is shifting away from a focus on mainstream products and toward a huge number of niches in the long tail. As the use of academic technology in these chapters attests, we can move well beyond traditional and even online “one-size-fits-all” thinking. A faculty or staff member does not need to be a superhero to get things to happen. Most projects herein were realized with limited (if any) support. These projects illustrate that everyone at the University of Minnesota has access to an outstanding set of digital tools to cultivate change in the academy. What’s missing may be the critical connection with others who are already using a myriad of digital tools to cultivate change.
Therefore, we need to connect faculty with innovative work in academic technology across our academy, and we need to then extend this work throughout our state and world. These projects are a good beginning.
Earlier this year, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) faculty fellows presented a roadmap titled Engaging Faculty as Catalysts for Change: Transforming Education through University-Wide Faculty Development in Teaching with Technology. They ask, “What would it take to bring about a learning revolution at the University of Minnesota? To enable faculty to develop the skills, adaptability, and resilience they need, not simply to persist through the challenges facing the University of Minnesota, but to be catalysts for creating the future of the academy?” They call for a university-wide approach, “a coordinated, sustained, and holistic approach to faculty development in technology-rich teaching and learning” as a means toward fostering “a renaissance in learning” at the University. While most faculty and staff will not be able to devote 18 months to a faculty development program, most are excited when hearing about the innovative work underway next door, and most quickly identify ways to create similar opportunities to inspire and energize their students.

eBook organization
The majority of these chapters come from contributors who were part of the Academic Technology Showcase 2012 at the University of Minnesota . Inspired by their posters and passion for cultivating change, we invited presenters to contribute to this eBook. Based on our work with faculty and staff across the University, we extended additional invitations as well.
The importance or relevance of these efforts may be gauged in some part by the response to our eBook invitation. Although we gave a short deadline of less than a month for submission of these chapters, a month that included the last week of class and finals week, all but a couple of those invited said yes!
We have clustered the 50+ chapters into four sections: Changing Pedagogies; Creating Solutions; Providing Direction; and Extending Reach.

1. Changing Pedagogies
While all chapters throughout this eBook are about cultivating change through the innovative use of technology, those in this first section focus on the use of academic technology to transform pedagogy.  Contributors address aspects of pedagogy that have seldom (if ever) fully been addressed, moving decidedly beyond memorization to explicit attention on problem solving and interactive coaching.

These innovative pedagogical approaches remix and flip the classroom; the imaginative uses of technology emulate the behavior of expert teachers and allow students to be creative in how they explore and address critical problems. Students access computer coaches and 3D simulations, work in teams to design their own experiments, and engage in course evolution. Contributors share processes they follow, definitions and theories which influence them, challenges they face, the impact on accreditation, and the “new landscapes” that emerge.

As John Bryson states: “I certainly understood cognitively why the redesign might be good for the students. What I had difficulty taking on board was that the redesign would have me doing something less of something I actually like doing—being the major focal point of the class… My role changed to being more a designer of learning occasions, a coach, and an advisor… I came not only to accept the new roles, but to welcome them, since my students clearly were benefitting from a course in which their learning was front and center.”

2. Creating Solutions
The chapters in this section focus on how to create solutions to very specific problems:
  • How do you increase student engagement in online courses?
  • How do you move from a course that students perceive must be “gotten through” to a course that motivates learners and transforms learning?
  • How do you help students maximize their “learning” time and concept mastery?
  • How do you compensate for the lack of visual “presence” in an online course? 
  • How do you provide project management assistance?
  • How might students better develop technological and scientific literacy?
  • How do you foster independent learning and lifelong learning skills?
  • How has the evolution of technologies opened up new options for research and customized assessment?
The solutions shared in this section indicate how the innovative use of academic technologies add value and increase efficiency and effectiveness. The solutions include imaginative uses and development of videos, podcasts, vodcasts, and simulations; they indicate how faculty and staff are using GoToMeeting, Moodle, Blackbag, iPads, Camtasia Relay, Skype, Ning, and Google Apps. Those on the digital frontlines at the University of Minnesota are indeed focused on student success.

3. Providing Direction
The chapters in this section illustrate how innovative leadership – at system-wide, campus, collegiate, and departmental levels – has stepped forward to provide direction and support for cultivating change. These contributors challenge the assumption that we need a big, expensive program to get things to happen. In contrast, they illustrate the power and potential of strategic, focused investments. As Claudia Neuhauser states, “A small investment in additional analytical capabilities to develop individualized education could allow the University to develop a sophisticated tool kit that would produce reports and predictive models that are tailored to each college and coordinate campus, thus turning data into actionable knowledge at a local level… This new approach to analyzing student data would lead to the development of tools for advisers and students to personalize the educational experience…thus realizing the vision of individualized education.”

