Contact: Susan Chilcott (202) 478-4661

Washington, D.C. The American Association and State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the University of Central Florida (UCF) have received a $250,000 grant from the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) competition. The grant will fund the AASCU/UCF proposal, Expanding Blended Learning Through Tools and Campus Programsan initiative designed to expand adoption of blended learning to 20 participating AASCU member institutions through the development of a Blended Learning Toolkit.
Based on proven best practices that have been successfully implemented by the University of Central Florida, the toolkit will include strategies for blended course design and delivery; open educational resource blended course models in composition and algebra; assessment and data collection protocols; and train the trainer materials and workshops.  In addition to distributing the toolkit and course materials to its members, AASCU will use its networks and conferences to work with the 20 collaborating institutions on blended learning implementation.

We are pleased to join with the University of Central Florida, an AASCU member, in the leadership of this pioneering project on course re-design, said George Mehaffy, AASCUs vice president for academic leadership and change.   We are particularly excited about the participation of 20 of our AASCU campuses in this initiative.  Ten of the campuses will be individual participants, while an additional 10 have created multi-institutional partnerships in three states.

Mehaffy noted that this course re-design project grows out of AASCUs Red Balloon Project, which is an effort to re-imagine undergraduate education.  At a time of enormous challenge in higher education, this project is one more way that AASCU institutions are working to ensure that more Americans have both access and success in higher education, said Mehaffy.

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the NGLC seeks to improve college completion by supporting the sustainable adoption-at-scale of successful technology-enabled products, projects or service-based solutions in various challenge areas related to improving student learning, engagement and success. Of the 600 proposals submitted during the initial call, 50 were invited to submit full proposals and 29 were selected for funding. The project will officially launch on April 8, 2011, and will be completed in a one-year period.

All NGLC grants are managed by EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association dedicated to advancing higher education through the promotion of the intelligent use of information technology. For more information about the Next Generation Learning partnership, visit http://nextgenlearning.org/the-program/partners.

List of Collaborating Institutions:
Collaborating institutions are as follows: Columbus State University (Ga.); Fayetteville State University (N.C.); Grambling State University (La.); Harris-Stowe State University (Mo.); Indiana University Kokomo; Lincoln University of Missouri; Missouri Southern State University; Missouri State University; Northwestern State University of Louisiana; St. Cloud State University (Minn.); Southeast Missouri State University; Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi; The College at Brockport, State University of New York; Thomas Edison State College (N.J.); Troy University (Ala.); University of Maine at Fort Kent; University of Missouri-St. Louis; University of North Alabama; University of South Alabama; and Winona State University (Minn.).


AASCU is a Washington-based higher education association of nearly 420 public colleges, universities and systems whose members share a learning- and teaching-centered culture, a historic commitment to underserved student populations and a dedication to research and creativity that advances their regions economic progress and cultural development.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Red Balloon Project and Course Redesign

As I go around the country talking about the Red Balloon Project, I become increasingly convinced that two things need to be at the heart of our work:  a focus on learning outcomes, and a focus on course redesign.  In this note, I want to focus on course redesign.

Carol Twigg has demonstrated to power of course redesign in the NCAT work over the past ten years or so.  The results of the first group of 30 institutions were striking.  Twenty of the 30 courses had increases in student learning outcomes (the other 10 showed no significant difference), an average of 40% in cost reduction, and increases in student satisfaction and retention.  In her work, Carol has identified 6 different models of course redesign.  Clearly most of her work has been with large enrollment classes so redesign in other setting may not yield such dramatic results.  And there are probably many other models of course redesign beyond the 6 types that Carol identifies.

I’m probably most intrigued by the blended model that has been done so well by our partners, the University of Central Florida.  The blended model moves a portion of the coursework from face-to-face to the web.  A recent meta-analysis by the U.S. Department of Education found that on-line instruction is marginally better that face-to-face but that blended courses yield the best results.  That’s not surprising when you think about it.  Learning, after all, is a social activity most of the time.  I think the need for human contact is enormous.  Faculty in face-to-face settings get to respond to confusion or errors, encourage and motivate, and put a human face on the enterprise.  Yet web-enabled portions of a course, when designed well, will allow exploration and individualization that is often not found in a classroom.

