Conquering the Support Service Crisis
Even though the recession has put
many technically skilled and knowledgeable professionals back into the job market,
most colleges and universities still have trouble finding, hiring, paying, and
keeping tech support staff. Now, many colleges and universities are experiencing
severe financial pressuresmost notably at some state college and university
systems, some community colleges, and some smaller liberal arts colleges. We
are already seeing staff cuts in professional development and some unprecedented
budget cuts for technology support.
Just as more faculty are asked to learn new ways of teaching and supporting
their students' learning, their willingness and ability to participate in conventional
professional development activities is reduced. Recent additions to faculty
responsibilities, budget "adjustments," and staffing reassignments have already
increased the typical faculty workload.
Travel and other professional development budgets are often cut or held steadyresulting
in declining attendance at non-local workshops and conferences where faculty
might learn new teaching approaches. Many faculty development professionals
also report declining participation rates for conventional on-campus faculty
In recent columns I've talked about some different approaches for helping faculty
improve teaching and learning under new conditions. I'm urging that in these
difficult times, academic administrators in higher education institutions identify
and support the best use of their own unique resourcesprofessional staff, faculty,
and students. I urge that these institutions develop or continue to support
Teaching, Learning, and Technology (TLT) Centers, or Virtual TLT Centers. If
that isn't feasible, at least coordinate the work of academic support professionals
(librarians, faculty development, technology support, instructional design).
These Centers or teams should:
- Find and use "low-hanging fruit" or Low-Threshold Applications (LTAs).
- Develop small "clusters" or highly organized, highly-focused sets of Web
links to a modest number of highly selected instructional resourcesespecially
- Identify and support collections, repositories, and "referatories"good
mechanisms for those who build selective clusters to tell others about them
and make them accessible.
- Use tools and principles of the Open Source software development community
to whatever extent appropriate and feasible.
- Develop Student Technology Assistant programs in which students learn to
train and supervise other students who provide technical support and help
faculty with instructional uses of technology.
In response to these new conditions and as a means of helping with these solutions,
most campuses will benefit from reducing the duration and increasing the frequency
and variety of professional development activities available to faculty and
other academic professionals. We continue to hear about the increasing success
of offering very focused, very short sessions (thirty minutes to one hour).
The TLT Group has begun pilot-testing "Online Brown Bag Lunches" in which a
Web cast is offered at lunchtime and a Web site is made available in advance.
Leaders of the local sessions can download and adapt discussion or activity
guides for their own use.
We welcome your help in shaping this new approach or participation in these
Steven Gilbert is President of the TLT Group and moderates the Internet listserv TLT-SWG.