The Welsh University in the UAE, being a local affiliate of the main university located in the UK, was recently tasked by the Chancellor to perform a major transformation from a traditional to a digital educational model. It is expected that this change will be implemented in one year, which means that physical classes will be replaced with online classes so that the UAE affiliate can operate as a smart-university. Based on the above requirement, this report provides recommendations to the Al-Ain President regarding the appropriate change management practices to be implemented, focusing on stakeholder engagement, essential leadership skills and required process changes.
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The concept of a smart university emerges from the earlier vision on the importance of smart cities and sustainable development in the contemporary environment. In the UAE, given the increasing interest towards the use of technologies in improving the standards of living, innovation, and quality of life, relevant transformation goals were established within the Smart Dubai 2021 initiative. The educational sector was one of its’ main application areas based on the crucial role of transforming traditional educational services to enhance social development by using new technological advancements. However, as admitted by Ahmed, Alnaaj, and Saboor (2020), these efforts were limited to developing virtual campuses based on smart online management systems rather than completely restructuring traditional facilities into a digital ones. Specifically, Ahmed, Alnaaj, and Sabbor (2020) criticized poor transformational planning, where proposed migration criteria that underpin the definition of the smart university were inconsistent with the opinions of major stakeholders. Hence, the change towards digital university governance and operations should be based on the evidence collected from university staff, students, management, and external benchmarking to ensure better integration with the established smart concept standards.
Based on the above considerations, the following objectives are outlined as a proposal for digital change implementation in the Welsh University in the UAE:
- To ensure that the transition from traditional to online educational model is based on stakeholder opinions rather than individual thinking.
- To explore recent models and experiences in performing similar transformations based on the available research and apply them to the case of the Welsh University in the UAE.
- To advise on potential changes through the lenses of leadership skills and application of change management theories.
Impact of Change on Major Stakeholders
The major stakeholder groups proposed to be considered for the change implementation are teaching staff, students, university administration (including Welsh colleagues and supervisors), IT specialists, and the UAE government. For each stakeholder group, a separate set of impacts is identified. The following subsections outline potential changes triggered in a transformation process, describe relevant issues and bottlenecks, and analyze the value of change per separate stakeholder group.
Smart learning suggests the importance of using information and communication technologies (ICT) for teaching purposes. For instance, it was admitted that the appropriate use of ICT develops “independent creative potential of a student, integration of different teaching plans, or diversity of teaching methods and strategies” (Klimova, 2016, p. 63). Consequently, it leads to the need for change in the traditional perception of the teacher’s role, whereas one remains responsible for setting clear learning objectives, exploiting new strategies in knowledge sharing, and determining the ICT significance. Hence, teaching staff should be capable of self-transformation to sustain new challenges created by the smart university concept and its learning outputs.
For the case of moving from traditional to online form of teaching, it is proposed to start with identifying the gaps in the digital competence of teachers. Specifically, it is paramount that teachers are equipped with sufficient knowledge in managing smart information systems for tutoring and grading, using online collaboration tools, and developing learning materials that are easy to comprehend (Klimova, 2016). Considerably, teachers should seek new opportunities in self-education, which individually is best achieved through collaboration with peers from other universities, where the smart model was successfully implemented. In a described case, given that the main facility in the UK already shifted toward an online mode of education, live sessions with colleagues in a case study or focus group format is a feasible solution. However, teachers should also seek secondary sources that describe relevant transformation cases among recently published research papers in smart-university or smart campus directions.
The role of students is the most critical for adopting the smart university concept since they are the main recipients of knowledge delivered by the facility. However, it is important to consider that contemporary learners have more digital literacy skills compared to their elderly counterparts; therefore, will experience fewer challenges in shifting from physical to online ways of learning (Moneim, 2020). Consequently, students are likely to deal with material comprehension and completion of assignments better using mobile applications, communication devices, and online collaboration platforms, both individually and as a team. For the transformation project, it means that students should be considered as a primary source of collecting data related to the effectiveness of ICT both on campus and remotely.
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Alternatively, the implementation of the smart university concept bears the risk of non-compliance with the attendance rules among students, given that more freedom is provided in online learning participation. For instance, during pandemic times, students might be tempted to invent artificial reasons for non-availability during lectures or extension requests for assignment submission, explaining this by internet connection losses or bad feelings. In this case, the risk aversion strategy is to set formal policies and penalties that explain the procedure for no-show justification or late paper deliveries. Furthermore, some students might feel confused with shifting from physical to distance education because one requires more assistance in comprehending learning materials. In this case, it is advised that open sessions using smart technologies are initiated to support students apart from the main classes.
The role of university management as stakeholders suggests major involvement in the transformation process realized through leadership, coordination, and implementation of change. Schiopoiu and Burdescu (2017) admitted the importance of using critical thinking skills among university administrators to change from the traditional to smart-university model and introduce the concepts of smart curricula and pedagogy. However, referring back to the criticism voiced by Ahmed, Alnaaj, and Saboor (2020), critical thinking should be based on the inputs received from other stakeholders rather than individual perceptions of the smart development idea. Hence, the management team should also develop a strategy for data collection and analysis before making conceptual changes in learning design and education.