What’s intriguing to me is if you take the concept of blended one step further.  Let’s say you build a blended learning course with 50% of the time face-to-face, and 50% web-enabled.  Once you remove a portion of the course from the hands-on control of the faculty member, what’s to prevent several faculty, at the same institution or anywhere in the world, from working together to build a much more powerful learning environment for the online portion, and then sharing the result with the other collaborators?  That does several things, it seems to me.  First, it would harness much greater human talent than one faculty member could provide.  It might create a much more robust, engaging collection of materials and activities.  Furthermore, when a faculty member no longer has to do all of the work of designing and collecting materials, they might be freed up to spend more time with students who need assistance.  They might also have time to collaborate with other conducting research on how students learn most effectively, which materials are the best at motivating or engaging students, etc.  They could participate in scholarly work about teaching and learning, in collaboration with others.  They might develop new rubrics for assessing learning outcomes.

I think the idea of blended course has the possibility of transforming higher education as we know it.  That’s probably why the Gates Foundation initiated the Next Generation Learning Challenges Project.  We’re currently in the final proposal development process (having survived the first cuts from 600 to 50 proposals), working on blended learning with 9 individual institutions and three statewide projects involving multiple institutions (Minnesota 2 institutions; Alabama 3 institutions;  and Missouri, 6 institutions).  One of the core challenges in blended courses is how to account for and make accountable faculty time.  I know many faculty members who would see the freed up time from the course as an opportunity to collaborate with others.  But I also know people who would see the reduction in class meeting time to simply reduce their workload.  The other key to making blended courses work is a good assessment of learning outcomes.  Without measuring rigorously and being confident of the learning outcomes, blended learning could be simply a way to reduce both faculty and student time, with no appreciable advantage in outcomes. That would be a tragedy for all of us.

Posted in New Models for Course Design

Guest Blogger- Burck Smith, StraighterLine

From time to time, I plan on inviting people with innovative ideas to prepare blogs that I can post to my blog site.  In this age of challenge and change, I think it would be good to hear from people outside the academy about innovation and new ideas.

The following entry comes from Burck Smith, one of the “Edupreneurers” (as Anya Kamenetz, who wrote DIU_U, calls them).  Burck started a company called Smarthinking, which provides tutoring services to higher education.  Unlike that company, which essentially augments the work of colleges and universities, his latest venture, StraighterLine, challenges the status quo.  I thought readers might like to understand what motivated Burck to create his latest company.

From Burck Smith, StraighterLine:

“What does it cost to deliver a college course? What do colleges charge for that course? Finding cost data is surprisingly hard to do. Through the National Center for Academic Transformation’s Course Redesign program, some of this information for large enrollment courses can be found. Using their data and acknowledging that this isn’t an exact study of all costs, the direct instructional cost to deliver a large enrollment course is about $100 per student. For these courses, most colleges receive between $2,000 and $3,000 in revenue. This includes tuition, fees and state support. The difference between the two – call it profit, surplus, fund balance, overhead – supports other functions of the college. Students residing at that college may think that this is entirely reasonable. However, students not residing at that college are effectively subsidizing all of the non-academic things that others are enjoying. For online students and commuter students that realize limited benefit from this massive overhead, colleges are dramatically over-pricing courses.

Currently, most colleges price their distance education courses at the same rate or even higher than their face to face courses. Those who believe that they are not overcharging students might argue that the “costs” of the college experience cannot be captured in the per-course costs, that the sequence of courses – the program – is greater than the sum of its parts. Indeed, higher education’s entire regulatory and financing structure is based on this assumption. While this may be true for some programs, it is at odds with a college’s willingness to accept transfer credits for individual courses. It’s also at odds with the rapid growth of student “swirling” and the recognition of alternative ways to get college credit like dual enrollment, prior learning assessment, StraighterLine and others. If the cost and value of an education is mostly to be found in the college environment rather than the individual courses, then that should not be able to be standardized and “traded” like transfer credit.

