Faculty Development | Feature

Bringing Faculty Into the Fold

Engaging faculty with instructional technology is a big hurdle, but it can be done. Four institutions share their strategies.

The biggest impediment to the integration of technology into the classroom is not budgets, bandwidth, or byte-related. It's faculty. Convincing them of the value of classroom technology--and persuading them to use it--is probably the most significant tech hurdle facing campuses today. Without faculty support, even the most promising initiative is doomed. And no amount of mandates will secure that support either. To succeed with faculty, the carrot beats the stick every time. Here are tips from four institutions that have discovered ways to foster instructional technology use among their faculty.

1. Peer Training
While university administrators are sometimes viewed with suspicion, faculty members actually listen to their colleagues. Take advantage of that. It's a strategy that's working for Adelphi University (NY), which holds an annual Teaching with Technology conference that features presentations by its own faculty.

The 2011 conference attracted 80 to 90 attendees, about 20 percent more than the previous year. Twenty-two faculty members shared teaching practices on topics ranging from e-books and e-resources to creating lessons around whiteboards and notebooks.

While the conference draws just a fraction of Adelphi's approximately 300 full-time and 1,000 part-time faculty members, it enables the university to identify those innovators among the faculty who might be effective in working with other instructors. "The conference and the call for proposals are a way for us to help identify those faculty who could be potential mentors for other faculty in their use of instructional technology," explains Susan Lambert, director of the university's Faculty Center for Professional Excellence.

Lambert credits the conference with helping to boost use of the institution's learning management system, Moodle. Once stagnant at 40 percent, faculty use has shot up over the last three years to nearly 70 percent. Lambert's optimistic that these numbers will continue to climb. "We're hoping to make that almost 100 percent in the next few years," she says.

The yearly conference also helps win over faculty members who are apprehensive about employing technology in their classroom. "I actually work with a lot of older folks who are very willing to use Moodle," Lambert says. "What is typically true, though, is they're a little bit less confident when using the technology."

To assist instructors further, Adelphi is launching a website this year that will feature a gallery of faculty technology projects.

2. 1-to-1 Marketing
Coordinating faculty has often been likened to herding cats--a testament to the extraordinary diversity of the professors and instructors on most campuses. Not surprisingly, a one-size-fits-all approach to tech training doesn't always pan out. Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth is taking a different approach. To cater to the various teaching and learning styles of its 250 faculty members, the school is using Intelliworks, a web-based constituent relationship management (CRM) system, to create individualized development programs.

"Faculty-development programs are under constant pressure to make a case for their effectiveness," says Amy Collier, director of the university's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), which is charged with providing faculty with the tools and training they need to be effective instructors. CETL uses the CRM system to monitor interaction with faculty--including event attendance, course enrollment, and teaching consultations--and track program effectiveness.

This type of reporting enables the center's administrators to "identify trends and streamline services" in order to customize programs for individual instructors' needs, adds Marcus Kerr, the university's chief information officer. The result is a "market of one," where each faculty member is unique.

In two years, the number of faculty members who have used the program has grown from 25 to 69. "We developed a system that allows us to pique their interest in specific programs and bring them in-house to deliver services and programs that are helpful to them," says Kerr.

3. House Calls
When dealing with faculty who are already leery of technology, it may not be the best idea to force them to come to you for their medicine. So make house calls instead. That's what Marist College (NY) decided to do after faculty interest in the school's Sakai LMS tapered off.

Not surprisingly, Marist faced the same issue that killed off old-fashioned doctor house calls: cost. To overcome it, Dede Hourican, a support specialist in the school's academic technology department, implemented an idea that she had used at another college: She hired students.

Together with Reba-Anna Lee, assistant director of academic technology, Hourican launched Innovative Technology Education Around Marist (iTeam), a squad of undergraduate and graduate student technologists who help faculty members transition to Sakai. The students receive training in Sakai, help desk support, and how to deal with adult learners.

At first, Lee wasn't sure how her iTeam would identify faculty members who needed help. By happy accident, she discovered that the college's copy center had 5,000 door hangers that another department had ordered but never used. It was the perfect solution.

Now, faculty members receive an e-mail notifying them when the iTeam will be patrolling their buildings. Anyone requiring assistance just has to place the hanger on the office door handle--just like the "Do not disturb" sign on a hotel door--and an iTeam member will stop to provide help.

The experiment has paid off. Faculty use of Sakai has increased since the launch of the iTeam program, now in its third year. About half of the college's 2,100 courses are currently using Sakai.

"Sakai has a lot of tools. With the face-to-face, we're able to show faculty how to use one or two tools really well," Lee says. "They are able to start using that in their classes, and that encourages them to use it more and more." The proof? Faculty attendance at Sakai training increased 33 percent after the first pilot project.

4. Informal Training
Sometimes it's easy to overlook the simplest solutions. Like everyone else, faculty are partial to free food, for instance. Texas Wesleyan hosts "lunch and learn" events where faculty can learn about technology tools--and get a free meal. The events are publicized through e-mails, general postings, calendar listings, and word of mouth.

"We get 15 to 20 people, some of whom are repeat customers," says Kerr. "In a way, it does reward the person who's using technology, because it gives them an opportunity to speak in front of their peers and share their ideas."

Even without free food, some faculty see the appeal of informal get-togethers. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, for example, hosts eTech@Noon, a series of lunchtime learning sessions where faculty learn how to use SoftChalk, an online tool that develops educational modules, quizzes, and tests.

"The sessions are well-attended," says Jan Hart, associate library director at the school. "People must care enough to come, because they just get a notice about it." The noontime series draws roughly 10 to 40 faculty members per event. The one-hour presentations are often supplemented with hands-on workshops.

About the Author

Keith Norbury is a freelance writer based in Victoria, British Columbia.

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