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How Removing Silos Supports Institutional Growth and Diversity

AUDIO | How Removing Silos Supports Institutional Growth and Diversity
If institutions commit to improving processes and reducing silos, they will be able to offer more options, attract a wider group of students and grow.

The following interview is with Dave King, associate provost of outreach and engagement at Oregon State University. In a recent Q&A with The EvoLLLution, King outlined his Spectrum of Access concept, describing how an institution can use its content to meet a wide array of student demands. In this interview, he expands on the value of the Spectrum of Access concept, and shares his thoughts on the importance of operational efficiency to successfully meet student needs and support the growth of the institution.

1. How does serving a diversity of students across the ‘spectrum of access’ impact an institution’s relative market potential?

These days, you have to go where the learners are. Our goal with trying to create a more seamless Spectrum of Access was to provide a granular approach for students so they could find what they want when they want it. That’s the old adage that has come from online access; you get what you want when you want it.

Across the Spectrum, you should be able to find access to the kinds of things that meet your needs as a learner.

2. What are the biggest challenges administrators face when it comes to developing a range of programming in a subject area to meet the diversity of needs across the Spectrum of Access?

There are two major challenges we face. One is cultural. At one end of that Spectrum — on the noncredit, extension, continuing ed side — if you have programming that’s evolved there and then you take a look at the [other] side  — with credit-based undergraduate and graduate degree programs — you have a huge cultural difference between the people who provide and develop those kinds of programming.

One of our biggest issues is: how do we share effectively across [these spaces]? How does that module created in a credit course translate into a continuing ed course?

Creating a seamless kind of approach is the first step in that direction.

3. How does this inability impact an institution’s capacity to serve a wide variety of students?

It just means you have to sit down and take it from a very open and transparent approach. You can’t just assume it’s going to happen, you have to manage it, you have to help people recognize the value proposition of their part of the enterprise [and show that it] matches the value proposition of the other parts of the enterprise. Once you start showing the similarities and continuities that are created across those lines, then you get people able and willing to step up but it’s a very actively managed process. It doesn’t just happen on its own.

4. How would improving the efficiency of the course and certificate program development process help to improve an institution’s capacity to expand its offerings?

Immediately there are two sides of it. One, there’s the technical side and part of this is common ways of viewing learning objectives, common platforms — or at least platforms similar enough so they can intersect with each other. Common technical approaches are a part of it.

The other side of it is actually helping people see you can build from the basics up to a more technical and sophisticated end of the learning experience by using modules. I talked about culture before, and there’s a whole lot of “not invented here” mentality in higher education. Just because I create a learning module on, let’s say, how a plant takes up nitrogen, does that mean some biology instructor across campus is going to say, “Oh yeah. I can use that in my class”? Not unless you sit down with them and help them understand how this modular approach actually improves their abilities to teach students and learners in the broadest sense possible.

5. Is there anything you’d like to add about the changes an institution can make to its operational efficiencies to allow more students along the spectrum of access to be served by that school?

We just have to approach it in as collaborative, interactive and coordinated of a fashion as possible. There are a lot of silos in institutions like ours, whether it’s the silos of undergraduate education or in continuing ed on another side. I’m not a big fan of silos, but I recognize silos have value, they help money flow, they help communication flow, but those silos have to be much more porous than they are right now. This seamless approach means they flow across silos. It takes leadership at the top as well as the grassroots level to realize we’ll take advantage of silos when they have value to us and then we’ll make them more porous and more able to cross over from one to the other when we can provide significant value to the learners.

This interview has been edited for length.

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