The Faculty Development Challenge: An Interview with Roberto Bamberger

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Roberto Bamberger, a former professor of engineering and computer science at Washington State University who directed a lab that developed multimedia based instructional materials, currently is responsible for Microsoft’s Faculty Development Initiatives Program.

James Morrison (JM): Roberto, you recently chaired a [describe the type of session, e.g., Web-based panel discussion; I forget the details] on the faculty development challenge. What is the faculty development challenge?

Roberto Bamberger (RB): Institutions need to improve the quality of education. This poses a triple challenge: increasing access to education, improving the quality of education, and reducing costs. There is a lot of money available for new software and hardware development, but faculty members are really the critical component in meeting this triple challenge. We need to help faculty become comfortable with changing ways of teaching, supporting them in their increased workloads and time pressures, encouraging them to reexamine how they teach, and helping them feel supported by their institutions. Overall, faculty members should focus on how they like to teach and how technology can be appropriate for their methods.

JM: How can instructors learn more effective teaching strategies?

RB: Institutions vary in the way they approach faculty development. But universally, people understand the rewards and incentives of respecting faculty comfort zones. In general, when instructors see peers making improvements that enhance their teaching, they are more willing to try new methods. People are creatures of habit. They accept change when they see a good value in it.

Faculty development is a vast field; it's not merely about using technology in class. It also concerns incorporating technology into a curriculum to improve teaching itself--helping faculty get the most out of technology and feel comfortable using it. Institutions shouldn't take a prescriptive role when designing faculty development programs. Instead, they should take into account faculty interests and needs, and make the process open, welcoming, and comforting to people. The most successful programs are ones that have strong reward and incentive programs, such as tenure/promotion, release time, and technology resource centers. Also, better programs strike a good balance between skills training, support, and pedagogy in addition to working closely with faculty.

JM: You travel constantly and interact with faculty members from around the country. What do you tell then about how they can enhance learning by using technology?

RB: I begin by giving them good examples of what their peers are already doing. Most people don't want to learn something just because it's high-tech, but there's always a subset within a faculty that is already enthusiastic about technology; they can help energize everyone else. Technology can be frightening to some people, and instead of pushing new skills onto people, we offer services and individual help such as individual consultation, training, and technical support. In much the same way that students become excited about learning, teachers become more excited about teaching when someone is investing time and energy in them.

The nature of the traditional student population is changing. Young students today have grown up with video games; they have been doing things interactively with software for a long time. They're coming into class with a completely new set of expectations of what the learning environment should be, expectations very different from the ones we grew up with. Also, about 80% of all students are working part-time, and their time is more limited. Faculty can use technology to teach students more efficiently and help them face the world's new technological demands.

JM: Faculty members are busy people. What approaches can you recommend to encourage them to make the time to learn these technological skills?

RB: We have exciting approaches to solving that issue, such as reward structures like the kind I mentioned before to help compensate faculty members for their time. Also, our job is to weave resources together to make sure that technological support is always available to faculty. People need plenty of time to become comfortable with new skills, so faculty shouldn't be pressured to know everything all at once, especially considering the demands on their time.

JM: What are your views on online education?

RB: People define online education in different ways. We define online education as the process of making more information available to students. Technology in education has forced faculty to improve instruction. Rather than viewing technology merely as a means of facilitating distance learning, teachers are actually integrating technology into their traditional instruction. They're rethinking their objectives and considering how they can achieve those objectives in the classroom, helping students master new concepts.

JM: What tools do faculty need to teach online?

RB: To build meaningful teaching activities, they need some very basic tools. Teachers can assume certain tools will be in the classroom such as chalk, textbooks, and equipment like overhead projectors. They should also be able to take for granted that certain more technological tools will be in their classrooms. For example, they should have an easy ability to communicate with students, and this can be achieved through universal e-mail access for students and teachers, easy access to e-mail addresses through the registrar's office, publishing ability on the web, web-authoring tools, and computer-based testing programs. These tools shouldn't be intimidating for those new to them, because they're accessible with basic computer literacy--skills like creating and saving a document, editing a file, posting to a Web server, sending e-mail, and monitoring e-mail discussions and listservs. The actual software skills aren't that involved; it's more important to learn how to use them effectively as teaching and learning tools.

JM: What is your vision of how faculty will be using technology in the future?

RB: In my view, things will be really different from the way they are now. Faculty will be more empowered to do more things, and this will surface in two ways: (a) Faculty will be able to teach independent of time and space; artificial barriers to educational access will start to come down. (b) Faculty will be empowered to teach people in a way that is most effective for a variety of people. They will be able to present information in a variety of modalities that support different learning styles.

At the end of the day, education is about positioning people to improve the quality of their lives, and technology plays an important role here. It can increase the volume of education, eliminate the financial barriers to entry, and make quality education more accessible to people who have constraints on their time. However, this process involves many changes. It assumes universal public access to computing and high-speed access to information resources, a greater carrying capacity for educating a large number of people, and new and different roles for faculty members.

Microsoft's role as a tech company is to build tools to empower faculty and create new learning experiences for students. In developing a vision for the future, I defer to faculty and students--what do they want the future to look like?

JM: How can we conquer the divide between those who have access to technology and those who don't?

RB: The digital divide is a big problem, but luckily there are lots of people who care passionately about it and who are investing billions of dollars into eliminating it. One force that will help the situation is straight economics. Technology companies have a vested interest in tearing down the digital divide, because it's tied to their profit margins. Also, community centers like public libraries and local schools are helping make technology available to everyone, and the dropping price of computers and Internet access is making basic equipment more affordable. Universal access to technology just makes good business sense for everybody.

In my vision, the digital divide won't exist in the next decade; we're already starting to tear it down. It wasn't so long ago that we had a similar divide in adult literacy and access to electricity and running water. We can learn lessons from history and eliminate this divide in this same way that we have eliminated others.

Critical Reviews

Critic KK

Click here for Critic KK's review.

Critic RRR

I think the interview is very focused and succinct--one I will definitely forward to others when it comes out.

Critic E

I have two suggestions for "The Faculty Development Challenge: An Interview with Roberto Bamberger."

In the second question, How can instructors learn more effective teaching strategies? RB responds toward the end on a tangent that explores rewards for faculty who adopt effective teaching strategies. I suggest that this be a separate question such as; have you observed successful programs that provide incentives for faculty who embrace technology for effective teaching?

In addition, I suggest some reworking of the digital divide debate in the last question. Even if access is removed as a barrier, tuition will not disappear and access to formal education even if delivered digitally will not erase this monetary issue.

I recommend that the article be published with minor revisions.

Critic QQQ

Click here for QQQ's review.