"Strategies and Technology Staff for Learning Centered Education"


Hiring technology staff to move instructional technology ahead is dependent on a university's technology strategy. Four strategic models are examined and staffing models suggested.

What will a university look like when it effectively provides adequate staffing for technology? Faculty will be able to get the right help at the right time for creating what they want with instructional technology. Faculty and staff will work as a team in creating an environment where students will have rich learning-centered experiences. There will be mutual respect and understanding of each other's roles and all will have a good appreciation of student needs for learning.

A vision of technology needs to be linked to a strategy for realizing the vision. One part of the strategy is looking at what staff is required to achieve the instructional technology goals. To get an idea of what staff is required, it is useful to look at some basic technology strategies and link the staffing needs to the tactical requirements of the strategy. In this way, there is a clear linkage between personnel hires and actual people doing the jobs required. The alternative too often has been hiring staff with only a vague idea that they will be doing something with technology. That is equivalent to hiring a faculty member with a vague idea that she will teach something but not quite sure what. For example, many wonderfully competent technical staff have been responsible for making Web pages. The functionally working pages are often so aesthetically awkward or dull that they have little value as virtual settings for learning. By thinking through the type of staff with the type of work that needs to be done, it is possible to better come up with some kind of idea of what the staffing needs of a technologically rich learning-centered university looks like.

The following strategies are not mutually exclusive. However, they do suggest a direction taken by the university. They also include staff roles that are still in the process of development and creation. To some extent they represent concerns for unfocused shotgun approaches to bringing instructional technology to campus. Too many universities have run from pillar to post trying to get everything at once and end up with nothing but frustrated faculty and little productive application of technology. The strategies are not exhaustive of those possible, and they are based solely on my own experience as a faculty and administrator having to deal with some aspect of each core technology.

1. Strategy I: Classroom and Computer Labs Only: using technology to present technology rich learning on campus. Beginning with one staff in each area and adding as needed and as can be afforded.

a. Staff for faculty development workshops and support for using presentation software [e.g., PowerPoint] and Web-based information input [search] and minimal output [e.g., online syllabus] This person may double as Instructional designer.

b. Instructional designer. Masters level instructional designer to move faculty from teaching-centered to learning-centered instruction design. This is an emerging role used in some universities to work with faculty to help them translate their course materials into learning-centered designs.

c. Equipment Staff. If equipment is to be moved from place to place, more staff is required than having fully wired classrooms. Usually a single coordinating staff member with student assistants is sufficient.

d. Lab staff. A single staff member to coordinate computer labs with student assistants to staff labs.

e. Technical support staff. Some portion of the university Computer Services center (Information Technology Services) will be required for keeping the computers wired and working. Everything from locked up software to failed hubs are needed along with regular maintenance.

2. Strategy II: Distance Learning With Video. This can run the gamut from regular classes on video to fully redesigned learning-centered courses. The equipment can be very expensive, but the technology is excellent in this area and faculty can always fall back on traditional lectures in a pinch so the learning curve of faculty here is not as great as creating a full multimedia production.

a. Technical support staff. Some portion of the university Computer Services center (Information Technology Services) or TV Studio will be required for setting up and maintaining equipment. Sometimes student assistants can handle the set up and some maintenance.

b. Instructional designer. Masters level instructional designer to move faculty from teaching-centered to learning-centered instruction design.

3. Strategy III: CD ROM fully Asynchronous Multimedia. This is a very expensive route, and it is one fraught with problems. Cross platform and client equipment compatibility is a major issue. However, it is one that can lead to outstanding examples of robust multimedia learning experiences fully engrossing the students.

a. Multimedia development staff. Staff who knows how to work with sophisticated multimedia development tools such as Authorware, Director, Adobe Premier, Infiniti [3-D development], Poser, and animation software. It is important to have staff in this area committed for the period of the CD development. Lucrative jobs outside of academia often lure this staff away. Sometimes, student assistants who are majoring in this type of design and development can be hired if there is a clear timeline for production.

b. Instructional designer. Masters level instructional designer to move faculty from teaching-centered to learning-centered instruction design who understands the opportunities and limitations of various multimedia products. A background in movie and television production would be very helpful.

c. Artists and graphic designers. It is more important to get good artists and designers who can be trained in using software than it is to get staff who can use the software but have minimal artistic skills. Student artists have been found to be excellent hires as staff in this area.

d. Director. Management staff is required to put all the pieces together and coordinate faculty material and development staff.