Others might argue that these cost numbers do not include course development costs and other elements that push course costs up. Undoubtedly, there are instances where colleges have invested a tremendous amount in course materials and technological infrastructure and feel that these expenses must be recouped. However, for almost all of the courses delivered online, there is no need to rebuild online courses from scratch. Online courseware is infinitely replicable and, with the growth of “cloud” computing, all necessary systems can be delivered and hosted by 3rd parties. Lastly, even with significant expenses, the amortization of these expenses across a far larger student body reduces the appropriate per-student allocation to a small fraction of the total revenue.

Another argument is that, if online courses are so much cheaper to deliver, why haven’t we seen price competition among colleges? Wouldn’t colleges have an incentive to price their courses lower to attract students to their programs? While this would undoubtedly be true in a well-functioning market, higher education is not a well-functioning market. Often, prices are set by legislatures rather than the market. Even with pricing flexibility, the market is profoundly distorted by government subsidies, government credit and grants that makes students less responsive to price, and regulatory structures (accreditation, articulation and financial aid) that discourage students from shopping for better prices. For instance, if a student finds the same course for less at another college, the student can’t use his or her federal financial aid to enroll in that course. The student must use out-of-pocket expenses – a significant barrier for cash-strapped students. Even if the student does enroll, the student must be sure that the course will transfer back to the original institution. These policies – institution focused financial aid and patchwork articulation – are supported by an accreditation system that only reviews full degree programs rather than individual courses.

Apple, previously a computer maker, now lets users purchase music by the song. Google and Craigslist have seized the most profitable portions of the newspaper industry. Netflix has caused industry-giant Blockbuster to declare bankruptcy. Almost all information and communication industries have been characterized by the hallmarks of disruption – plummeting prices, product disaggregation and unknown providers rapidly asserting dominance using a new business model. However, higher education prices continue to rise, the form of education remains the same, and new entrants are few and far between. One of the first tenets of market disruption is that existing providers NEVER disrupt themselves. Higher education is governed by a legacy regulatory structure that has codified inherent conflicts of interest in industry regulation – where the revenue and staffing for accreditation comes from those being regulated – and individual action – where colleges both deliver learning and assess its value. As recipients of taxpayer dollars, will colleges see themselves as stewards of students and allow equivalent credit for equivalent courses? Or, will colleges invoke arbitrary quality standards to prevent price competition and preserve their narrow business interests?”

Burck Smith
CEO, StraighterLine

Posted in Uncategorized

Scale: A Powerful Competitive Edge

In my past post, I raised three concerns about the growing significance of for-profit universities: their ability to invest large amounts of capital upfront, the ability to pay high salaries and attract human talent, and their ability to wield political influence.  Yet I realized that my list of three was incomplete; I need to add a fourth concern, the issue of scale.

As the focus on learning outcomes become stronger, we face increasing scrutiny.  There is a growing expectation that we can demonstrate significant learning outcomes.  The problem with that expectation is that we have never paid enough attention to how students actually learn.  That sounds ironic, given that we are an industry more than a thousand years old.  But at many different levels – program, institution, state or national – we have not been systematic or rigorous enough about what are the most effective ways to increase student learning outcomes.  The reality is that we mostly have a large number of individual trials underway, in individual classrooms, with little in the ways of controls, experiments, or data about the effects of specific learning interventions, on specific populations of students, with certain materials, under certain circumstances.  In medicine, it would be akin to a series of physicians who try out certain approaches and medicines but never talk to anyone else, or have the slightest idea about what actually works, aside from their own idiosyncratic experiences.  So we are ill prepared (no pun intended) for the scrutiny that is coming our way about student learning outcomes.  We are also not prepared, should such a scrutiny reveal less than stellar gains, to how and what to change to improve outcomes.

But that situation may be about that change.  As the for-profit universities attract more and more students, and control of processes is available to them, scale starts to become possible for them in ways not possible for individual public institutions.   Bror Saxeberg, Chief Learning Officer at Kaplan, Inc., reports that he told the president of Kaplan University when he was hired that he wanted to do experimentation on learning outcomes, using 1,000 randomized trials with at least 1,00 students in each trail, each year.  While he indicates that he’s not there yet, his goal is probably not farfetched, particularly with more than a million students enrolled in Kaplan courses worldwide.

