Three tips for ‘unbundling’ an aspect of your university services

Submitted by Miranda Prynne on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 01:01
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Building partnerships with ed-tech firms and other providers involves ‘unbundling’ elements of university services to share tasks among all parties. Dawn Gilmore and Chinh Nguyen offer three tips on how to do this successfully
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Higher education is increasingly reliant on ed-tech companies and other partners to enhance services from online course provision to student support. This involves universities “unbundling” core elements of their work – this is the redistribution of tasks from one single provider to different or multiple providers. This is done to cut costs, operate faster or fill skill gaps in a university’s capacity to perform a function. 

We looked at how three Australian universities use partnership models to successfully deliver online courses. Based on what we learned, this blog offers practical advice on “unbundling” teaching to develop effective partnerships.

Three tips for developing a partnership model to ‘unbundle’ teaching roles

Through successful partnerships, universities can access a wider pool of teaching applicants, introduce a free market for teachers and create roles for specific teaching and learning tasks that create a better student experience. They can do all this while reducing teaching demands on research faculty.

But it is not without challenges. Unbundling is often associated with outsourcing, which can make it difficult to get academic buy-in. It can take time to ensure contracted teachers have access to all the tech systems needed to deliver their classes, from the learning management systems to libraries.

Unbundling through a partnership model requires deep engagement and relationship building between the university and partner. In the case of teaching, both parties need to agree on:

1) the baseline characteristics you want to see in your teachers

2) how you will train and evaluate teachers

3) ongoing and regular interactions.  

While every partnership is unique, we consider these three points analogous to three legs of a stool. If one leg is not as strong as the others, the stool will fall over.

1. Agree on the baseline characteristics you want to see in your teachers

At the start of a partnership, it is important for both parties to understand the university’s identity and the courses being delivered. These insights should be used to co-create an ideal teacher profile to recruit for. Consider what characteristics your teachers must have, should have and could have and how you will use this information to collaboratively and quickly rank candidates during the recruitment process.

The simple example below can be used to create a shared understanding between an institution and partner. While most of these characteristics can be gleaned through a written application, testing for a reflective mindset would require carefully constructed questions for the applicants.

Scale

Characteristics

Points allocated by university

Points allocated by partner

Must have

 

Should have

 

Could have

PhD in relevant field

 

 

Reflective mindset

 

 

Teaching experience

 

 

Industry experience

 

 

Online teaching experience

 

 

Total

 

 

2. Agree how you will train and evaluate the teachers

Having agreed the baseline set of characteristics, institutions must work with partners to consider the following

  • How do you want your teachers to deliver your courses?
  • How will you work together to onboard and train the teachers to deliver the courses?
  • How will you evaluate the teachers’ delivery of the courses?
  • How will you reward and recognise the teachers in your community who meet and exceed expectations? How will you train or offboard the teachers in your community who don’t meet expectations?

Be transparent with the teaching community about the answers to these three questions by providing onboarding events, training events and opportunities for feedback and sharing. Consistent messages, training and evaluation for teachers can ensure a consistent learning experience for students. Provide online resources and advice such as these “14 practical tips to help you effectively establish and maintain your online teaching presence, give staff access to short online courses with  training in relevant teaching skills and provide ongoing coaching.

3. Set up ongoing and regular interactions between partners

To govern and ensure the partnership delivers quality services, we recommend three kinds of meetings, with tailored invite lists to ensure the right people are present:

  • Operational updates: These meetings are used to discuss tasks and resolve any issues related the day-to-day running of the service. These meetings should be held most frequently – weekly or fortnightly depending on your operational calendar.
  • Milestone meetings: Consider key milestones in your delivery calendar such as the start of semester, mid-semester break and end of semester and meet to update on the progress of the service. These meetings are markers to discuss timely initiatives such as reflecting on the feedback from the past semester’s course experience survey or deciding on which teachers should be re-engaged or let go.
  • Quarterly updates: Use quarterly updates to discuss and plan how you are meeting or will meet contractual obligations, big picture themes and initiatives, and trends in feedback, enrolments and outcomes. It is important to use this time to celebrate what you have achieved together so far and to set future goals.

The three tips above are framed through the example of unbundling teaching but the same principles apply to all aspects of outsourcing services:

  • setting shared expectations
  • agreeing on a plan  to achieve said expectations
  • and ongoing communication.

For more information on this topic, including examples of pricing and services, read the full research paper: “Unbundling the approach to teaching in online Australian higher education”.

Dawn Gilmore is director of quality & enhancement in the Centre for Academic Quality and Enhancement at RMIT UniversityChinh Nguyen is online programs manager at Curio.

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Building partnerships with ed-tech firms and other providers involves ‘unbundling’ elements of university services to share tasks among all parties. Dawn Gilmore and Chinh Nguyen offer three tips on how to do this successfully