The Process of Transformation: Lessons Learned From Major Organizational Change

Concurrent Session 10

Brief Abstract

With over 30,000 online students and 400 online faculty members, improving online student outcomes at Wake Tech not only requires organizational support for innovation but also hinges on individuals embracing and applying changes. Join this session as we share ideas, challenges, and lessons on our journey through large-scale change initiatives. 


I am a seasoned professional with experience as a UPS truck driver, small business owner, supervisor, manager, consultant, book reviewer, trainer, director, and professor. My 18 year tenure at Wake Tech has led me from an adjunct instructor to the business administration department head, the director of human resources and EEO officer for the college, a professor, and currently an EPIC master certified senior professor, and mentoring coordinator for faculty new to teaching online. For the last 13 years, I have also served as an adjunct professor for Campbell University's RTP campus teaching human resources, retailing, marketing research, and strategic management. I completed my PhD in Business Administration with a concentration in Human Resources with Northcentral University. My certifications include diversity management, synectic problem-solving formula, the customer program, facilitation, and leadership assessments for the Center for Creative Leadership. I also have my senior professional in HR (SPHR, SHRM-SCP) and hold a practitioner and coach certification in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).

Extended Abstract


             In 2014, Wake Tech launched EPIC, eLearning Preparedness Initiative Across the College, a program aimed at reducing barriers and supporting student learning, persistence, and success in online courses. As part of the SACSCOC accrediting region, Wake Tech is required to prepare a 5-year improvement plan called a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) as part of our reaffirmation process.  The plan has several parameters, but it must be focused on improving student learning outcomes and retention. In reviewing proposals for the QEP, it became clear that online student success rates needed improvement and should be an area of focus. The gaps in online student success from their seated counterparts, particularly in gateway courses, were as high as 40% in some cases. The college launched EPIC to address these gaps with a two-pronged approach: improve student readiness for online learning and equip faculty with the skills to be better online instructors.

            EPIC is a multi-year, multifaceted plan that requires the mobilization of nearly every department at the college to formalize, facilitate, and monitor training for thousands of students and hundreds of instructors. Both the student preparedness and faculty training portions were designed as online modules/courses through Blackboard. The program plan includes a detailed assessment strategy to track how the program is working and to identify areas for improvement or adjustment. The plan also includes a component whereby the process of change is understood. It is through this work that we are able to understand how stakeholders are developing perceptions around the change, what people are learning as they engage in this change, and identify areas where stakeholders experience challenges.

            Upon receiving IRB approval in 2015, we began conducting confidential interviews with personnel who were involved with the planning and implementation of EPIC. Over two years, we have collected data from 25 individuals at the college (only 4 of whom were not involved in EPIC implementation) regarding their perceptions of EPIC, their experiences as part of planning and implementation teams, and their beliefs about the possible success of EPIC as an initiative. This educational session will examine lessons that we learned as an institution and provide interactive opportunities for participants to engage in thinking about change at their institutions.  We encourage participation from administrators who are thinking about change at their institution, faculty and staff who are experiencing institutional change, and institutional researchers and scholars who may be interested in learning how to apply qualitative research methods to understanding organizational change through stakeholder perspectives.

Presentation Content

            The presentation will begin by discussing why organizations need to transform rather than just simply change. We will discuss disruptive transformation (outside of our control) versus adaptive transformation (within our control). Transforming involves challenging assumptions, adopting new assumptions, and changing behaviors. Once we introduce the concept of change, we will facilitate a think-pair-share activity where pairs discuss why they believe transformation is necessary at their institutions. We will then lead a short group discussion with everyone about transformation.  We will briefly discuss three strategies for transformation – envision the future, empower stakeholders to act, and empower and reward groups to scale-up from the ground up. With each of these strategies, we will provide examples of how Wake Tech has implemented them in practice. One of those examples is something called “Applied Benchmarking.” This a process whereby faculty and staff identify a problem in their area, benchmark a solution, adapt the solution to their practice, and analyze how it was or was not beneficial.

            In considering the QEP, Wake Tech launched a unique process to identify which area the QEP would address through a competitive proposal process called, “Scaling Applied Benchmarking Innovations for Learning” or SAIL. Through this process, individuals with benchmarking projects they believed could be scaled to a college-wide initiative assembled teams and developed a proposal for the QEP over several months. In the end, EPIC was the winning proposal, though all of the other projects remain active in some form or another.  We will share some lessons learned through this process. At this point, we will pose the question to the group about how change is initiated at their institutions.

            As we enter year 3 of data collection about the process of change, we are finding that learning and transformation has been taking place over time for those involved with EPIC implementation.  By the time of the presentation, we will also have collected more data pertaining to learning and transformation among stakeholders who are not directly involved with EPIC, but are affected by it. For instance, all online faculty members must become “EPIC Certified,” which, for most individuals, involves taking a 30-hour professional development series covering topics like using multi-media tools, accessibility, and using the many features of the learning management system (Blackboard).  

            The second half of the presentation will be dedicated to sharing those findings – the unintended outcomes from instituting this major change. While there were many positive findings (learning, growth, skill development, friendships), we did discover some challenges in areas such as communication and supervisor support.  At this point in the presentation, we will facilitate another think-pair-share activity where pairs will discuss challenges they have experienced during change and how they addressed those challenges. Individuals will then be encouraged to share with the larger group. We will close the presentation by asking participants to share something they learned in the session (either from us or their peers) that they will take back to their institutions.