The largest of the for-profit universities, like Kaplan with more than a million students, and the University of Phoenix with almost 500,000 students, have the enormous advantage of scale.  They can test learning outcomes using different strategies.  They can use different software programs and monitor results. They can aggregates results across individual courses. They can disaggregate data by student type.  And they can experiment and test in circumstances that are reasonably similar, as they control the curriculum and the teaching practices.

So how do individual AASCU institutions compete without the apparent advantage of scale?  Two ideas come quickly to mind.  The first is to develop scale by cross-institutional collaboration.  AAASCU schools in a state, in a system, or even in a region might work together to build scale.  The Red Balloon Project is seeking to develop scale by linking efforts of different campuses across the country, on different issues and topics, serving in effect as an intake and distribution center for data about student learning success.  That effort, while only just underway and in its infancy, could provide some larger insights and understanding of teaching learning processes.

Within that collaboration, we need to encourage much more research on what works and why.  Again, collaboration between and among institutions could facilitate such work.  Sadly, that idea has already been thought of, at least at the institutional level, a long time ago.  It simply wasn’t acted upon.  In l933, a committee of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) commented:  “…if even a small portion of the ingenuity and persistence which are now being expended on research of the usual type in American colleges and universities could be deflected . . . toward research into the results of their own teaching, the improvement in the general standards of collegiate instruction might be considerable”

American Association of University Professors. 1933. Report of the Committee on College and University Teaching. AAUP Bulletin 19 (5, section 2): 7–122.

Universities could not only encourage and facilitate such research cooperatives but could set up repositories of research results and journals to make the findings available to a wider audience.

A second way to build scale might be to work with publishers who are now developing substantially more sophisticated learning tools.  They have an advantage of scale which individual institutions do not have.  Partnerships between publishers and universities might be in the best interest of both parties.

Whatever else happens, I predict that the focus on learning outcomes is not going away, especially as tuition skyrockets.  Students, parents, and policy makers all wonder more and more if what students are paying for is worth the cost.  I predict that the most successful campuses will understand the imperative to demonstrate results, and will figure out ways to increase student learning outcomes, using collaboration, critical partners, and other approaches.

Posted in Red Balloon General Thoughts, Uncategorized

Participating AASCU Red Balloon Campuses

A new page has been added to the blog called “Participating Campuses.” To view current AASCU Red Balloon campuses you can click on the header above or go to Participating Red Balloon Campuses.


Posted in Uncategorized

For-Profit Universities

For-profit universities have been around a long time.  What is it about them now that creates a greater concern?

For many years, for-profit universities were the Rodney Dangerfields of higher education.  They were the trade schools, the certificate programs, and whatever else.  They were always viewed as second class.  Despite huge changes, they are still viewed with some suspicion.  They still struggle, as Rodney Dangerfield did, to get respect.  But things are changing, and changing fast.

I have four reasons to worry about the growing influence and power of the for-profit world of higher education.

First, they have money to put upfront to create programs, capital that the public sector can only dream about.  When John Katzman approached the University of Southern California about a partnership to offer USC’s MAT degrees nationwide, he brought to the table $ 20 million that he raised from venture capitalists.  Being able to start a single program with $ 20 million dollars is far beyond the capacity of most of our institutions.  Similarly the University of Phoenix invested $ 15 million in a writing program to assess freshman composition essays.  Our institutions could never imagine having those kinds of resources to invest in advance in specific programs or processes.

Second, their money is starting to attract some substantial human talent.  Bror Saxeberg, the recently-hired Chief Learning Officer at Kaplan University, was a Rhodes Scholar, has a Ph.D in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School.  Will the resources of the for-profit universities begin to build substantial human talent by drawing away talented people from the not-for-profit sector?

Third, money in the United States means power, particularly to lobby at both the state and federal levels for changes in public policy.  In an era when it seems like no one wants to pay taxes, and the Republicans are in an increasingly powerful position in the Congress and in statehouses, lobbying efforts by the for-profit university sector will likely be more successful than ever before.  At the same time, public universities have failed to articulate adequately their unique role as public institutions.  Public universities have failed to adequately explain their capacity to go beyond career preparation and contribute to the public good.  Ironically, for-profit universities are becoming public universities by another name.  Already the largest recipient of Pell Grants is the University of Phoenix, which receives more than a billion dollars a year from that single federal program, and that doesn’t count the guaranteed loan programs that also are in effect another federal subsidy.  Without the federal and state support systems, I suspect entrepreneurs would be much less interested in the for-profit university business.
Fourth, for-profit universities can react with lightning speed to changes in economy, student needs, or other conditions.  They have no tenure, no shared governance, no limitations imposed by long practice or hallowed traditions.  They can start and stop programs quickly, move programs from place to place, and react immediately to changing market conditions.

