A Workshop to Develop Change Agents in Higher Education

There have been many calls for change in higher education.  Successfully implementing change – especially broad change – requires faculty and administrators to develop new competencies.  Our ‘Making Academic Change Happen’ (MACH) workshop was created to bring research-based change strategies and skills to higher education faculty and administrators.

The workshop begins by helping participants understand themselves, exploring their personalities and communication style preferences.  Next, participants focus on cultivating a community of colleagues, considering their proposed change project from multiple points of view and practicing communication techniques to build support and teams.  Finally, participants think at the institutional level, identifying sources of support and resistance, planning partnerships, and creating action plans for moving their change project forward.  Throughout the workshop, participants repeatedly consider how their change project aligns with the culture(s) at their institution, choosing change strategies that are most likely to be successful in their particular situation.  The workshop is very active.  Participants spend the majority of their time working on exercises that allow them to immediately practice the concepts or skills presented, applying the material to their own unique circumstances and change project, and receiving immediate feedback from facilitators and peers.

We have now conducted the full workshop four times (as well as additional reduced sessions for various audiences), and used formative and summative assessments for continuous quality improvement.  Participants reported that the workshop enhanced both their confidence and their capability to identify and overcome potential barriers to change.  Participants also reported implementing the action plans developed at the workshop.  Interviews with workshop alumni demonstrated that these individuals had adopted the change agent mindset promoted at the workshop and recommended in the literature.  These results indicate that the workshop is successfully disseminating skills and practices that can be adopted at a variety of institutions, enabling leadership and change in higher education.



MACH workshops facilitate broad change in higher education by helping faculty and administrators become effective change agents within and across their institutional cultures.

Impact and Expansion Potential

Who benefits from MACH workshops?

  • MACH alumni, by acquiring new skills.
  • Collaborating colleagues, when MACH alumni use skills to effectively promote change projects.
  • Students, when MACH alumni successfully implement, assess, and continuously improve change projects.

MACH workshops have reached roughly 75 faculty/administrators to date.  We are currently expanding our roster of facilitators, and have discussed developing a training program that would certify external individuals to conduct MACH curricula on their own campuses.

We recently received a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to deliver MACH workshops to recipients of “Revolutionizing Engineering Departments” National Science Foundation grants.  As a result, we will be supporting disruptive change in engineering education at pioneering institutions across the United States.  We hope that our upcoming Malaysia (AKEPT) MACH offering will open doors to more global partnerships.

Fundamental Principles

1. Change strategies should align with an institution’s culture.
  • Change projects are more likely to be successful when aligned with culture.
  • Participants complete targeted reflections, explorations, and group exercises to situate their project in their institution’s culture(s) and learn from others.
2. Change agents should use multiframe thinking to anticipate resistance and cultivate partnerships.
  • Deliberately viewing organizations through structural, political, human resources, and symbolic frames is a proven leadership strategy.
  • Participants map their project onto these frames, identifying barriers and strategies for overcoming barriers.
3. Change agents should be prepared to communicate with multiple constituencies in multiple ways.
  • Participants practice communicating about their project persuasively, to gain support, and in a respectful, deflective manner, to minimize opposition.
  • Participants also work on ‘elevator pitches,’ identifying pain points, core actions needed, desired effects on stakeholders, and milestones of success.
4. As with most things, practice is key to learning.
  • Participants apply the change strategies/skills that are presented to their specific project through reflection, small-group work, discussion, and active role-playing.
  • Participants receive immediate feedback from facilitators and peers, developing a community of practice.