Classroom Focus

10 Tips for Injecting New Technology into Your Campus

Introducing new technologies to faculty members can be a challenge--they are often simply too busy or don't see the point of mastering yet another tool. At San Diego State University, IT Services Director James Frazee and Associate Director of Instructional Technology Services Jim Julius have developed a number of techniques that their department has used to successfully bring new technology into SDSU learning environments.

As an example, Julius described the various stages in a multi-year project to introduce classroom clickers to faculty and students. The instructional technology services group used a range of techniques to gradually introduce the new technology, thereby working to ensure buy-in from both faculty and students. Introducing technology successfully is a favorite subject of Julius, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on faculty development and adoption of new technologies. Here are ten tips for introducing a new tool or technology, based on successes that SDSU's IT services department has had.

1. Move quickly, before preferences are staked out.

Deciding on a technology standard early can help avoid cases of faculty who have already settled on a favorite tool and are reluctant to change. In the case of remote control classroom performance systems, or clickers, interest from SDSU professors pushed the university to consider standardizing quickly, since early adopters were already trying out various products in classrooms, meaning students might have to buy more than one clicker.

Conversely, moving quickly doesn't apply with larger, more complex products and technologies, Julius pointed out. With clickers, it worked well because the technology is inexpensive and easy to use. With a longer learning curve and more expensive product, moving too quickly can backfire, Julius said.

2. Make the selection process inclusive of students, faculty and staff.

The IT services group at SDSU has used its process for selecting and introducing several new technologies, including a web conferencing tool, its portal technology, and clickers. Regardless of the product, it's important, Julius stressed, to include representatives of everyone who will use the tool.

To make the process more inclusive. Julius said, "publish, raise awareness, involve the faculty--let early adopters become conduits" to help convince peers of the value of a new technology.

3. Do the product research.

For the clicker project, Julius spent extensive time on the phone early in the process finding out what other schools were doing and saying about clickers. He then pulled together a faculty focus group to rank the list of criteria he had gathered during his research. That group added additional features he hadn't included.

Using his research data and faculty input, Julius then organized a giant matrix illustrating how each clicker system had rated. Two products clearly stood out. Julius brought those clickers to campus for presentations to various potential users--faculty and students. "We wanted to make sure decision-making around new technology was participatory by stakeholders," he said.

4. Save time by skipping the pilot if you can.

With clickers, Julius said, "We could have done a pilot; some institutions would have." But pilots take lots of time, he pointed out. "Some schools have done pilots that go on and on. Then the information has changed, so it's too late" to adopt whatever product has been chosen. In the interests of saving time and getting a product selected, Julius' department decided to go with something quicker.

Instead, his department put on presentations around the two products and gathered feedback directly from interested faculty users. There was no clear victor--both products were still highly rated.

5. Get creative to gather feedback.

It's not always easy to convince either faculty or students to take the time to test a product and offer feedback, or to participate in focus groups or other information-gathering forums. Instead, Julius decided to gather student feedback at this point. With a few of each of the two top-rated clickers in hand, he began visiting select classrooms for feedback.

6. Take your input to the vendor.

The case between the two brands of clickers came down to price. Students clearly liked the design and features of one brand, but balked at the pricing model, an online pay-as-you-go arrangement. Julius took that information back to the vendor, who agreed to work with SDSU to alter the pricing model. "If you're a large enough school, you can try this," Julius advised.

7. Remember integration issues.

In the end, with the pricing model re-negotiated, SDSU's final clicker selection was eInstruction's Classroom Performance System. Along with its feature set and design, its integration with Blackboard, SDSU's course management system, was also critical.

8. Keep the initial group of adopters small.

That allows time for lots of support from IT staff early on. Since early adopters get plenty of help, they then pass on their positive experiences, talking up the product enthusiastically to others.

That's part of the reason that Julius added new users so gradually with his clicker rollout. "We didn't rush things," he said, adding just a handful of new faculty the second semester, in spring 2007. With things going smoothly, he convinced the bookstore to provide a handful of lunches, which he used to bring together faculty members to share best practices, tips, war stories, surprises, and problems.

"Faculty actually gave short presentations to new faculty interested in using clickers, but not using them yet," Julius said. He continues to maintain a list of all faculty members who have shown interest since the start, but has not introduced all of them to clickers. "We don't want to open the floodgates just yet," he said.

9. Be ready to transition support when you reach a tipping point in adoption.

As the technology becomes adopted, think about moving users to a type of support that is less hands-on and intensive for IT staff. At SDSU, Julius polled faculty and then set up a simple email list server last spring, at their request.

IT support staff monitor the list, but don't often have to interject. Rather, faculty members support each other. "The model is starting to move to something sustainable, where users are supporting each other," Julius said. Since the university can't support a one-to-one user support model for clickers, he's encouraged by that trend.

10. Remember your goal.

In the case of clickers at SDSU, the saturation rate among professors is still relatively small--just 50 or so are using the eInstruction devices in classes. It's a tiny percent of faculty, Julius admitted, but affects a huge percent of students--and that's really the point. Since clicker use is aimed at large lecture classes, it doesn't take a lot of faculty using the devices to have an impact on students.

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