For example, the University Digital Conservancy (UDC) provides free, worldwide access to research and scholarship contributed by faculty and staff at UMN, currently hosting over 23,000 works that have been downloaded over 1.5 million times. Growing exponentially, the UDC provides the permanent URL for this eBook collection: And in another Libraries initiative, with no budget but armed with great social science expertise, the authors used a free resource—Dataverse as a solution for making data available.

Likewise, the Center for Writing, with an investment of $12,500, created suites of videos that now provide support for multilingual writers across the University. And in the College of Veterinary Medicine, they “counterbalance” the scarcity of direct support with strong collegiate and departmental support for innovative teaching technologies.

These chapters are also unique in the level of faculty and student influence in providing direction:
Across the University, the visionary U-Spatial project leverages expertise in the spatial sciences, eliminating duplication and providing a framework of data, equipment, expertise, and resources that benefit all researchers. At the collegiate level, the School of Pharmacy is using a suite of cloud-based resources to diversity the conversation and speed up their curricular revision process. Those providing support for the iSEAL course management system at UM Rochester emphasize that it is the faculty’s responsibility to request new features and enhancements and provide development direction. And at UM Morris, as a result of listening sessions with students, IT support is moving forward with mobile computing and mobile learning.

4. Extending Reach
While all chapters in this eBook represent the University’s Land Grant Mission in action, the chapters in this final section most explicitly indicate our expanded engagement via innovative uses of technology.

These programs use technology to reach well beyond the fences of the academy. For example, the Ambit Network has trained 240 mental health providers from 43 agencies in Minnesota, screening 1,300 children for trauma and post-traumatic stress. Programs in Nursing and in Clinical Laboratory Sciences share lessons learned as they changed their course delivery to accommodate distance students’ needs and to provide equitable instruction on other campuses. These new online programs work to meet impending shortages of clinical laboratory personnel and to provide in-service training for clinical affiliate preceptors throughout our region.

The innovative use of iPads extends the reach of teacher education through supporting the assessment requirements in the field; iPads likewise assist field scientists with 25 unique studies across 50 experimental sites in 30 locations across the state. Digital storytelling deepens engagement and cultural awareness for students studying locally as well as preparing for and studying abroad, and online training modules raise the visibility of children’s needs among battered women’s shelter advocates. Researchers are changing strategies to meet the needs of a social and mobile population; they are collecting data via texting, transitioning computer courseware to mobile web apps, and building mobile technology training for response to disasters.

This collection of innovative stories from the digital frontlines is about evolutionary, incremental transformation. It’s about springtime where the earth around us changes; it’s about the importance of the ecosystem in cultivating change. When taken one by one, the overall changes are strategic, but when taken in the aggregate, they represent significant change in the academy.

This collection of innovative stories is a reminder that we are a collection of living people whose Land Grant values and ideas shape who we serve, what we do, and how we do it. Many of these projects engage others in discourse with the academy: obtaining opinion or feedback, taking the community pulse, allowing for an extended discourse, and engaging citizens in important issues.

Last, consider the seed savers exchange where gardeners collect and distribute thousands of rare seeds to others ( When my beets grow better than yours, I give you some seed. I’m glad to share it with you. Our hope is that as you read these chapters, you'll think, “I could do that!” And you know that when you contact a contributor here, the person is ready to share, ready to help, ready to envision the future together, ready to cultivate change.

Anderson, C. (2012). The long tail.

Butler, L. (2012). When the elephant is the room.

The single biggest change in education since the printing press. (2010). The Atlantic.

University of Minnesota 2012 Report to the Minnesota State Legislature.

Ann Hill Duin <>
Ann Hill Duin is a professor in the Department of Writing Studies where her research focuses on shared leadership and the impact of digital technologies on communication and collaboration. Having pioneered the University’s first online course, she continues to teach hybrid and online courses on information design and plans to develop a MOOC.
Edward A. Nater <>
Ed is a Professor in the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, where he teaches courses in environmental science and soil science.  He has a long-standing interest in instructional technology and scientific visualization.
Farhad Xerxes Anklesaria <>
Farhad is in Academic Technology at the Office of Information Technology.  Since the days of the fledgling Internet to our now pervasive network and ubiquitous mobile devices, he has worked to bring new applications of digital technologies to Higher Education.