Piloting the Psychosocial Model of Faculty Development     Go to earlier draft with reviews

As institutions of higher education begin offering courses of instruction online, faculty who are reluctant to use computer-mediated communication technologies often fail to engage actively with distant learners. Students who do not meet face-to-face in classrooms rely on instructional faculty to provide individual feedback and to facilitate interactions among members of the learning group. No instructional design is hardy enough to withstand the detrimental effects of content expert faculty who cannot, or will not, communicate effectively with their geographically dispersed students.

At most colleges and universities, faculty and staff in the Instructional Design, Educational Technology, and/or Information Technology services (ETS/ITS) devote a substantial proportion of their time trying to help the faculty learn to use the most effective media for communicating with distant learners. The most common outcome is that faculty either don't attend educational technology training programs or don't implement the new technology after programs end (Lee and Johnson, 1998). This paper presents a different model for faculty development programs and describes the outcomes of its first year of implementation in one department.

The Paradoxical Disjunction Model

One would anticipate that the faculty, as teachers and researchers, would participate in technology oriented faculty development programs primarily to learn how new technologies might be used to improve teaching and research processes. That task-oriented premise guides most ETS/ITS faculty development programs. Technology support personnel usually focus -- as seems perfectly reasonable within institutions of higher education -- on the adoption of technology to improve teaching, learning, and research tasks (Lee and Johnson, 1998). ETS/ITS faculty development programs are designed to achieve maximum exposure for the greatest number of faculty and staff, usually offering group instruction in central locations.

Paradoxically, the faculty are rarely interested in new technologies to support teaching and learning. The faculty are predominantly focused on psychosocial factors (Cravener, 1998a; Rickard, 1999). Already successful teachers and researchers, most faculty feel relatively little need to make dramatic changes in either area. Subject-expert faculty have minimal incentive to alter their current practices, and add to their work loads, by learning new high-tech skills. Few colleges reward use of technology, or even distance teaching, with tenure and promotion awards. In addition, both social status issues and affective responses to being confronted with new technology (anxiety, fear, conflict related to cognitive dissonance) inhibit faculty from participating in educational technology training and from implementing the technologies after training. The Paradoxical Disjunction Model (Figure 1) for faculty development programs is based on recognition of a fundamental divergence between the psychosocial concerns of college and university faculty and the ETS/ITS "teaching-research tools" approach to faculty development.

Maximizing Motivation

For many faculty, learning to use new technologies to support distance teaching and learning is a time-consuming undertaking for which no immediate gain is apparent. Since academic faculty represent the largest investment made by the university, it seems reasonable to plan faculty development programs that maximize faculty effectiveness by adapting to the workload, psychological, and social needs of faculty.116(use when art. is published).jpg (36248 bytes)

Figure 1. The Paradoxical Disjunction Model shows differences between the focus of technology support personnel and actual concerns of faculty related to the adoption of new technologies for distance education.

One way to minimize risk and maximize gain for faculty members is to provide just-in-time technology training. When the professor has identified a need or a desire to use a specific technology, his/her motivation to acquire and continue to use the new knowledge and skills is maximized. Providing technology consultation to the faculty in the privacy of their own offices is a cost-effective strategy for increasing faculty use of educational technologies to support effective interactive teaching/ learning activities. Faculty's efficient use of time is maximized and social status concerns are minimized by having training sessions in their own offices instead of a public central location. When faculty members learns on the same equipment that will be used for daily work, generalization of training to performance domains is maximized.

Investing in faculty trainers. The most appropriate provider of 1:1 faculty instruction will vary according to the complexity of the teaching task, including the extent to which the training provider will have a role in helping to plan best-practice uses of the technology. The more complex the technology adoption challenge, and the more closely the provider will work with faculty on instructional design issues, the more knowledgeable the provider must be concerning basic principles of adult education.

Knowing how educational technologies operate is not adequate preparation to work with . . . the faculty . . . nor is it sufficient preparation for the tasks of assisting instructors in developing entire courses, providing input into technology acquisition decisions that impact teaching and learning throughout an institution, or negotiating among stakeholders at the upper levels of higher education administration or corporate environments on behalf of adults learning in technologically-mediated environments (Collins, 1999, p. 10).

Collins (1999) suggests that the educational technology support personnel should receive further education in basic adult education theory and practice. Another strategy is to select, as trainers, faculty who have technological expertise and who are already experts in the area of adult education. Using faculty peers as trainers has further potential advantages, including increasing faculty motivation through the referent, expert, or information power of the provider (Cravener, 1998a). Is such an expensive solution -- employing faculty to provide educational technology training for their peers -- cost-effective? The outcomes of the first year of implementing the psychosocial model in one department indicate that it is.

