Faculty Development | Feature

5 Keys to Engaging Faculty With IT

Faculty development remains one of the biggest impediments to the wider use of technology in education. CT looks at five strategies that schools have implemented successfully to increase faculty engagement.

5 Keys to Engaging Faculty With IT
Illustration by Jon Reinfurt

A few months ago, when Campus Technology asked readers which ed tech issues warranted more coverage, an overwhelming number of you pointed the finger at faculty development. We shouldn't have been surprised. While most schools have implemented programs to engage faculty with IT, the results have been decidedly mixed, and faculty development remains a major impediment to more effective teaching. Unfortunately, there's no silver bullet--change is hard to handle whether you're a professor or a provost. But change has become a constant in higher education today, with no sign of smoother sailing ahead. Faculty--and institutions--must adapt with the times or be left behind. To help schools find a way forward, here are strategies that three institutions are using successfully to train their instructors in the use of IT. If you know of other success stories, please share them with us.

This story appears in the May 2013 digital edition of Campus Technology.

1) Evaluation and Analysis
Faculty are not sheep. They are a highly diverse group, ill suited to one-size-fits-all instruction. Not surprisingly, IT training programs that assume faculty are all at the same skill level tend to fail. Miserably.

It's a lesson that Suzan Harkness, director of the Center for Academic Technology (CAT) at the University of the District of Columbia, is happy to share. In her view, before you can help faculty members with their IT needs, you first have to understand what those needs are. And that takes constant evaluation and measuring. This analytic approach drives much of the work of CAT, which focuses on professional development for faculty in online and hybrid learning, but also influences face-to-face instruction.

Since 2009, Harkness has been using basic data-processing tools including Microsoft Excel to track and analyze faculty use of training and technology tools. "I love to look at the data and learn from it," she says. Her three years of collected metrics tell her exactly how many faculty are currently using Blackboard (47 percent) and help explain shifts in usage. When she noticed a 15 percent dip in Blackboard use recently, for example, she was able to trace the decline to retirements among full-time faculty along with an increase in adjunct hiring, prompting her to provide additional assistance to the newcomers.

Underlying these top-line numbers is a noteworthy level of detail. For instance, Harkness created a scale that rates each faculty member on use of Blackboard and other classroom tools. Utilizing usage data in Blackboard, she does a quick "binary analysis," checking yes or no on a list of items for each instructor. Are they using banners? Buttons? Color schemes? Course information? Assignments? Groups?

She then sorts faculty into buckets, ranging from nonusers and minimal users--those who have done little more than set up a course page and issue a curriculum--to medium and heavy users. Using these categories, she can then offer individual faculty members very specific help.
"Not many people do [this level of tracking]," concedes Harkness. "It's interesting what we've been able to do with it. We can target individual faculty. Some don't want [more training], and that's fine. But we get great accolades."

A variety of training options are on offer for faculty, including boot camps every fall and periodic workshops throughout the semester. In two years, Harkness and her staff of eight have served up 307 workshops to 506 faculty members. At some level, says Harkness, "we've trained almost every faculty member we have hired."

CAT's training program has its roots in an effort that started three years ago when a faculty group was tasked with developing a strategy to increase online learning at the university. A content analysis of 14 existing online courses revealed some good attempts, but unearthed problems with collaboration and communication. Using a small seed grant from the university, Harkness worked with Quality Matters, a faculty-centered, peer-review process that is designed to certify the quality of online and blended courses. She also began an effort to educate faculty about pedagogy, build online courses, and, ultimately, certify some faculty in online instruction.

"I've tracked faculty all the way through the training," Harkness says. "Faculty who have been to our workshops have made greater use of Blackboard and teaching applications in general." More analysis of direct student benefits is on her list, but her research shows that fewer students withdraw from online courses that have been reviewed by faculty peers, and students enrolled in these courses earn higher grades and are more likely to pass.

Like UDC, Marist College (NY) is also a big believer in analyzing faculty use of technology, says Josh Baron, senior academic technology officer. The school conducts an annual survey about its Sakai learning management system, including questions about how faculty use the technology and the impact it's having on teaching and learning. At the same time, says Baron, "we run reports on which tools in the LMS are being used the most and by which type of user.  All these help us determine priorities as we work on annual system upgrades."

Baron also uses metrics to track faculty satisfaction with the training--faculty evaluations of training workshops show an overall satisfaction rating in the 4.5 to 5 (out of 5) range, he says.

Numbers can also highlight what isn't working. For example, metrics showed that part-time faculty were using the school's Sakai learning management system less than full-time members. The problem? Training workshops were offered only during regular hours that were often inconvenient for part-time adjuncts. A new schedule now offers weekend and evening workshops, as well as online options. "We're seeing more and more faculty taking [the courses], and we've seen an increase in use of Sakai," reports Baron.

