Luring Faculty to Technology's "Field of Dreams"

"Build it and they will come" is the seductive promise that technology vendors whisper to education administrators as high-tech companies seek to garner a healthy share of the billions educational institutions will spend this year on hardware and software. But increasingly, administrators have discovered that simply offering the latest gadgets has not enticed faculty to integrate technology in their classrooms, attempt to enhance their course materials, or improve communication with their students.

Like any innovation, technology enhancements must be perceived as a personal benefit to faculty before they will embrace new approaches to teaching and assessment strategies. Financial incentives at public institutions are often limited by budgets already strained by tax reform movements and general fund reallocations in response to public pressure to increase spending for public safety and maintenance of transportation systems. To change promotion and tenure processes would impact faculty employability at other institutions and would therefore require interinstitutional collaboration for effective implementation, a lengthy process. Given these constraints, what "personal benefits" can be offered to faculty? If technology solves existing problems, this raises appreciation of the personal benefits to using it. Institutions must examine the instructional goals and methods of their faculty and design programs to help them achieve their desired objectives more effectively with new technologies. Often, this requires a comprehensive approach, which may encompass several programs to address each aspect of the instructional process.

At the University of Oregon, faculty development is a multifaceted process addressed by several different but interrelated programs. Financial incentives, although limited, are offered by the president's office in the form of grants offered each year to faculty interested in redesigning courses to use technology to improve learning outcomes. Central administration has also authorized supplemental funds for faculty obtaining grants from other agencies to integrate technology in learning environments. In addition, various university groups have collaborated to develop programs designed to improve teaching effectiveness through the use of technology and faculty's technology skills.

The Teaching Effectiveness Program (TEP) offers a variety of activities and advice through their Teaching with Technology outreach services. TEP sponsors two sessions of an Instructional Technology Summer Short Course for faculty in late June and August each year. This week-long course, offered at no charge to UO faculty, covers Web concepts and design, copyright, distance education, and an overview of campus resource centers. Stipends are offered as incentives to participate in the program. TEP also sponsors a similar 10-week course, "Technology Step By Step," that meets once each week from 12:00-1:20 p.m. during the academic year. "Most of the instructors attending our courses come from the social sciences and the humanities," observes Michael Sweet, TEP assistant coordinator. "They seem to be more willing to seek assistance with technology than instructors from the hard sciences who seem to prefer experimentation to formal training." Because it provides extensive one-on-one assistance, the course is limited to 12-13 faculty members. Only about 120 individuals have been able to take advantage of the program thus far, but these faculty members have supplemented their classroom experience by requesting over 300 "housecalls." TEP coordinators offer "housecalls" to all faculty attempting to incorporate instructional technology into their teaching. They explain techniques to improve student-teacher communication, stimulate classroom discussions, gain valuable feedback using online assessment tools, and facilitate exam preparation.

TEP coordinators enrich classroom discussions with the use of examples:

"Avoid the slow process of generating in-class discussion. Instead, require your students to send you brief responses to assigned readings via e-mail before class. Then use those responses to give your students a place to start the discussion. For example: 'Melissa, you had an interesting reaction to the first article. . . can you elaborate on that for everyone.' Then 'Jeremy, Melissa's argument seems counter to what you said--how would you respond to her view.' Instantly, debate is in motion, and you can continue drawing other students in from what they wrote in their e-mails."

This example addresses a problem most faculty already face in their classroom interactions with students. It also capitalizes on the fact that most faculty on this campus use e-mail already. In this way, it does not introduce new complexities but offers a method that uses existing technology to improve the learning process.

And what about faculty complaining about all that e-mail? TEP coordinators teach faculty how to use mail filters and archives to organize their correspondence and use e-mailed questions as a resource for their other students. They are provided with examples of successful course Web sites, classroom assessment techniques, and information they need about their students before an instructor decides to use any form of technology requiring online interaction.

If coursework requires particular software, the faculty member also needs to coordinate with the departmental technology support providers to be sure the software is available in student labs and develop a plan for providing (and funding) student software and project assistance. In a fiscally decentralized organization, like the University of Oregon, this can be quite a challenge. Student labs, like the Technology Education Center in the College of Education and the Yamada Language Center and the Social Science Instruction Lab in the College of Arts and Sciences, are usually funded by the organization's central administration budget, but course materials and graduate teaching assistants are usually funded by the individual program. A faculty member may receive funding authorization from the program to purchase course-related software but it must be installed on computers and supported by central technology resource managers. The hardware may not have sufficient RAM, hard disk space, or operating system capabilities to accomodate the software. Student lab assistants are also frequently work-study students who may not have the necessary training to provide software-specific support to individual course participants. Therefore, a technology resource manager responsible for the equipment targeted for use by the students completing the course exercises needs to be included in the curriculum planning process.

Technology managers also provide insight into product learning curves and the feasibility of using particular products. For example, a professor, interested in assigning an interactive ethnography as a course project, asked a resource manager about specifying Macromedia Director for the software tool. He knew Director was available in the open lab and had dabbled a little with it. The resource manager pointed out that the learning curve for Director was extremely severe and students would not have enough available lab time both to learn Director and to produce the course project in the time allotted. Furthermore, even the academic version of Director cost $699, so students could not purchase it for their own computers (its system requirements were also substantial). Student lab assistants would not necessarily be familiar with Director either. So, the resource manager suggested a user-friendly HTML-authoring tool like Claris Homepage to produce an ethnography with Web-based interactivity instead.

