What Should Be Capturing Faculty Attention?

Emerging issues in distance learning and the use of electronic technologies demand faculty attention. But is anyone listening? My colleagues and I compiled a list of these important issues for faculty in the coming years. Are these on the “to do” list at your institution?

  1. Information technology literacy. Librarians have long been the vanguard of those requiring undergraduate students to demonstrate information technology literacy, but no one has pushed this agenda for faculty. Very few well-developed and supported training opportunities exist for faculty to learn exemplary uses of electronic databases and library resources. Even fewer opportunities are available to faculty to learn how to obtain and use electronic learning objects. In fact, training in new tools has never been part of the traditional faculty culture at colleges and universities. Until today’s students become the higher education faculty, faculty members need their own learning opportunities to incorporate the new tools effectively into their teaching.
  2. Retaining IT staff. Casey Green’s 2000 Campus Computing Survey indicates that a critical issue on campuses is retaining information technology staff. It is easy to speculate as to why campuses have difficulty retaining staff, given the salaries most colleges and universities can afford to pay vis-à-vis higher paying industry jobs and the increasing demands to support more and more applications. However, coming up with solutions is not so easy, and the implications of this problem are a concern to faculty. Most faculty members do not want to spend time learning to diagnose computer or network problems—they expect support. When a campus has to cut back on IT support, the faculty members are likely to suffer.
  3. Higher expectations from students. According to a National Public Radio report in March of this year, 75 percent of kids between the ages of 12 and 18 in the United States went online in January 2001. This “Net generation” has some expectations for service that differ from current campus practices. A single faculty member cannot be available to respond to e-mailed questions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yet most faculty members want to be responsive to their students. This mismatch of expectations and capabilities may require some new management skills for faculty.
  4. Cooperative consortia. The most critical issue looming for faculty is learning to work together across campuses and states in ways for which there are no precedents. The proliferation of state and multi-state consortia demands that each college and university accept the teaching of one another. Students expect to be able to choose a course from any institution in the consortium and have it count toward their degree. They don't care about inter-institutional rivalry or the minute differences between the cognitive psychology class taught at Institution A and that of Institution B. Few strategies exist for smoothing inter-institutional cooperation among faculty. However, the energy of a few creative faculty members would surely result in good solutions—such as having multi-campus teams create the electronic courses.
  5. Using commercial courseware. Finally, with more consortia and commercially developed courses, faculty members need to learn how to use an imported electronic course for the students on their campus. Instead of being a lecturer, the professor becomes the mentor helping a student shape her understanding of the vast array of information on the topic—the electronic equivalent of the scholar and student sitting on opposite ends of the proverbial log.

About the Author

Sally Johnstone is founding director of the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET) and serves on advisory groups for state, national, and international organizations to help plan and evaluate eLearning projects.

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