2) Communication
From a faculty-training standpoint, migrating to a new learning management system is the ultimate challenge. In recognition of this, when Marist migrated to Sakai in the 2009-2010 academic year, it took the time to develop a major training program to ease the impact on faculty and, by extension, students. But you can build it and they still won't come. So a major part of the effort was reaching out to faculty to make sure they were prepared for the changeover. "Communication was crucial," recalls Baron. "It got them to come to the training."

For at least 18 months prior to the move, Baron and his staff approached faculty members, held luncheon series to show off Sakai, and generally talked up the move. In addition, they conducted a gap analysis that compared the 263 capabilities of the school's previous LMS (Ucompass Educator) with those of Sakai. "We told faculty members, if it's a critical gap, we wouldn't move until it was closed," Baron says.

And for those faculty who were still unwilling to attend training sessions, Marist took the training to them. "Some faculty members just weren't coming to workshops," Baron says, so student employees roamed the halls weekly to visit faculty, asking if they needed specific help with technology. The program is still in place: Although slow to catch on initially, it has since become popular among faculty.

All the communication has paid off. After the one-year transition period, only 15 percent of faculty members were predicted to opt for Sakai. In the end, 65 percent did.

The need for clear communication gets no argument from Mary Deane Sorcinelli, associate provost for faculty development and director of the Center for Teaching and Faculty Development at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Constantly taking the pulse of the faculty is something the CTFD does well, says Sorcinelli, helping identify areas that require additional focus as well as resources needed by instructors. "We're always reaching out," she says, via focus groups, e-mail outreach, meetings, and direct contacts. "We ask, 'Where are your challenges, what's working well, what would help you teach better?'"

3) Mutual Mentoring
One area where the CTFD differs from other faculty-development centers is its emphasis on mentoring. "We flipped the model," Sorcinelli says of traditional one-on-one, top-down mentoring. Instead, the center has developed a system of "mutual mentoring" that encourages faculty to initiate mentoring partnerships that work for them. Grants and resources are available to help. Faculty acting as "team-based learning fellows," for example, receive a small, one-year grant to work together as a group mentoring one another and exploring best practices in teaching--including the use of technology in the classroom.

This sort of small-community collaboration works well, Sorcinelli says, because faculty tend to listen more to colleagues than to outside voices. "There's lots of isolation" in teaching, she adds, "so a big part of our programming is trying to break that down." The mentoring program is partly sponsored by money from the Mellon Foundation, but more internal funds are becoming available as deans recognize the program's value.

Although training is voluntary, at least a third of faculty are involved in the program each year. "We get faculty to attend based on their peers," says Sorcinelli, who notes that surveys of faculty who have completed the program indicate a consistently high level of satisfaction.

4) Collaboration
As Sorcinelli points out, teaching can be an isolating experience, making it difficult for IT trainers to interact meaningfully with faculty. To overcome this, Marist's Baron decided to engage faculty by simply changing the structure of the learning facility. He wanted a more collaborative design for the training center than traditional rows of seats "and a PowerPoint lecture format."

As a result, the college pulled out rows of desks and completely reconfigured the layout of the center. The room now has four round tables, each with four laptop computers for a total of 16 stations. Baron chose laptops so that users could, if they wanted, remove them from the table during face-to-face collaboration. For presentations and workshops, faculty have use of a whiteboard as well as a ceiling-mounted projector and podium computer. Finally, to create some informal collaborative space, a storage space was converted into a coffee and refreshment area.

The change has been dramatic. A room that was rarely used prior to the redesign has become a meeting place where faculty members drop in regularly.

The new structure also encourages instructors to teach one another--something Baron calls "faculty showcase." In a collaborative approach to training, a faculty member demonstrates how he's successfully used technology in a course, after which a trainer shows everyone else how to do it.

5) Stipends and Grants
The final strategy for engaging faculty is not exactly novel. In fact, it's as old as the hills: Give them some green. At several institutions with successful programs, grants and stipends are part of the incentive to encourage and reward faculty for participation.

At UMass Amherst, for example, support grants ranging from $1,200 to $10,000 are awarded to instructors. "If we're [asking faculty to] put innovations into courses, we try to support that," explains Sorcinelli. External funds cover much of the bill, but the provost and chancellor's office, as well as the deans of various colleges, contribute as well.

Marist also uses stipends with some success. Faculty members who redesign online courses that meet Quality Matters standards receive a $2,500 stipend--half after training is complete and half when the dean approves the course. Other incentives might be as simple as free lunch during training, or providing a memory stick. "It doesn't have to be big," says Baron.

But naked bribery can get you only so far. In fact, Baron feels that success is dependent on a multipronged approach--specifically, policies, incentives, and support. "You often have to do all three at the same time to get them to work," he concludes.

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