Master Planners: Faculty Development

As technology becomes more important to the institutional mission, faculty development programs must assume a more central role in IT planning.

The advent of the World Wide Web stimulated unprecedented technology spending by universities worldwide. Unfortunately, poorly-coordinated combinations of grants, gifts, and politically-motivated government funding led to fragmented technology implementation. Costly hardware and software installations may have provided good feelings and marketing hooks to attract students to “cutting-edge” learning environments, but beneath the high-tech glitter were some ugly realities: the technology was poorly integrated into existing teaching and learning practices, there was little coordination with institutional goals and values, and faculty generally lacked the skills to use the technology effectively.

The fragmentation led to intramural installations of incompatible systems, or multiple systems that required inefficient retraining of students using the systems in different departments on campus. Strategically, fragmented implementations prevented institution-wide realization of Web-based technology’s promise to enhance access to university education, especially at the undergraduate level. To many, technology was a solution looking for a problem.

With expensive but rapidly aging technology in place, some institutions saw the incongruity between lavish technological resources and minimal faculty skills as the chief obstacle to realizing improvements to teaching and learning through technology. Numerous development models were implemented to close the faculty skills gap and ultimately to validate the investment in technology for teaching and learning.

Indicators, such as the number of online courses and programs now being offered, show that the faculty did benefit from the efforts. However, some faculty continue to look askance at technology, citing the lack of agreement on how technology use should count in tenure and promotion decisions, unresolved intellectual property issues, the still-steep learning curve for teaching with technology, and a general lack of faith that online instruction is “as good as” face-to-face instruction. Perhaps the most powerful driver of efforts to assess technology’s impact on teaching and learning is the need to respond to these concerns.

Knowing Technology’s Place
Faculty development offices now routinely offer technology training. Campus committees deliberate technology’s value in tenure and promotion, and intellectual property now sparks lively debate. Research into assessment is beginning to reveal new insights into the ways people learn that may benefit both face-to-face and online instruction. The dot-com decline has encouraged a more sober approach to technology funding, a trend made more urgent in public institutions by the budget crisis facing most states.

As we move away from the chaotic 1990s when technology was “new”, it would be tempting to conclude that there is now less reason to plan for technology; the focus should be on realizing plans already made or planning for better use of the technology on hand. In truth, however, new technologies, reduced base funding levels, continued earmarked funding, and rapidly changing faculty skills, compel faculty developers and administrators to carefully and continually plan for technology.

The many models for faculty development vary with campus size, mission, and organizational structure. For many, it is a centralized faculty development office or center. Localized offices in schools, colleges, or branch campuses may complement this. Other models feature decentralized offices or a division of faculty development components among different units.

Faculty development in the area of technology-supported teaching may see technical training offered by the IT department while pedagogical aspects are presented by a teaching and learning center. Delivery methods include workshops or institutes ranging from multi-week to short single topic sessions, either face-to-face or online, as well as faculty mentors and communities of practice. In all cases, the goals are to connect faculty to new technologies and importantly, to promote effective use of these technologies in support of teaching and learning.

Strategic Planning as a Tool
A major shortcoming of faculty development programs during the fat years was the failure to make the case that the pedagogical aspects of technology use were more important than the technical. This failure probably came about innocently; without the creation of a tech-enabled faculty, the pedagogical implications were difficult to convey, contributing to the notion that technology was a solution looking for a problem. Those looking to technology to transform teaching and learning would do well to link technology solutions with real problems recognized by faculty and administrators.

An often-overlooked but potentially valuable way to do this is through careful study of campus strategic plans. Strategic plans can serve as tools for reconnaissance, allowing faculty developers to locate pockets of expertise, determine skill levels, discover faculty wishes for technology, uncover technology misconceptions held by faculty, or identify problems that block successful technology implementation. Strategic plans also highlight areas deemed important by the campus and provide justification for resource requests, approaches, and scope.

