LTAs to the Rescue

The IT training paradox: Faculty want training, but they don’t have time to spare. Low-threshold activities and applications are the answer.

Outside, the snow is falling and schools will be closed tomorrow. For my kids, this is a welcome event; they’ll be ecstatic that classes are canceled. Faculty or staff anticipating a development opportunity, on the other hand, will be disappointed: They run short of time to attend training or other development opportunities as it is, and the loss of a session that they had managed to fit into their busy schedules will be a setback. And this highlights the very real paradox that faculty and staff face when it comes to receiving training for the use of technology, and training for effective pedagogical use of technology. To illustrate the dilemma, below are a couple of questions we asked our own faculty about time needed for training. How might your own faculty or staff respond to them?


1. How long is the ideal workshop on learning to use a technology tool to enhance teaching and learning?
a) 30 minutes b) 1 hr c) 2 hrs d) 4-5 hrs e) 6-8 hrs

2. How much time can you devote to attending an IT training workshop?
a) 30 minutes b) 1 hr c) 2 hrs d) 4-5 hrs e) 6-8 hrs

On our campus, the most common answer to the first question was “d.” But responses to the second question were more likely to be “b.” In other words, faculty need ample time to learn how to use the technologies, but do not have nearly as much time to attend the training sessions as they need. A couple more questions shed additional light on those needs:

3. How much technology should you be expected to learn, to utilize a specific technology teaching tool?
a) The entire software application. b) Just enough to learn to use the teaching tool, but no more. c) I don’t want to learn any technology; I expect the technology to be transparent for me.

4. When learning to teach with a technology tool, which is most effective?
a) Learning the technology on your own. b) Taking a workshop where the technology is taught, and then practicing it. c) Having one-on-one help in learning and applying the technology. d) Other.

Our faculty answered question number three with “b” or “c.” Responses to question number four were equally divided among “a”, “b”, “c”, and “d”. What all of this indicates is that faculty have a desire or need to learn technology to enhance teaching, don’t have enough time, and want the process to be relatively simple. This presents a quandary for faculty developers: How can they deliver effective faculty training in a time-efficient manner? The TLT Group (www.tltgroup.org), created to help educational institutions, associations, and corporations with just such challenges, has devised an approach to circumvent this dilemma, or at least reduce it. TLT president Steve Gilbert and his organization have been espousing the merits of low threshold applications (or activities); LTAs, for short. An LTA is a teaching/learning application of information technology. It is defined as being reliable, accessible, easy to learn, non-intimidating, and inexpensive.

Short and Sweet

An important characteristic of LTAs is that, typically, they are administered in a low-threshold format: short, single-objective training sessions. Faculty can invest a small amount of time to learn a single function or tool that they can use to enhance teaching and learning. Sessions are often just 30 to 60 minutes in length. The technology is fairly standard or ubiquitous and can be transferred easily to others. Thus, a faculty member can devote a short amount of time to attending a session in which he can learn something that can be used immediately to support instruction or other aspects of the job.

From a faculty development perspective, LTAs provide a relatively easy way to deliver training, both technical and pedagogical, to faculty. One-hour sessions can be fit in during lunch hours, as a weekly series, as breakout sessions in an institute, or in numerous other formats. By their nature, LTAs are fairly easy to prepare and deliver; they are high-activity applications or sessions and have a clear objective and clear, expected outcome. They can be used to incrementally build expertise in faculty. All in all, LTAs allow teaching and learning centers or other faculty development offices to deliver accessible technology training to busy faculty.

Many Ways to Offer LTAs

Portland State University (OR), for instance, has delivered training through “30 Minute Techno-Bites,” short noon-time sessions on topics such as creation of PDF files, scanning, burning CDs, and even developing QuickTime movies. At Ferris State University (MI), weekly one-hour sessions held in the evening cover such items as converting Microsoft Word or PowerPoint files to HTML, basics of creating Macromedia Flash presentations, or creating online digital “handouts.” Bucks Community College (PA) provides an online LTA of the Week in the form of a step-by-step guide in PDF format for faculty on their campus. Topics covered include inserting clip art from the Internet, creating sequential data in Excel, disabling pop-up ads, and inserting the campus logo into e-mail signature files.

“LTAs provide a relatively easy way to deliver training both technical and pedagogical, to faculty."

On our campus at Southeast Missouri State University, “Wired Wednesdays” held during our campus common hour provide one-hour sessions on various strategies to enhance teaching and learning with technology. Topics include simple functions in our course management system, such as using scoring rubrics in online discussions, electronic grade reporting, using the course drop-box, and other topics such as best practices in teaching online and course Web site organization. Steven Bell, director of the Paul J. Gutman Library at Philadelphia University, promotes LTAs as mechanisms for getting library resources and functions into the hands of faculty. Library LTA topics include using table-of-contents alert services in eJournal collections; capturing database articles as text files and uploading captured files into courseware or eReserves; locating articles in databases using exact citations; supplementing the addition of articles to course sites or eReserves; and using direct-borrow options in systems such as FirstSearch from Online Computer Learning Center ( www.oclc.org/firstsearch).

More Help

For more on LTAs and an LTA of the Week list (a comprehensive list of all LTAs posted to the Web site), head to www.tltgroup.org/LTAs/ltaw/archive.html. And for additional reading on LTAs, see “The Beauty of Low Threshold Applications,” by Steve Gilbert, in the February 2002 issue of Syllabus magazine (www.campus-technology.com/LTAs), and “LTAs—Replacements for the Missing ‘Professional Development’” in Syllabus’ IT Trends March 11, 2004 newsletter (www.campus-technology.com/ittrends).

The list of LTAs on the LTA of the Week Web site includes a variety of strategies for improving teaching and learning, but also includes time-saving and efficiency- oriented activities. Some of the productivity-related LTAs that we have selected as useful for our own faculty at Southeast include an e-mail merge with Microsoft Word and Outlook, grading templates for Excel, time on task, and creating Web- and print-friendly graphics in Microsoft PowerPoint. Rather than list and describe all the offerings here, I encourage you to poke around the LTA of the Week Web site, for additional examples of LTAs.

In the End…
Because faculty have little time to attend training and need it to be delivered in simple, incremental pieces, LTAs have provided an important new approach to faculty development. Many campuses are using them as one approach, often mixing them in with other traditional methods of delivery such as workshops, institutes, online manuals, and so forth. At Southeast Missouri State, we have found LTAs to be a useful supplement to our faculty development activities. If the “time for training” paradox exists on your campus, too, it’s time to check out LTAs.

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