Several approaches could be used for retrieving critical data for the analysis. First, administrators may arrange a panel discussion with senior teaching staff to evaluate the benefits and risks of shifting towards online learning. It is recommended that a small group of no more than 5 people is chosen for this effort to avoid mass popularization of the draft initiative. Second, university management should seek external consultancy with facilities that successfully implemented similar changes, such as the main campus in the UK and Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU) in the UAE. Third, administrators need to collect the data from students, while still avoiding the word-of-mouth effect on the forthcoming transformation before it is formally announced. It could be realized by recruiting an external agency to conduct a quantitative survey that asks students to respond to a series of statements related to the smart university concept while remaining confidential about the request origins (Valks et al., 2020). Finally, university management should consider the technical process of digital transformation, which requires conceptualizing future IT infrastructure, selecting IT service suppliers, and analyzing the extent of Internet of Things (IoT) deployment.
The role of IT specialists is to analyze current campus infrastructure, develop and test new designs based on the functional analysis and interviews, implement and integrate new systems, and regularly support one with service updates. It is critical to ensure that IT specialists are engaged in the development process early since such transformations require several months and should follow the set of fundamental development standards (Pozdneev, Busina and Ivannikov, 2016). Furthermore, major IT-related transformations are associated with risks of system compatibility and user acceptance, which require robust testing and feedback in the final stage of project deployment (Ahmed, Alnaaj and Saboor, 2020). For the case of the smart concept, it is also complicated with the importance of implementing IoT technologies that are yet to be analyzed in terms of effectiveness for the remote learning environment. Hence, new infrastructure development requires establishing formal process controls that meet the aforementioned transformation objectives and are consistent with the expectations of other stakeholders.
While the UAE government has a secondary role in project deployment, it is still important to use the official standards for smart reforms in education is proposed. Since the Welsh University in the UAE is a non-profit organization, its transformation will be sponsored by the government and therefore will require justifying project costs and regular progress reporting. It means that the President should prepare a formal request for approval that justifies project relevance to social and economic development, as well as explains how key deliverables will be achieved. Furthermore, the initial proposal might require further elaboration based on the requirements of the UK facility, which requires legal expertise in aligning formal policies and interests of both parties. Hence, the advanced planning in UAE government engagement is critical to ensure the flawless transition from traditional to smart-university model.
Leading Change and Team Composition
Stakeholder analysis and relevant identification of issues suggest that change should be overseen by the Al-Ain President as the project leader. From a theoretical perspective, the most appropriate leadership style is transformational, since the change is oriented towards people involvement and requires managing and developing others to promote new, innovative behaviors that support smart-university concept deployment. Sahu, Pathadikar, and Kumar (2018) argued that such an approach capitalizes on the role of people engagement as core business assets above the common business focus on satisfying shareholder needs and customer orientation. Given that the project’s success depends on the contribution of various stakeholder groups, transformational leadership exercised by the President is essential to connect people and provide coaching and mentoring where it is appropriate.
For the team composition, the following roles were identified as critical to ensure the smooth transition from the traditional to smart-university model:
- The Al-Ain President will act as a project leader, who communicates project results externally and directs project coordinators internally. He/she is also responsible for aligning change specifications with UK facility and liaison with the UAE government
- The Dubai and Abu Dhabi local heads of administration can act as project coordinators responsible for the initial deployment in their respective campuses. They are also responsible for selecting local teams of experts for initial brainstorming and communicating results back to the Al-Ain President
- A group of 4-5 experienced professors can be engaged as advisors and project contributors. Their role will be to recommend learning materials adaptation and monitor the process performed by teaching staff
- An IT deployment supervisor can be recruited externally, while the prerequisite is previous skills in e-learning systems and smart university model deployment, which assumes profound skills in collaboration
- An external consultant is responsible for surveying students while maintaining research confidentiality.
For the current initiative, I propose to use the concerns-based adoption model (CBAM). According to Trapani and Annunziato (2019), it suggests that people engaged in any form of educational change evolve in terms of asking self-oriented questions in the beginning and further refocusing towards task-oriented questions at the end of the transformation. Overall, the model suggests seven stages of concerns relevant to the educational change, that are further explained based on the case of the Welsh University in the UAE:
- Awareness (stage 0): There is no concern demonstrated about the problem at all
- Informational (stage 1): Stakeholders would like to be better familiarized with the problem. This could be achieved through the previously proposed panel discussion and external engagement of contributors. For students, it is somewhat blurred, while assumed to be achieved through the initial survey distribution
- Personal (stage 2): Stakeholders are concerned about how the change will affect them. For the current project, it will result in addressing personal concerns to the project team and the analysis of inquiries
- Management (stage 3): Stakeholders are concerned with their responsibilities for preparing to change. It assumes thinking about the role of digital technologies in life, adaptation of learning materials, designing new infrastructure requirements, and time management constraints.