The rapid growth and rise in the influence of for-profit universities has been noteworthy and yet, the Rodney Dangerfield problem still exists.  I predict that the real disruption will come when a for-profit university is established which has a brand name and instant credibility, such as Google University or New York Times University.  If such a university is created, and can also prove that it can create powerful learning outcomes at the same or lower costs than public universities, that will be a game-changer.

Of course, many of the best known public institutions will remain powerful, in part a function of reputation, a strong and politically-connected alumni base, and a strong endowment.  But for many public institutions that are less well-funded and endowed, with a lesser reputation, the for-profit university sector will likely pose a greater challenge in the years ahead.

Posted in Red Balloon General Thoughts

My Visit to Dalton State College

A week before last, I visited Dalton State College in northwest Georgia.  I had a chance to make two different presentations, meet with the academic leadership team, and see some of the campus.  It was a great visit.  There, like elsewhere, I found concern about the future, particularly with the impact of potential loss of funding and rapid changes in technology on the educational enterprise.  Yet there was a real spirit among the faculty and administrators I talked with.

One of the most memorable moments of the day was during the second presentation when we were talking about the need for 21st century skills.  I made the comment that in all of the surveys and reports from groups like the Business Roundtable, National Association of Manufacturers, Chamber of Commerce, and others about college graduates and workforce needs, there were few complaints about students’ content knowledge.  For example, you don’t see in one of those reports or hear a comment like:  “She simply doesn’t know enough biology” or “He doesn’t understand Accounting well enough.” Apparently employers feel like colleges are doing a good job of educating for content.  Instead, the reports from employers express concern about the lack of skills needed for the modern workplace:  working together collaboratively, working with people who are different from you, organizing to get something done, communicating effectively in spoken and written language, and skills like that (which, by the way, are also civic skills, challenging some who would say that we don’t have time to prepare people for careers and citizenship simultaneously).  In the Q & A, I wondered if there were ways that our instruction could be organized to produce more results focused on these 21st century job skills.

A student in the audience raised his hand.  He essentially said that he didn’t really need any expertise himself; he could simply hire talented people.  He went on to say that he had been disappointed so far in his classes.  He said something to the effect that nothing that he had learned would help him earn a dollar.

I took away two reflections from those comments, both that I’m still thinking about.  The first was this student’s apparent rejection of concepts of expertise.  I guess it’s easy to think that with content at your fingertips (literally), you don’t really have to know very much.  Yet that’s a terrifying idea.  Expertise, at least from my perspective, isn’t going away simply because I can find out things in a nanosecond.  I think we’ll still need people with vast knowledge, and equally important, with perspective, nuance, and judgment.  But in the networked world of the 21st century, solitary expertise will often, I suspect, give way to collaborative expertise.  That’s why I think we must work extra hard to make sure that our students have knowledge and understanding, but equally important, also have the interaction skills to work in highly collaborative, networked environments.

The second thought I had was that this student reminded me of an important student perspective to keep in mind.  Like so many others, this student sees education is very instrumental ways.  For him, and countless others, students go to college to get a job.  Given the increasingly high cost of college, maybe that’s not only understandable but necessary.  The idea of learning for its joy, learning for learning’s sake, probably sounds pretty quaint to many.  As we think about re-designing undergraduate education, I wonder if there’s a way to both honor a student perspective (one shared by many parents) about the need for career preparation, and yet help them move beyond that very narrow view of college.