Strategic plans can provide thoughtful and comprehensive coverage of both challenges and resources. But wise planners know that “stealth resources” exist, and that those resources become increasingly important when budgets are distressed. Early adopters represent just such a resource. They tend to be forward-thinking faculty who understand the technology and grasp its implications for supporting or enhancing teaching and learning. Alone, the faculty will use technology to improve their own courses, but working them into campus-wide technology planning can leverage their skills to improve many courses.

Integrating early adopters into faculty development makes sense in at least three ways: as faculty, early adopters enjoy credibility among fellow faculty; early adopters are economical because they are already on campus; and early adopters already possess enthusiasm for the technology being promoted.

Finding Campus-Wide Support
Strategic plans and latent resources such as early adopters can vitalize technology planning, but money and political capital are equally important. Wise planners recognize that effective faculty development programs require coordinated efforts to plan, develop and implement. Along with financial support in the form of budget lines, one-time funding, grants or other sources, political support from administration and faculty is crucial.

The IT department or an information technology committee may provide necessary technical support, while pedagogical substance comes from the academic side, ideally from a campus teaching and learning center or equivalent. An office of instructional technology may also provide a good blend of the technical and pedagogical support needed for effective integration of technology into the teaching and learning process. Positioning early adopters on technology steering committees can bring expertise to the planning process, while securing the political advantage of offering faculty development programs designed by the faculty themselves.

A truly effective faculty development program is optimized to take advantage of new technologies, but the fast pace and unpredictability of change makes it difficult to gauge the value of every new technology. Ultimately, flexibility is the key. Planning for change is as important as planning the change. A lock and key approach where the basic characteristics of new technologies are defined and appropriate responses are in the ready may help. Such generic planning asks what makes a technology new. Take information literacy for example. Most new technologies involve increased or additional forms of communication and information exchange or retrieval; all key components of information literacy. Making the assumption that future technology advances will further support information literacy would enable faculty developers to rapidly implement the new technology with that aspect in mind.

The Benefits
The benefits of effective faculty development include the incorporation of specific technologies into the campus culture. A campus without effective faculty development programs may see pockets of success; a campus with such programs will see a more homogeneous, collegial transformation of the campus and culture.

Assessing the impact of the program can be difficult. A technology-enabled faculty can indicate a campus transformation. Quantitative data can be found in workshop or institute satisfaction and attendance, declining training costs, and support call and contact numbers. Student and faculty surveys as well as impact on student ratings of instruction or increased use of technology also can provide more qualitative data. Numbers of Web-supported or Web-based course offerings, and enrollment, retention and satisfaction in these technology-enhanced courses, are good indicators of the impact faculty development has on their effectiveness in using technology to support teaching and learning.

The quality and sophistication of technology-based teaching materials used on campus are very good indicators of effective faculty development if we assume that the pedagogical aspects are at least as important as the technical. Lastly, a technology-enabled faculty is demonstrated by the increased inclusion of technology in campus strategic plans; faculty attendance and presentations at IT-related conferences; participation in IT committees and discussions on campus; IT-related purchases and infrastructure formation; interest in the place that IT-related work has in promotion and tenure decisions; and promulgation of standards for instructional Web pages on campus.

Return on Investment
An assessment of the impact of information technology on campus takes on even more importance when examined in the context of a return on investment. The investment in people, equipment, and time must be weighed against the program’s outcomes. D'es the creation of a faculty development program in IT lead to measurable improvements, changes or alterations in the campus culture? Is this campus transformed, and if so, was the cost reasonable?

Return on investment is sometimes difficult to calculate. An ROI takes into account qualitative as well as quantitative changes. Changes in faculty productivity or impact on student learning may be good indicators. The ubiquity of a specific technology may be a marker of a good ROI. While certainly the cost of the technology, the training, and the maintenance can be calculated, quantifying the return in the context of dollars is not as easy.

For people who like action, planning can be a chore; for dreamers, a delight. But preferences aside, planning now for tomorrow’s technology makes sense, especially in light of the complexities inherent in the technology itself and in the challenges associated with making technology beneficial to teaching and learning. Identifying the problems and marshalling the resources to solve them are at the heart of planning, and as technology becomes more central to the university’s mission and culture, planning for technology is one way that the faculty developer can assume a central role in the life of the institution.

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