Implementing a dl emba program at a research university a systems approach
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Implementing A DL EMBA Program at A Research University: A Systems Approach. Jim Suchan Graduate School of Business and Public Policy The Naval Postgraduate School. Goals. Examine factors that influence the successful implementation of EMBA DL Programs

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Implementing A DL EMBA Program at A Research University: A Systems Approach

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Implementing A DL EMBA Program at A Research University: A Systems Approach

Jim Suchan

Graduate School of Business and Public Policy

The Naval Postgraduate School


  • Examine factors that influence the successful implementation of EMBA DL Programs

  • Provide a tool to diagnose difficulties that occur in program implementation and maintenance

  • Surface possible conflicting assumptions about learning, communication, and technology that can undermine appropriate and skillful use of new DL technologies


  • Assumptions about DL EMBAs

  • Technology as an equivocal organizational artifact

  • Organizations as systems that require alignment


  • Instructional routines and norms have grooved and regrooved faculty thinking about effective teaching

  • Implementation of or change in DL technologies can represent major organizational interventions

  • DL technologies are not self-evident artifacts; they can be interpreted in different ways by faculty groups and administrators

  • Organizations are complex systems in which DL technologies are embedded

  • System elements need to be aligned to increase possibility of DL organizational effectiveness

GSBPP Context FactorsTenure Track Faculty

  • Publications in quality refereed journals is of paramount importance

  • Faculty need to secure 1 quarter of funding through reimbursable research projects

  • Teaching is viewed as very important; however, measures of instructional effectiveness are weak

  • DL and residential instruction receive the same rewards; former DL premium has been abolished

  • Significant split in attitude toward and use of DL between tenured, old (pre DL days) faculty and new (relatively young) tech-savvy tenure-track faculty

Interpretive Schemes and DL Technologies

  • Interpretive schemes organize and limit objects and information we attend to and influence how we construct and interpret those objects and information

  • Interpretive schemes function as internal control systems that enable individuals and groups to formulate scripts—standard plots that govern action possibilities

  • Schemes, scripts, and actions generate rules of action—behavioral norms –that can be institutionalized into policy or SOPs

  • Organizational groups develop different interpretive schemes, scripts, and behavioral norms (rules for action) due to job role, task differences, reward systems, information access, and other organizational factors

  • These different schemes and scripts can cause multiple and conflicting interpretations of a new DL technology

DL Interpretative Scheme Model





Rules of Action (Norms)





Interpretation of

DL Technology

Examples of Significance Differences in Interpretive Schemes and DL Technology

Senior Level Administrators: economic lens

  • DL a “student multiplier”

  • Necessary technology to satisfy external stakeholder expectations

  • Means of providing additional resources: Cash cow

  • Essential to appear relevant and cutting edge

    Faculty Members (tenure track): quality of work life

  • Threat to instructional effectiveness due to limited interactivity: knowledge constructed through rich interaction

  • Decreased research time due to increased time spent on instruction

  • About as much fun as “going to the dentist”

  • Tactic to reduce tenure-track positions

Administrator Metaphors to Describe DL

  • “Convert,” “duplicate,” and “translate” F-T-F courses to DL versions

  • Determine cost effective ways to “transfer” knowledge to students in remote locations

  • Find a “conversion algorithm” to “deliver” learning

  • Knowledge and learning viewed as a commodity having market value

  • DL technology viewed as a conduit or pipeline to transfer, carry, or deliver knowledge from faculty to students

Faculty Language to Describe DL

  • DL undermines the “art” of instruction, particularly facilitating and managing case discussion

  • “cold,” “antiseptic,” “abstract” experience: all you’re seeing are dots on a screen

  • DL will push people to lecture and to use PowerPoints; interaction will be compromised

  • DL will “suck time” from research and fundamentally alter the balance between instruction and research

Impact of These Different Interpretations

  • Successful applications of DL technology overlooked (faculty)

  • DL technology shortcomings are overlooked or minimized (administrators)

  • Limited language about understanding and using in different ways the DL technology (both groups)

  • Ineffective conflict leading to breakdowns in listening (both groups)

  • Best faculty talent may not be in the DL “classroom”

Decreasing Differences in Administration and Faculty DL Interpretations

  • Inform faculty about the external environment factors that create the perceived need to explore DL as an instructional option

  • Enable faculty to participate in the sense-making dialogue about the environment, the role of new instructional technology, the capabilities and appropriate uses of the technology, and so on

  • Provide opportunity for groups to voice their DL interpretations and to explore differences and overlaps

  • Examine institutional systems to determine what needs to be done to insure those systems are aligned to support DL programs

Decreasing Differences in DL Interpretation: Organizational Systems Alignment

  • Incentives shape faculty thinking and action

  • Many faculty are risk averse: they dislike feeling helpless and looking like less than an expert

  • Administrators may need to devote significant resources short and mid-term to provide the support and incentives faculty need

  • Providing unique instructional content (e.g. defense management education) to students who could never attend residential classes might represent a common framing of the DL imperative

Organizational Systems Requiring Alignment

  • Reward

  • Resources

  • Technical (Design and Support)

  • Training and Development

  • Measures of Effectiveness

Systems Model












DL Need











Reward System Alignment

  • Is DL instruction more demanding and difficult than residential? If so, by how much?

  • Are the organizational rewards/incentives appropriate for the degree of work, risk, and satisfaction associated with effective DL instruction?

  • Have funding schemes been altered to insure departments have enough resources to provide faculty with release time for course development or additional teaching credit for DL instruction?

  • Is there public recognition for DL instruction, particularly faculty using the technology in novel, creative ways?

  • Do DL rewards complement those for research?

Measures of Effectiveness Alignment

  • Administrator measures


    --number of students enrolled in remote locations --key internal and external stakeholder perceptions

  • Faculty measures

    --interactivity (student –instructor and student-student)

    --student and instructor satisfaction

    --student performance (discussion, role plays, etc.) and learning

    --technical and instructional design support

    --ease of technology use

  • Is there enough overlap in effectiveness measures to provide appropriate resources and rewards?

Technical Support and Faculty DevelopmentAlignment

  • Necessary Assumption: DL instruction is fundamentally different from residential instruction

  • Is skilled technical support immediately available at the instructional and student sites to solve technical problems?

  • Is there instructional design help to enable faculty to make smart decisions about course pacing, establishing communication protocols, discussion management, graphics’ design, etc.?

  • Do faculty get adequate release time to reconceptualize course material, more tightly organize the course, better pace the course, and develop new instructional strategies?

  • Is there adequate support staff to communicate to DL students before the class starts and to provide students with materials during class?

Technical DL Design Alignment

  • Who determines DL design? Do faculty have input about design decisions?

  • What are the pedagogical assumptions that drive design decisions? What are the implicit concepts of learning that inform design decisions?

  • To what extent does design support a wide range of instructional techniques: case discussion, student role plays, dialogue/discussion, and so on?

  • Does DL design support instructor and student satisfaction?

  • What feedback mechanisms are in place to gather faculty and student feedback about design? Is that feedback acted on?

Final Observations

  • Organizational context factors have a significant impact on DL implementation strategies

  • A process needs to be established so that faculty and administrators have common understanding of the need for DL and input into the specific DL technology implemented

  • Administrators should think of their organization as a system and do everything possible to insure that systems are aligned to support DL work

  • Faculty need to recognize that adoption of and experimentation with new technologies is now part of their instructional role

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