Sacrifice Time to Integrate Technology? Why Bother?

Most of the educational uses of information technology that I know about increase the time required by the faculty member—first to learn how to use the technology and subsequently to implement and integrate it. This is especially true for applications that enhance communication between faculty and students. Students’ appetites for course-related communications seem to rise with the convenience of that communication, while e-mail seems extremely well-suited to the lifestyles of many students.

But once faculty begin corresponding with their students via e-mail, they often feel pressed to respond rapidly to students, even on evenings and weekends. So, why should faculty members embrace changes that are likely to increase their workload?

At the end of my presentation at a recent conference, I was approached by someone who described himself as a “mainstream” faculty member who was intrigued with the educational possibilities that new technology applications and courseware seemed to be offering. However, he felt that he already had a full time job and that any effort to learn how to use a new tool or approach would take time away from his personal life—from his time with his family or from his time to sleep.

He said that he was willing to make this kind of sacrifice, to make this personal investment. However, he wanted reassurance that after doing so there would be some related gains—not only in the quality of education for his students, but also in some savings of time and effort for himself. He especially wanted to hear that if he tried to make these changes, that within a year or less he would be able to return to something like his current workload level and his current lifestyle, with the same amount of personal time available to him once again. He asked me to identify some educational applications of technology that might meet the criteria he had just established, in order to give him some hope.

I think he was clearly expressing one of the fundamental concerns shared by the majority of faculty who are not “early adopters” of new instructional technology. He was asking a very sound question. And I wish I had more reassuring answers.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t immediately think of anything except a few administrative applications. He might learn to use some of the “gradebook” and other record-keeping features of some Course Management Systems and, after a learning period, find that he was able to reduce his course-related administrative workload. Of course, there are some exceptions that offer obvious gains in the teachers’ productivity, especially applications that replace some of the time required for the teacher to oversee and correct the repetitious learning of rote skills.

I’d like to offer another version of his question, a question that has shaped my work with colleges and universities in recent months: “Why bother?” In particular, why bother making great investments of money, time, and effort to increase educational uses of information technology in colleges and universities?

About a year ago I began a discussion on the American Association of Higher Education (AAHESGIT) Steve Gilbert Instructional Technology listserv that resulted in a document that attempts to summarize the reasons for moving forward under the challenging conditions experienced by that faculty member. You can see the full text at www.tltgroup.org/gilbert/Why-Bother.htm.

I hope to extend and improve this document. Please suggest more reasons for why “to bother” to gilbert@tltgroup.org.

About the Author

Steven Gilbert is President of the TLT Group and moderates the Internet listserv TLT-SWG.

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