4. Strategy IV: Web fully Asynchronous Courseware. This approach has been adopted widely for its flexibility, low cost, cross-platform compatibility, and World Wide access. It can be used either as part of a strategy for on-campus or distance learning as well as some combinations of both.

a. Web page development staff. With newer WYSIWYG tools for developing Web pages, the creation of Web pages does not take a computer programmer. However, good Web pages do require good designers, and with Dynamic HTML and Shockwave, there are more possibilities for robust multimedia. With rare exception is this going to be the average faculty member. Web page development staff is probably an emergent team of some sophistication in HTML and JavaScript,[ made easier by tools such as Macromedia's Dreamweaver], designers and artists, and multimedia producer/designers. Experience has shown that it is easier to begin with an artist/designer and teach them to use Web development tools than the other way around. Also, if a university chooses a "package approach" using teaching/learning packages such as Web Mentor, Web-Course-in-a-Box, or Top Class, there will have to be either staff or faculty development to use these products.

b. Instructional designer. Masters level instructional designer who can show faculty how to incorporate the increasingly sophisticated Web to learning-centered instruction. [This person may also double as a Web page staff supervisor and coordinator.]

c. Web page staff Director. A manager to coordinate, schedule, and plan course production.[Possibly a role for the Instructional designer.]

d. Technical support for servers. Part of the Computer Center's staff will need to be assigned to maintain Web servers and such items as CGI, online discussion groups [e.g., Webboard, Cold Fusion/Allaire Forums] plus all connectivity.

Staffing needs in instructional technology will change as the university and higher education settle on what works and what they can afford. The needs will also change as faculty and technology change. In the meantime, though, some clear strategy is required to not only move forward but also to save time, money, and headaches in the process.


Critical Reviews

1. Poor grammar and poor overall organization make this article unsuitable for publication.

2. The general notion of an article which lays out alternative strategies with regard to instructional technology is a great one, but the implementation here falls short.  The laundry list approach offers no context or sense of what values, costs, and benefits university planners will be weighing when considering their strategy.  In addition, the laundry list without case studies, examples, or anecdotes to connect them with real-world outcomes does little to advance people's thinking about these issues.

3. If the author wants to go for another approach, I would suggest offering a case study of how to do it right, alongside a case study of how to do it wrong, and then compare them, offering some general observations about staffing and instructional technology strategies.

Although this article did not give clear examples or case studies, it did raise some awareness of the importance in understanding the differences in qualification needed for the support and implementation of different technologies.  Our staffing has evolved over the past ten years to a decentralized but coordinated model.  When our network was first installed in 1989 it was intended to serve the accounting and budgeting needs of the College.  However it rapidly grew to encompass every faculty and staff member (over 500) and extended to serving them from remote locations as well as here on campus.  To provide support for both the hardware infrastructure and advances in instructional technologies has been a challenge since we had only 2.0 FTE support faculty funded centrally for these purposes.  So, we developed a decentralized model consisting of identifying a departmental technology support specialist for each program or research grant of $1 million or more that are trained and supported centrally by the two systems managers.  In addition, the systems managers meet with the departmental support personnel once each month to discuss new technologies, problem solve, and develop systems deployment strategies such as Y2K procedures.  We also developed a policy to define the roles of the systems managers and the department support specialists to prevent erroneous service expectations and minimize any "finger pointing" that may occur in the event of systems


The primary functions of Technology Systems Administration personnel in the Dean’s Office are listed below. This list is based on a prioritized list of college-wide services consistent with the current level of staffing in the Technology Systems Administration unit.

As indicated, the above services are offered college-wide by the Technology Systems Administration. Current staffing for these functions is 2.0 FTE. With this level of central staffing, all other technology support requirements need be addressed at the unit level.  For the purposes of technology support a unit is defined to be a department, center, or institute. However, department heads or center/institute directors, at their discretion, may identify sub-units within their area. It is important that individual programs, faculty, and classified staff know which unit is providing technical support to them at this level and the name of their
support person, because these unit technology support personnel are those whose assistance should be requested for day-to-day technology-related support. The two Technology Systems Administrators will provide basic network training and ongoing support and assistance for these unit technology support staff.  In addition, the Technology Systems Administrators will meet on a monthly basis with the unit technology support group to provide ongoing training support and two-way information exchanges in the area of technology.

The two systems managers in turn, also serve as the contact point for University level systems support.  The University provides network engineers to maintain all backbone, hub and router components as well as Unix and Vax support specialists to maintain the VAX mainframe and Unix servers providing e-mail and research statistics program services.