How can we successfully collaborate across institutional silos to implement a promising new technology that can support college students in overcoming barriers to graduation?
College students across the US face many potential barriers to completing their degrees, from being unable to afford tuition and housing, to failing courses, to experiencing mental health challenges, to navigating confusing administration processes, to battling to meet degree requirements. The impacts of Covid have significantly amplified these barriers. Higher education institutions, supported by the Advising Success Network (ASN), are redesigning their advising to be more holistic and equitable to address these barriers and better support students as they work towards successful graduation.
Chatbots are an exciting new technology that can enhance student advising as a swift communication and data gathering tool. EDUCAUSE (a core partner of ASN) engaged Reos Partners to support a group of three forward-thinking institutions in scaling up their pilot chatbot initiatives and to cultivate a chatbot community of practice (CoP) for knowledge-sharing and peer support.
Scaling chatbot technology is both a technical challenge (clearly defined, solvable by experts), as well as an adaptive challenge (requiring stakeholders to explore new solutions and work in new ways). The chatbot team of each institution had the technical skills to run their pilot initiatives, but with ambitions to serve a larger number of students through expanded chatbot functionality, they realized they needed to take a systemic, collaborative, and experimental approach to address the following questions:
- Who are the students with greatest need we aim to serve and what barriers do they face?
- How might chatbot technology be strategically used to improve the experience of these students?
- How do we engage the necessary departments across our institution to collaborate on designing, implementing, and managing the chatbot to serve these students?
To support the chatbot CoP in answering these questions, we worked closely with EDUCAUSE and their partner University Innovation Alliance to facilitate a series of design workshops and webinars over a seven month period, introducing diverse experts, tools, and best practices from fields such as systems thinking, service design, business strategy, chatbot implementation, project management, and change management.
By the end of the workshop-webinar series, each institution of the CoP came away with:
- Stronger relationships and commitments within their own chatbot team and across the community;
- Clarity around priority needs of their students and key points of the student experience where chatbots could be most impactful;
- Shared understanding of institutional business processes and the necessary cross-departmental coordination needed to implement chatbot technology successfully;
- Clarity on the type of support needed from senior leadership;
- Clarity on cross-departmental governance structures and processes to implement chatbot technology; and
- A clear action plan to move forward.
For many innovators working within complex systems such as higher education, the journey can be a lonely and difficult one. Our chatbot teams found that coming together as a community of practice to share learnings, draw upon collective wisdom, and experiment with new practices was motivating and helpful in moving their work forward.
If you are curious about how Reos can support you to explore new technology solutions to systemic challenges, implement change within complex systems, or to cultivate a changemaker community of practice, feel free to reach out to us.
“I’m feeling that we have reached a milestone with the entire series. It’s a big time commitment and a lot of effort from the facilitators, but we have learned so much. The process has been helpful for us to take a step back and look at the whole picture of the chatbot program on each campus and brainstorm solutions. We should probably duplicate this process to make it much more effective and efficient, not just for chatbot, but for any new initiative, project, or program.”
– Workshop participant
“This engagement with Reos Partners allowed participants to see the adaptive challenges versus only the technical. Tech implementations aren’t just tech challenges. Tech implementations are also culture change implementations! How do I prepare to do this work, and how do I circle back to ensure I have a plan in place to sustain this work if I’m already doing it?”
– Kathe Pelletier, EDUCAUSE
Reos Partners: Jessica Fan, Monica Pohlmann
EDUCAUSE: Kathe Pelletier, Lilly Lavner, Nichole Arbino
University Innovation Alliance: Tiffany Polite
Congratulations to the Scaling Chatbot Community of Practice:
- Arizona State University
- Georgia State University
- University of Central Florida
And thank you to all our experts who contributed to this engagement:
- Elliot Felix, Founder, brightspot strategy
- Debbie Carraway, Director of Information Technology, North Carolina State University
- Juan Garza, Assistant Vice President, Texas A&M University
- Wendy Woodward, Chief Information Officer, Wheaton College
- Tara Hughes, Interim Assistant Director of Student Success Communication and Chatbot, CSU Channel Islands
- Szymon Machajewski, Assistant Director Learning Technologies & Instructional Innovation, University of Illinois Chicago
- Bryan Kujawski, Innovation and Collaboration Specialist, Capella University