Case Study

The psychosocial model of faculty development was applied for one academic year in one department within a medium-sized Doctoral II university. The faculty development program (FDP) was completely separate from the campus-wide ITS faculty development team. The ITS program continued to make available the technology skills classes that had been, and continued to be, minimally or never attended by faculty members in this department. The major goal for the intradepartmental FDP was to improve faculty members' skills with use of information and communication technologies, as part of a strategic plan to implement a distance education program. Following the structure defined in the Psychosocial Systems Checklist for Planning Faculty/Staff Development Programs (Cravener, 1998b), faculty were coached to help them acquire concepts and skills that improved their ability to manage course-related, computer-mediated communications with students. In accord with needs assessment survey findings, emphasis was on just-in-time educational technology training for faculty provided by a colleague, 1:1, in faculty offices. The FDP provider proactively sought consultation opportunities. The focus was on teaching faculty to be more competent with programs they were already using (Netscape, Microsoft Word) and learning basic concepts related to the Internet, World Wide Web, and file transfers. Most consultation time was scheduled by appointment, but casual and drop-in requests were also encouraged. Brief consultations provided quick solutions to immediate "how-to" problems. In addition, the FDP provider "brokered" some requests for instruction. For example, 1:1 consultation with the campus librarian was arranged for a new faculty member who wanted to know how to access journals online.

FDP Costs. Cost to the department was 4 work units of faculty time for each semester, in a department where the average work load is 12 units (range 9 -- 16), replacing one 6-hour off-campus clinical instruction assignment. The reassignment of duties necessitated hiring a part-time adjunct instructor for one semester at a total cost of $3,000. No other direct expenses were incurred. Participating faculty incorporated ET/IT learning time into their regular work week, a process that was facilitated by flexible availability of the training provider in accommodating 1:1 appointment times to faculty schedules. No additional software licenses were needed and no new hardware was purchased for the FDP.

Psychosocial Considerations. The FDP provider was a person recognized within the department as an expert user of computer applications for teaching and learning, with special emphasis on distance learning paradigms. This competence provided a credibility factor that, overall, encouraged consultation. Further, the FDP provider was widely perceived as having friendly, collegial relationships with faculty in the department. Nevertheless, two classes of FDP resistance phenomena were observed. First, several senior faculty members declined participation, sometimes saying that they "couldn't understand a word she says," a response cited by Sherry (1998) as common among faculty whose lack of experience with new technologies leads to a lack of self-confidence and a preference to avoid public learning risks. It seems possible that a longer trial of the program might permit development of improved trust levels.

The second resistance area indicated both systems and affective issues, and was noted among faculty whose roles in the department were most similar to the provider's. High similarity of social status combined with disparity in technology use skills probably aroused anxiety and cognitive dissonance related to interpersonal competency comparisons (Cravener, 1998a; 1999). Although approximately 10% of faculty held very similar positions to the FDP provider (instructional members of the same course group or having identical pre-tenure status) only 5% of logged faculty consultation time for the FDP was with persons in the high-similarity interpersonal comparisons group. 95% of logged FDP consultation hours were utilized by 42% of faculty in low-similarity interpersonal comparison groups: tenured faculty whose rank exceeded that of the FDP provider, or faculty who taught in separate course groups.

Outcomes of the FDP. Faculty time commitments with their regularly assigned duties continued to be a factor that limited participation. Several people expressed an interest in acquiring specific new skills, but did not feel justified in adding to their existing workload to do so. There was no direct acknowledgment or reward from administration for faculty who chose to spend extra time improving their ability to use information and communication technologies, which further decreased motivation to participate in the FDP. In total, 32% of the 47 faculty members who had access to the FDP participated in 1:1 consultation. Outcomes for participants included a) the creation and independent maintenance, by faculty, of several simple Web pages that publicized educational programs and served as learning resources for students, in a department where previously there were no course Web pages; b) improved faculty satisfaction with their ability to use email and other Internet resources effectively; and c) increases in frequency of email communications between students and faculty. During the second semester of the FDP, the 1:1 in-office training format was also adopted by university librarians, a strategy change that was based, at least in part, on the model that served as the basis for this FDP.


The psychosocial systems model described by the Paradoxical Disjunction Model (Figure 1) and the Psychosocial Systems Checklist (Cravener, 1998b) could be adopted by any college to improve the results of faculty development programs. Potential outcomes are increased faculty comfort with use of technology. Leading to improved effectiveness of online teaching. Critical factors for faculty development programs include assurance of administrative support and recognition, application of principles of adult learning, and positive resolution of affective issues. Some psychosocial status concerns can be alleviated through offering private training in faculty offices. Resistance to technology adoption associated with time constraints can be partially overcome by scheduling just-in-time sessions, on demand, at times most convenient for individual faculty members. Faculty responses to this program indicate that optimal participation rates might be achieved by offering faculty development services through a team approach. It is recommended that an ideal FDP would include access to faculty providers from other departments, so that any individual who was reluctant to seek tutoring from a close associate could easily contact an expert from another department for 1:1 consultation. Observations this year indicate that an interdepartmental program based on reciprocity among FDP faculty peer providers may be the most cost-effective way to maximize ET/IT adoption among faculty and increase faculty use of online technologies for successful Web-based teaching and learning.


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