Posted in George's Campus and Conference Visits

The Role of Faculty in a Red Balloon Era

One of the topics that came up while I was at Fresno was how faculty members respond to changing course designs and new delivery strategies.  As you can imagine, some of the changes are unsettling to many.  But one of the core issues I heard about was the perception that changes in course design and delivery would reduce the centrality of a faculty member’s role.  Some of the response to changes would probably be categorized as worry, but for a few, there probably is suspicion or even paranoia.  I heard one person say that they thought the move to on-line courses was an attempt to reduce the number of faculty, and maybe have something like a “super faculty member” on one of the CSU campuses providing lectures to all of the campuses.

From my perspective, course redesign and Red Balloon changes are not about reducing the centrality of the role of faculty; indeed, it‘s just the opposite.  Instead of faculty engaged in work that can be done using technology (which is inevitably routine work), faculty are freed up to focus more of their time on students and student learning.  My own phrase for this is: faculty will devote less time to delivering courses, and more time to designing learning environments for students (and some of those learning environments, I suspect, will not have faculty present at all).  I suspect that what we’ll see is faculty involved in new roles.  I think we’ll still see some faculty members involved in delivering instruction but other faculty members will be involved in designing learning environments, managing other instructors, analyzing learning outcome data, and other largely newer faculty roles.  In my presentation, I predict that two things will dominate the change agenda in higher education:  the focus on student learning outcomes, and changes in faculty roles.  Having said that, however, I think that faculty members, as both content and pedagogical experts, have to be at the heart of any new configuration of course design and delivery.

For me, the question is about changing roles for faculty members, not eliminating them from the educational process.  Take another profession, health care.  Despite rapid changes in the use of technology, and changes in culture of health care delivery, the core role of physicians has not diminished; indeed, the role of physicians has grown increasingly important.  But few would argue that their role has remained the same.  I recently saw the PowerPoint slides from a presentation entitled “Higher Education and the Future of American Health Care” by Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., President and CEO, Association of American Medical Colleges (Washington, D.C., November 2, 2010).  In the presentation, Kirch describes “An Emerging Culture for Health Care” as moving from:

1.      Hierarchal to Collaborative

2.      Autonomous to Team-Based

3.      Competitive to Service-Based

4.      Individualistic to Mutually Accountable

5.      Expert-centered to Patient-centered

That list of changes to the culture seems oddly familiar.  I believe that the pressures of the 21st century will bring dramatic changes to the culture of higher education, and increasingly, the changes described by Dr. Kirch will be some of the changes we experience in the academy as well.  Yet changing roles is a far cry from eliminating roles.

Posted in George's Campus and Conference Visits, Red Balloon General Thoughts | 1 Comment

How to Handle Critics

During my visit to Fresno State, I met with the Fresno Red Balloon Steering Committee. They are a wonderful group, filled with thoughtful, passionate, and committed individuals. We had a great set of conversations, one when I got to campus, and one after the launch event on Friday morning. They asked some very thoughtful questions that I’m not sure I answered very well on the spot. So in a slightly more reflective moment, I’ll try to respond again.

As a follow-up to the previous blog entry, I am going to answer a second question.  This question is “How do we handle critics and the nay-sayers?” Those folks exist, of course, on every campus. In fact, as faculty, we are trained to be critics. But it’s often unnerving to be on the receiving end of the criticism. Here are some simple ideas, most of which you have probably already thought of, for dealing with critics.

1. Listen Well
Our instinct is to ignore or blow off the critics. But I would urge you to listen well. They often have important things to say. Sometimes they are misinformed, which is always nice to know, as you can then work to correct the misperception. Sometimes they are right, in which case you need to listen to them to adjust your approach, your strategy, indeed your project. Sometimes, even if they object, they represent a substantial sentiment across campus, and knowing and understanding that sentiment means that you can work to address that concern.

2. Bring Them Into the Process
Sometimes critics are created by exclusion, leaving individuals with no role other than that of critic. Is there a way to engage them in the project in some meaningful way? Can they take on a leadership role? Can they “own” a part of the initiative?

3. Ignore Them
At some point, if steps 1 and 2 have been tried, it may be time to simply ignore the criticism. It doesn’t take the entire campus to make significant progress. Indeed, most of the change we see on campuses comes from a relatively small group of passionate, committed leaders. It doesn’t take 100%, or even 50% of a campus, to make change. Most of the time, the actual number of participants in any change process is quite small.

