4. Turning point
Only the complexity of our matrix illustrates that the bottom-up approach has its shortcomings. It is simply too much for an individual to cover this all. Sooner or later, a turning point is reached. For positive or negative reasons management gets involved. A positive reason might be that thanks to pilots and experiments and the dissemination of their results, management starts to develop a vision on educational innovation and more specifically a vision on the potential of a certain e-learning system. A negative reason might be that students start complaining about malfunctioning systems, loosing assignments, grading failing to occur, teachers not responding anymore, and in general being confused by the patchwork of online solutions invented by different teachers. Time for management to take their position, indicate the desired development trajectory, and align procedures and allocate budgets to accomplish that.
When implementing an e-learning system in a top-down way, the critical success factors are the sustained commitment of management and the involvement of stakeholders like teachers and students in the process. Expertise in the fields of education, technology and management is required. The average educational institute will not have their rules, regulations, standards and procedures for this type of operations. As far as methods and tools can be found in literature, they are either too fragmented (e.g. only dealing with ICT) or too abstract (e.g. introducing too many new concepts that have no meaning for the stakeholders).
The implementation process cannot be handled as a regular management task. It requires a project organisation with educational, technological and organisational expertise and representatives of the most relevant stakeholders. For this group we developed a dedicated management game, Tactec.
The management game Tactec initially was developed to explore the complex process of implementing electronic commerce. In its essence, however, it is a frame game that can be loaded with a different content. We use it as an exercise by which groups can develop a global implementation plan for an e-learning system, not a fictitious one, but their own. The game or exercise takes half a day and consists of the following steps:
- Stakeholder inventory – During a Tactec session the participants first generate a long list of stakeholders involved in the process. Once they come to about 25 stakeholders, they are asked to reduce this number to the seven most significant ones. This usually results in a very interesting discussion where a common base of concepts is created and people agree on what is important or not. We focus further on the seven stakeholders.
- Role allocation – The participants will be allocated to seven different roles. Each role takes care of one of the stakeholders. They have to guarantee that the stakeholders’ perspective is recognised. Note that they are not “playing” the stakeholder.
- Current situation – Each role summarises the current situation from its stakeholder’s perspective. This results in seven short descriptions (a few keywords is enough). The group will review them for completeness and consistency. Results are written on coloured stickers and sticked to the game board (a large poster).
- Desired situation – The previous step is repeated for the desired situation; i.e. the desired outcome of the implementation process from the perspective of the stakeholder.
- Scenario – Next, the roles will formulate a plausible way to go from the current situation to the desired situation in a sequence of about four activities. This will result in seven scenarios sticked to the game board (see Figure 2). Again the group will review them for internal horizontal consistency.
- Cross-check – Finally, the group will cross-check the whole for consistency and completeness. Maybe activities on one line have to be postponed until certain activities on another line have been completed, i.e. vertical consistency.
Figure 2 – Impression of a TacTec game board
There is nothing wrong with the bottom-up approach. It is a fact of life that in many organisations innovation starts this way. If it is too early to move to a top-down approach management would be wise to foster the bottom-up approach while trying to avoid its pitfalls: tolerate and even stimulate experiments, encourage the exchange of experiences throughout your organisation, offer support and knowledge from an organisational, educational and technical point of view, but let them not convert into business processes.
The main pitfall of the top-down approach is that vision and commitment of management are limited to the first concrete steps. It leaves the organisation confused about what is next. Once again it turns out that participation of the stakeholders is a critical success factor in an implementation process.
8. More information
- Moodle is a free and open source e-learning system that combines an authoring environment with a Learning Management System and a Virtual Learning Environment. For more information:
- Moodle international community at http://moodle.org
- Using Moodle; teaching with the popular open source course management system; 2nd edition; Jason Cole and Helen Foster; O’Reilly Community Press, 2007
- Moodle Administration; an administrator’s guide to configuring, securing, customizing, and extending Moodle; Alex Büchner; PACKT Publishing, 2008.
- The TacTec Game; The Tactics of Electronic Commerce; Pieter van der Hijden; in: Proceedings of the ISAGA 2000 Conference; International Simulation and Gaming Association, Tartu, Estonia, 2001; http://www.sofos.nl/LinkedDocuments/00pvdh_tactec.pdf.
- Ned-Moove (www.ned-moove.nl) stands for Nederlandstalige Moodle Vereniging, the Dutch Moodle Association with members and activities in The Netherlands, Belgium/Flandres and Suriname (South America).
The System Management Matrix is a “spin-off” of UNESCO’s Caribbean Universities Project for Integrated Distance Education (CUPIDE), funded through the Japanese Funds in Trust for Capacity Building (www.cupide.org).