Of all the accountabilities in a professional’s job description, perhaps the most difficult, even more so than managing people, is managing change. When the task involves changing the way that other people work and the skills they must have, there are few guidelines and no paradigm easily abbreviated into a set of initials. In fact, the professional must climb completely out of the familiar box that is his or her job description and venture into very unfamiliar territory. Fortunately, one who has been here left a map.
Twelve years ago, Susan Zvacek published “Confessions of a Guerilla Technologist” in EDUCAUSE Quarterly. Zvacek argued that instructional technologists responsible for faculty professional development in higher education would do well to leverage tactics of the guerilla warrior—“not the bad guys who wreak havoc, but the ‘irregular’ forces for change.”
Though technology has evolved considerably over the last decade, Zvacek’s advice remains timeless. In fact, the idea of a “guerilla technologist” can be a practical frame of reference for instructional technologists, trainers, and other professionals in the field about how best to facilitate change.
Though faculty development professionals, charged with promoting the use of various technologies, may not realize at first their commonalities with guerilla warriors, Zvacek argues that our efforts would benefit from borrowing at least some of the tactics of these “unlikely colleagues.” While Zvacek uses a “warrior” metaphor, she is quick to note that the “enemy” is the “collected obstacles” that deter technology adoption, including lack of training and technical support, nonexistent incentives, and outmoded facilities.
Given that these obstacles still exist and that new ones have emerged, including today’s rapid pace of technological change, it is timely to re-introduce Zvacek’s five “guerilla tactics” for facilitating technology adoption:
- Move among the people: Guerilla warriors work like a “spreading puddle, rather than a stream running downhill.” Introduce change in a deliberate and continuous evolution of applications. Discard any us-versus-them viewpoints and learn the values of the group. Recognize that resistance may signal a need for additional education or some work with opinion leaders. Publicize exemplary work.
- Use persuasive techniques: Create a favorable opinion and ensure longevity of the cause. “Winning over the locals” to challenge the status quo requires professional credibility and the ability to inspire confidence. For example, when promoting an innovative practice, present research findings and examples from other institutions and discuss how the strategy can complement jointly held values. Identify opinion leaders and build a cadre of respected faculty members who can support activities.
- Be active constantly: Adopt an attitude of persistence. Saturate the faculty with helpful ideas, opportunities for training, and useful information on advantages of technology. As Zvacek writes, “the continual dripping of good ideas onto the rocks of tradition will eventually wear away the resistance.”
- Make judicial use of retreat: Retreat doesn’t necessarily indicate surrender—it can provide a time to review strategy and reflect on successes. If earlier attempts to engage faculty have failed, analyze why. Distinguish between the “truly resistant” and those who may eventually come around. Consider that complete adoption may be unrealistic and unachievable.
- Work with “regular” forces: Sometimes guerilla efforts can be most effective when combined with “traditionally trained and deployed units.” Guerilla technologists will sometimes need the support and resources of administrative entities before they can impact the status quo. This may mean participating on faculty interest committees and offering assistance on special technology projects.
Beyond higher education
While Zvacek writes for an audience of higher-education faculty development and instructional-technology professionals, her “guerilla tactics” are applicable to the work of eLearning and training professionals who build and deliver programs to effect change. Understanding and aligning with the values of a target audience can make or break a change effort. Zvacek’s guerilla tactics inform efforts to analyze the needs of a target audience and the potential barriers to success. They also underscore the need for buy-in and backing when proposing and rolling out new training programs or modalities. Further, Zvacek’s tactics emphasize the evaluation of both successes and failures and the need for realistic expectations and potential modifications of strategy.
At its simplest, “Confessions of a Guerilla Technologist” is an easy-to-read, useful set of tips about facilitating technology adoption within an academic milieu. More than that, Zvacek’s advice can continue to serve as a useful frame of reference for instructional technologists, trainers, and other professionals in the field about how best to facilitate change.
Zvacek, S. (2001). “Confessions of a Guerilla Technologist,” Educause Quarterly, 2, 40-45. Recovered 4/8/2013 at http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EQM0129.pdf.