Posted in George's Campus and Conference Visits, Red Balloon General Thoughts | Leave a comment

Initiating and Sustaining Campus Change Initiatives

During my visit to Fresno State, I met with the Fresno Red Balloon Steering Committee.  They are a wonderful group, filled with thoughtful, passionate, and committed individuals.  We had a great set of conversations, one when I got to campus, and one after the launch event on Friday morning.  

They asked some very thoughtful questions that I’m not sure I answered very well on the spot.  So in a slightly more reflective moment, I’ll try to respond again.

The first question was: “How do you launch and sustain an initiative like this?” (in a subsequent blog, I’ll focus on a second question) For this, as for much of the Red Balloon, I draw on our experience with the American Democracy Project (ADP), a civic engagement initiative involving nearly 230 institutions that has lasted for more than 8 years now, with no external funding.   Here are some quick thoughts:

1. Leadership
Clearly campus efforts start with leadership, and that comes in many different ways.  What’s critical is that there is a top down, bottom up model.  Every campus with a successful ADP program has a provost or other senior leader playing a key role.  Yet those same successful campuses also have strong faculty leadership (as we see in the Fresno State Committee).  The launch activity at Fresno demonstrated a keen understanding of leadership.  The president opened the event, signaling his commitment.  The launch also included students, faculty, and various administrators from multiple parts of campus. 

2. Focus
A second feature is focus.  A campus has a lot of things going on at once.  How many of those could be designated as Red Balloon activities?  In ADP, we urged campuses to start with an inventory of existing programs, as a way of identifying potential allies and leaders, and also understanding what is already in place.  As new projects develop, could they be designated as Red Balloon projects?  Another dimension to focus was our urging, in ADP, that campuses not take on too much, but work to make whatever they take on successful.  In that regard, I think an early win is really helpful.

3. Ownership
We gave away our logo, and urged campuses to have local variation for ADP activities.  We didn’t limit what campuses did (it’s hard to insist on certain activities when you don’t have any money to pay for them).  There was no orthodoxy; and we saw a huge range of events, from volunteering to political activism.  What we noticed was that the more people felt ownership, that this was THEIR project, the more they invested in it.  They liked being connected to a national effort, but understandably, they also liked 

4.  Scholarly Approach
Faculty in particular seemed to want, at least in the American Democracy Project, a chance to think about the work in collaboration with others.  So we urged campuses to start campus conversations, using Anne Colby and Tom Ehrlich’s book that came out about that time.  One campus, Western Kentucky University, ordered one of their books for every faculty member, and then hosted a series of conversations (with food, of course).  So is there a book or two that could form the basis for a set of campus conversations?  I’d urge people to read one of the books in the Red Balloon paper.  One of the most interesting, at least to me, is Anya Kamenetz’s book, DIY-U.  For a review of this book go here. There are a number of other books that could be good candidates as well.  

5. Publicity
Fresno seems to have this concept well developed with their elaborate and well thought out efforts to launch this project.  But publicity is helpful not only at the beginning but as the initiative develops.  What are events and activities that can be publicized to help the university community understand the purpose of the project?  How can the publicity garner greater enthusiasm, more participants, and possible even more resources?  Fresno used red balloons in their launch activities, including red balloons on individual name tags.  You also need to celebrate accomplishments, and publicly recognize individuals for their work.

6. Substance
In the end, of course, nothing succeeds like success.  You have to have substantive accomplishments in order to have credibility.  In this regard, early wins are critical.  So are strategic partners, like the Faculty Senate.

In conclusion, these are but a few of the ways that campuses can start and sustain an initiative.  At the heart of this work, of course, is passion.  Finding people with passion about change, and putting them in positions where they can make a difference, and making sure lots of leaders have ownership of the project, are key ways, I think, of creating and sustaining change initiatives on college campuses.  

I welcome your thoughts about additional strategies for creating succcessful change initiatives on college campuses.

As the Red Balloon project continues, watch for more ideas about launching and sustaining change initiatives.  Ginny Horvath, provost at SUNY Fredonia, is organizing a group of provosts to develop a rich collection of ideas about this work.  We’ll make that available as it develops.

Posted in George's Campus and Conference Visits, Red Balloon General Thoughts | 1 Comment