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Twelve Things We Heard at the Innovations Conference

The National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) recently attended the first League of Innovations conference held in-person since March 2020 in Tempe, Arizona. CTC staff delivered two breakout sessions – one on implementing the BILT (Business and Industry Leadership Team) model to energize a program’s relationship with employers and one on sharing best practices for hosting successful faculty professional development events. You can download the presentation slides here.

We also spent a good deal of time attending other breakout sessions and keynote presentations. Here are some highlights of what we saw and heard…

* Practice “hallway politics” and take a moment to talk with your meeting attendees before the meeting starts so everyone gets on the same page. Sometimes you may need to rally support in advance if you’re trying to make a case for some project or initiative.

Photo of the outdoor hotel courtyard - with palm trees - that hosted the March 2023 Innovations conference.

* Many college “reform movements” focus on strengthening student services, improving delivery formats, or adjusting financial aid plans. What often gets missed are efforts to improve the quality of teaching and learning. Faculty professional development is essential. Not only do teachers need training on how to teach better, but administrators in charge of providing faulty training need help doing their job as effectively as possible.

* The best leaders are often those who are open minded and admit that they don’t know everything.

* One of the biggest factors in boosting completion rates is building relationships with students. This includes simple practices like learning (and using) student names. Faculty can also set up group office hour appointments and invite three students at a time for a ten-minute meet and greet meeting. The point is to make clear that the students matter and the instructor wants them to succeed.

* Don’t create unintentional barriers on your program webpage. Important information should be easy to find and access. Avoid asking the user to click through several screens to get to what he/she needs. Find out where your traffic is the highest and put important links there.

* Videos should be two minutes or less. If you have 30 minutes of content, it’s better to chunk those into smaller videos.

* Calling it “office hours” can make students think their instructor is busy working. They may avoid “bothering” faculty. One school changed the name to “student time” to make those office hours seem more welcoming.

* One school implemented an AI-powered chatbot and saw huge success connecting to students who wouldn’t respond to email or traditional text messages. Because academic language can be a turnoff, students worked with the AI to teach it how to sound more like students. In addition, the chatbot was used to get real-time feedback to simple text surveys – the school was shocked to learn at the high level of food insecurity among students and took quick steps to address that need.

* Many students prefer emails and texts to phone calls and in-person meetings. Some particularly prefer the anonymity of texts if the questions they’re asking seem embarrassing.

* Rather than kill an idea as soon as it’s suggested, let it “live” for six months. Work on it, design it, think about how it might work. Once six months pass, then you can decide what to do with it.

* Too many schools take pride in the number of applicants they reject. There’s often a feeling that a school can’t be successful and prestigious if it’s also too accessible. One university took steps to eliminate calculus as a barrier to engineering degrees. The president opposed turning away passionate, committed, creative students who wanted to change the world just because they didn’t do well in calculus.

* Faculty should “create moments that matter” between their students and foster strong connections. If a student has a friend in the class, they’ll attend more frequently.

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