- Consequence (stage 4): Stakeholders are thinking about the impact of individual contribution. It might include more close collaboration while will require managing interpersonal conflicts; therefore, this stage is the most complicated.
- Collaboration (stage 5); Stakeholders can differentiate their contribution from others and therefore become experts in providing specific solutions to the problems as they see them. Managerial involvement and control on infrastructure development, use of technologies, student engagement, and interdependencies between locations becomes less critical
- Refocusing (stage 6): All stakeholders are completely engaged and propose new ideas for process improvements. This primarily relates to the post-testing of the technological component of the smart university ecosystem.
Change Maintenance and Sustainability
The change maintenance is proposed to be realized by adhering to the project management principles and controls establishment. According to Uskov et al. (2016), it is best realized through the application of smart university taxonomies related to the roles of systems, essential components, and their functions integrated into a project plan. Specifically, if the proposed approach is implemented, the President will be able to track change management progress by allocating tasks to assignees from the project team and requesting regular updates through the tracking system. Another change maintenance approach is benchmarking, which suggests that the President might conduct a comparative analysis of the implementation process success among three campuses and advise on potential changes in process change realization. However, normally it requires allocating additional time to refocus and therefore might be complex without specific training in managing high-scale transformation projects.
Finally, it is relevant considering the role of potential sustainability concerns. Given that the smart university concept comprises the involvement of major stakeholders, facility management, and IT services, certain criteria should be set to control their social and environmental impact. The recommendation for this area of concern is rather straightforward and suggests consulting with government authorities on the negative role of excessive IT infrastructure presence on health and the time spent on educational efforts online. For facility management, such as IT infrastructure redevelopment, it is advised to adhere to the health and safety rules developed by the university in line with the guidelines provided by the Ministry of Education.
The pre-implementation findings of the report suggest the importance of analyzing stakeholder impact on the transformational change as a starting point. The focal aspect is to avoid self-deterministic decisions; instead, to focus on engaging people as major stakeholders for making wise decisions. Furthermore, it is important to conceptualize and control change through the application of the CBAM model, which provides better structuring for the change process in the educational field. Finally, the establishment of formal process controls over change maintenance and sustainability is required for overseeing and reporting project success. However, under the condition of additional requirements emerging from the external environment, this consulting proposal should be certainly amended.
Ahmed, V., Alnaaj, K.A. and Saboor, S. (2020) ‘An investigation into stakeholders’ perception of smart campus criteria: The American University of Sharjah as a case study’, Sustainability, 12(12), 5187. Web.
Klimova, B. (2016) ‘Teacher’s role on a smart learning environment – a review study’, in Uskov, V., Howlett, R. and Jain, L. (eds.) Smart education and e-learning 2016 (Smart innovation, systems and technologies book 59). Cham: Springer, pp. 51-59. Web.
Moneim, R.A. (2020) ‘Towards a smart university in the light of 21th century skills’, An-Najah University Journal for Research – B (Humanities), 34(6), pp. 1109-1132. Web.
Pozdneev, B., Busina, F. and Ivannikov, A. (2016) ‘Smart university management based on process approach and IT-standards’, in Uskov, V., Howlett, R. and Jain, L. (eds.) Smart education and e-learning 2016 (Smart innovation, systems and technologies book 59). Cham: Springer, pp. 73-82. Web.
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Sahu, S., Pathardikar, A. and Kumar, A. (2018) ‘Transformational leadership and turnover: mediating effects of employee engagement, employer branding, and psychological attachment’, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 39(1), pp. 82-99. Web.
Schiopoiu, A.B. and Burdescu, D.D. (2017) ‘The development of the critical thinking as strategy for transforming a traditional university into a smart university’, in Uskov, V., Howlett, R. and Jain, L. (eds.) Smart education and e-learning 2017 (Smart innovation, systems and technologies book 75). Cham: Springer, pp. 67-74. Web.
Trapani, B. and Annunziato, A. (2019) ‘Crossing the bridge of change: measuring instructional change using the concerns based adoption model’, Journal for Leadership and Instruction, 18(1), pp. 12-16. Web.
Uskov V.L., Bakken J.P., Pandey A., Singh U., Yalamanchili M. and Penumatsa A. (2016) ‘Smart university taxonomy: features, components, systems’, in Uskov, V., Howlett, R. and Jain, L. (eds.) Smart education and e-learning 2016 (Smart innovation, systems and technologies book 59). Cham: Springer, pp. 3-14. Web.
Valks, B., Arkesteijn, M.H., Koutamanis, A. and den Heijer, A.C. (2020) ‘Towards a smart campus: supporting campus decisions with Internet of Things applications’, Building Research & Information. Web.