It can be a challenge to talk about buy-in. For starters, it is hard to define. But even when you get into the weeds and implications, you may uncover a lot of “hard truths” about your organization. Maybe leaders do not always put the community or stakeholders first every time. Maybe those in charge of the good spirits and mindsets of students to stimulate intrinsic love for learning just aren’t there for the right reasons, but they are to stay. Maybe the school or learning organization is assuming responsabilities and social roles it should not have, but ended up compelled to. (And likely, seldom appreciated for it.)
People can be tricky.
But at those odd times when you get a clear mind, it turns out there are a few facts we can rely on.
Learning is inherently motivating. This is true of people of all ages and walks of life. Students and teachers too.
An education that empowers and strenghthens confidence is one that aligns with that intrinsic motivation, at least most of the time.
Proper use of technology can catalyze social understanding, progress and communion about ideas, visions and values.
From this point of view, we can see buy-in, as it pertains to learning technology initiatives, as the starting point towards an institutional drive to enhance for the benefit of all, through EdTech.
Georgia Tech faculty has something to say
Faculty-buy in, defined in an at least acceptable way, starts to become a promising factor in the success of learning technologies and other forms of educational innovation. Before more data can accumulate for more rigorous assessment, the case of Georgia Institute of Technology and its online Masters in Computer Science has become the go-to case study, due among other things for its ongoing track of success in many respects:
- Being a successful transition of a highly reputable and accredited CS program into the online realm.
- Becoming the least expensive CS Masters program and still remaining at the top of the ranks.
- Maintaining a strong connection with research centers and leading companies in the highly competitive fields of AI, Data Science and the like.
- Resulting as the most massive program of its kind, without noticeable lowering of quality or any of the previous elements mentioned above.
Reading in depth about the case reaffirms many ideas. Keen attention to detail and intent, stated in ways that enable scrutiny and wise adoption of strategic analytics. Strong partnerships, but overreliant on none.
And of course, an organizational structured designed to be embraced by faculty, but also that could persuade faculty about embracing it. If it sounds like circular logic to you, perhaps you are beginning to understand how conversations work in practice.
Most of us involved in education embrace innovation and experimentation. At the same time it is dangerous to assume that even a decent minority of faculty are adventurers or risk-takers. More often than not data adopt the shape of a story worth of every skepticism.
On interviews for IBL, leaders including David Joyner, Associate Director of Senior Experience, explain how experimentation was a core trait of the program since its inception. This became both a filter and a bar that subsequent instructors felt compelled to pass. It not only guaranteed an organic embrace of the principles and culture at work. It also fostered a sense of collegiality among those who made it through.
Conversations, antidotes to monolithic culture
So coming back to defining "buy-in" and contrasting ideas with practice, there seem to be a few ones at play that have made the experiment, in the eyes of many, longer lasting that it was supposed to.
- Stakeholders are engaged, but there's no democracy. Particularly, no amount of faculty pressure would get rid of the experimental nature of the program.
- Conversations are encouraged in an almost sportslike fashion. Debate with strong facts at hand. Try to convince and recognize when you have been convinced.
- Promote a culture of enrichment. Teaching Assistants are a great example. Their role is not to give answers as much as to connect students to the sources of answers, which very often are other students.
- From a student perspective, the fact that an overriding wisdom is present, keeping crowd choices under control, could in fact be a memorable element of the learning experience that permeates into the day-to-day activities, as well as the relationships enduring past the degree.