Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles on the Road to Innovation

Concurrent Session 9
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Brief Abstract

This presentation examines successful strategies for overcoming barriers to innovation, by applying a four-quadrant change model to a large-scale, complex blended learning initiative.


BRENDA RAVENSCROFT is Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Arts and Science at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and Associate Professor of music theory and analysis. In her position as Associate Dean she is responsible for teaching and learning initiatives, curricular innovations, and quality assurance. Recent initiatives include a large-scale course redesign project, focused on using evidence-based practices to transform high-enrolment introductory courses into blended models to enhance student engagement, and the expansion of the Faculty's online program.

Extended Abstract

Institutions of higher education thrive on stability: teaching norms, practices and beliefs are well established, as is the infrastructure that supports them. However, the demands for colleges and universities to evolve are increasing, not least as a result of the rapidly evolving world of technology-enhanced learning. Many institutions struggle to respond. In this environment, pedagogical changes, such as innovative instructional strategies or new approaches in online learning, are often viewed as disruptive and are challenging to implement (Mehaffy, 2012). Transformational innovation is further hampered by issues affecting many of today’s colleges and universities: low engagement from faculty overloaded with diverse demands, funding constraints, and increasing demands for accountability from students and government.

Notwithstanding these challenges, a large-scale blended learning project, initiated in the Faculty of Arts and Science at a traditional, medium-sized university in 2011, has successfully transformed the student learning experience and is starting to positively influence the institution’s academic culture. The initiative involves high-enrolment introductory lecture courses being redesigned into blended models using evidence-based approaches, and includes 14 courses in subjects from the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities, and close to 10,000 student enrolments. Aimed at enhancing student engagement and improving student learning by focusing classroom time on active and collaborative learning and replacing some of the passive lecture components with online learning activities (Garrison & Vaughn, 2008), data from a longitudinal research study comparing student engagement in the traditional and blended versions of each course indicate statistically significant improvements in engagement scores in all of the blended models.

Using the blended learning initiative as a case study, this presentation employs the Henderson et al. (2011) change model to examine the strategies that have been used to minimize the barriers encountered with the implementation of a large-scale innovation within a traditional institutional environment. Henderson’s four-quadrant framework for facilitating educational change encompasses (1) dissemination and implementation of curriculum and pedagogy, (2) developing reflective teachers, (3) enacting policy, and (4) developing shared vision.

The presentation will open with an overview of the project and the institutional context, and an orientation to the Henderson change model. Using the Henderson framework as a lens, the presentation will explore the structural and operational obstacles to large-scale institutional change, and examine the community perspective, identifying the challenges of buy-in from faculty members, students and institutional administrators. In each case, strategies for minimizing or circumventing these barriers will be presented, together with a critical commentary on their success. For example, in the blended initiative, the potential challenge of sustaining the innovations in a redesigned course when a new instructor is assigned to teach the course has been mitigated through the development of two policies, one requiring the home department to approve the new blended version at the outset and to agree to offer it in that form for at least five years, and the other a curricular policy that formalizes the course as a blended model in the academic calendar (Henderson quadrant 3, enacting policy). The details of these policies will be presented and their effectiveness discussed.

Participants at this session will learn about the challenges experienced by a large-scale institutional initiative, and will become familiar with the Henderson 2011 framework for facilitating change. They will gain insight into effective strategies for minimizing barriers to innovation, and will be encouraged to consider how these may be applicable to their own transformational projects and institutional environments. At the start of the session participants will be invited to pair up and identify the main barriers to innovation at the own institutions, after which these will be shared with the group. During the presentation they will be asked to reflect on the applicability of strategies to their own environments. At the conclusion, they will then have the opportunity to raise the obstacles they face, suggest possible solutions, and engage in an interactive group discussion of potential success strategies.

Garrison, D.R., & Vaughan, N.D. (2008). Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

Henderson, C., Beach, A., & Finkelstein, N. (2011). Facilitating change in undergraduate STEM instructional practices: An analytic review of the literature. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(8), 952-984.

Mehaffy, G.L. (2012). Challenge and Change [online]. EDUCAUSE Review Online, 47(5),

Slide presentation
Handout with Henderson model and sample strategies