3. University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Center for Innovation in Learning and Student Success (CILSS).

Question: How to determine the best-fit model and foster campus-wide engagement?

Challenge it aims to solve: “The (now) president and I realized that we needed some kind of R&D group who can take the best of the ideas for improving learning experiences for students, study those ideas, and implement them in a systematic and continuous way… But we’re still working on what is the right model,” explained Marie Cini, provost at UMUC.

How it works: CILSS partners with the graduate and undergraduate schools to provide A/B-style testing and evaluation of promising academic innovations in order to advise faculty and the institution on where to invest for greatest impact. Measurement of results using metrics such as course completion rates, reenrollment rates, and graduation rates allows the Center to determine recommendations for UMUC investment. Once an initiative is found to be significantly more effective to assist students in learning or to increase retention rates, the concept is implemented by the relevant school more broadly.

Conclusion: The Center for Innovation in Learning and Student Success is not UMUC’s first attempt to develop an academic innovation incubator. Prior attempts suffered from siloed approaches that eventually caused them to stall out. “CILSS, however, is an exemplar of cross-campus collaboration,” emphasizes the report. “Faculty and administrators consider the Center a valued resource. Its director works closely with core faculty and academic support units throughout the research process, cross-pollinates ideas, and shares knowledge widely across campus, both from the Center’s work and from across the industry.”

Takeaway: UMUC describes even this successful model as a continuous work in progress. The Center continues to tweak processes for opportunity identification, expectations regarding turnaround time of the research, research timetables (given the pace of innovation), and its own funding model to enable the hire of additional specialists

4. The University System of Maryland’s Center for Academic Innovation.

Question: How to determine the best-fit model and foster campus-wide engagement?

Challenge it aims to solve: How to execute campus leadership from the Center.

How it works: The Center works to enhance student learning at a lower cost by through campus-level academic innovation initiatives. The Center fosters collaboration among the Academic Innovation leaders at each campus and supports the coordination of R&D efforts. For example, the Center convenes monthly the Academic Transformation Advisory Council at which the Academic Innovation leaders discuss not only individual campus initiatives, but also how to outsource services and distribute resources across each of the campuses, based on institutional strengths, in support of those initiatives (e.g., exploring system-wide CBE and digital badging pilots, asking legal counsel on one campus to share its intellectual property expertise with the other system institutions). In addition, the Center advocates on behalf of the campuses to external stakeholders such as the state of Maryland for policy development in support of academic innovation (e.g., moving beyond the course as the only unit of measure in particular policies).

Conclusion: Since USM is a federated model that values the autonomy of institutions, the Center has a service-orientation toward the campuses instead of a top-down quality.

Takeaway: Consider “convening, cross-pollinating, aggregating issues for effective advocacy, and focusing energy of the campus innovation leaders on collaborative problem-solving around common issues, such as overcoming institutional silos and reexamining campus facilities investments in light of some of the academic innovation initiatives on the table,” says the report. This will show that the campus leadership values leveraging the System rather than resisting System participation.

5. Miami Dade College’s Student Achievement Initiatives.

Question: Academic innovation incubators: Long-term trend or flash-in-the-pan?

Challenge it aims to solve: “Once we have all these innovations in place, do we need to maintain the academic innovation center? Or maintain a reduced version of it? Or dismantle it entirely?” asks Rolando Montoya, president of Miami Dade College.

How it works: Miami Dade College’s Student Achievement Initiatives is a grant-funded unit with a mandate to design an integrated and comprehensive model that increases and accelerates student success and completion across the student life cycle, from early intervention in high school to college admission, onboarding, pathways, and placement. To accomplish this, the Student Achievement Initiatives unit facilitates transformative change by guiding Miami Dade’s decision making through a multi-campus, cross-functional, and cross-disciplinary dialogue among faculty and key staff stakeholders (e.g., recruitment, admissions, student advising, etc.). In approximately three years, the college has accomplished a complete redesign of developmental education, a complete review of all academic policies (e.g., course registration, course transfer, etc.) to remove barriers to completion, and much more.

Conclusion: Miami Dade has hedged its bets on whether dedicated academic innovation units will be a long term solution. Unsure of funding beyond the initial grant period, the college decided to use the external funds to support a special unit staffed by temporary employees. These employees take an institutional-level view and act as internal consultants to promote change and innovation, guide and facilitate the change process, and develop and train faculty and student services staff to continue this work.

Takeaway: Consider ensuring that final decisions remain with permanent institutional faculty and staff, and that all of the resulting knowledge remains within the college. Miami Dade reallocates its own resources for the funding of any structures and positions that must be sustained beyond the grant period (e.g., investments in new student advisor positions, reengineering of current student advisor positions, major technology purchases, etc.).

For more detailed information on these case studies, as well as a list of recommendation on determining innovation incubator value overall, and calls to action for institutional leaders, read the full report here.

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