If faculty need training in any aspect of instructional technology, have questions about multimedia or Web publishing software or hardware, or need technical assistance in converting existing presentation materials to digital files for inclusion on course Web sites, they are referred to the Faculty Instructional Technology Training Center (FITT). The FITT Center is a new addition to Knight Library's Media Services. Following many discussions with other units on campus who provide some level of technology assistance to faculty and with much input from individual faculty members about what support services were still needed, the Library proposed to add this component to the faculty support network. Little funding was available, but in January 1999, $18,000 in recurring funds was authorized from the pool of money created from the $65 per term technology fee charged each enrolled student to cover student wages for staffing the new center. The University Librarian approved $20,000 as seed money from the library's own equipment budget for initial equipment, software purchases, and setup costs. Media Services provided space for the facility and assigned center supervision to existing personnel. The Center opened its doors in late June 1999.

The center is staffed Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. predominantly by Fine Arts majors carefully screened for experience with multimedia hardware and software and, most importantly, for excellent communication skills. "Often the first step in working with faculty is helping clarify what the faculty member really wants to learn.," says J.Q. Johnson, academic education coordinator. "We try to emulate the reference interview process. It is an established model that Library personnel are familiar with, and helps focus the instruction that we provide. It also helps us leverage the strength of media services with skills from the rest of the library, creating synergy within the organization."

Before the FITT Center opened, the student staff honed their consulting skills and improved their knowledge of other campus facilities and services by working in the Knight and Science Information Technology Centers and by touring other support services (Computing Center, New Media Center, Social Sciences Instruction Lab, and Yamada Language Center). They applied their technical abilities to internal projects such as developing the FITT Center marketing and Web site. In addition to their normal shifts in the FITT Center, the student consultants also assisted in all lab sessions of the two TEP Instructional Technology Summer Short Courses.

Judicious expenditure of the Library's $20K seed money provided a respectable array of image processing hardware and software as well as Web authoring tools. "We have faculty customers with a very wide range of experience. Some are familiar with e-mail and Microsoft Word. Another complained that we initially offered only Adobe Premier for video editing rather than Final Cut Pro which he uses in his own home office," Johnson observes.

It is much too early to claim success with the program, but in just the first few months of operation, the FITT Center served over 138 different faculty members from 40 different disciplines or programs. Although this figure represents less than 10% of the University faculty, it is significant considering four of the first five months of operation occurred before the academic year began on September 27.

The type of services requested and faculty demographics are recorded monthly to assess program effectiveness and plan program improvements. Faculty from the liberal arts including philosophy, history, and foreign languages as well as from the sciences such as mathematics, chemistry, and biology have all sought assistance with their technology needs. "The majority of requests have been centered around the use of high-end imaging equipment such as scanners and video capture equipment," Johnson states, "but requests for assistance with Web development and HTML authoring tools has composed a significant 22% of services as well."

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Johnson expects the Web-related requests to increase since the library purchased a site license for Blackboard's CourseInfo software. Blackboard enables instructors to add an online component to their classes, or even host an entire course on the Web without knowing any HTML. "CourseInfo is very easy to use. But, although it does not require knowledge of HTML, it is more effective if a faculty member knows how to convert course materials to HTML or .pdf format and transfer documents to their existing Web space," Johnson observes.

To promote the FITT Center to its intended audience of faculty and GTFs, articles or notices ran in the Teaching Effectiveness Program's newsletter, the Computing Center's Computing News, the University's faculty and staff newsletter News & Views, the University's alumni and donor magazine Oregon Quarterly, the Library's newsletter, FYI and the "What's New" page of the Library's Web site.

Brochures were mailed directly to all faculty, included in the GTF orientation packets, and distributed at new faculty orientation presentations. A summary was included in a letter about IT news mailed to faculty at the start of Fall term and announcements were sent to several electronic campus mailing lists, including those for GTFs, the faculty consultants network, TEPtech, DeptComp, a mailing list for technology resource managers, and the FITT planning group.

A preview open house was held in the FITT Center during the Spring 1999 UO Educational Technology Fair. Johnson and his staff have also presented brief overviews at new faculty orientations and departmental faculty meetings.

Faculty reaction has been very positive:

"Something like the FITT Center is the ideal missing link in the system," writes one faculty member. 

"Must have saved me hours of floundering on my own!" writes another.

Johnson emphasizes that the FITT Center staff demonstrate techniques to faculty and assist them with their technology projects rather than completing the technology tasks for the faculty member. To reinforce the skills training, the library also offers an extensive array of short technical workshops as part of its IT curriculum. These workshops, averaging about one and one-half hours in length, are open to faculty, staff and students. Topics range from creating a MhonARc archive to developing CGI forms for online surveys.

To encourage ongoing synergy in the development and application of technology-related skills, a Professional Partners Mentoring Program was developed two years ago. Although initially introduced as a development tool for staff, mentoring groups have evolved to include interested faculty as well. Groups meet for one hour once or twice each month, depending on the preferences of the group members. Group topics range from desktop publishing to advanced HTML. The groups are facilitated by faculty and staff volunteers who encourage group participants to share experiences and problems as well as new technology discoveries. Group discussion lists provide a communication channel to share information between monthly meetings.

Together, these activities provide tools, support, and encouragement faculty need to tackle the task of delivering a quality educational experience in a society evolving with the ever increasing speed of a microchip.