Start by Picking Low-Hanging Fruit
There is a growing need to offer professional development programs that respond
to the differences between “pioneers” and “mainstream” faculty
members who are facing the challenge of integrating technology into instruction.
Do you think the following progression could help more mainstream faculty use
information technology more effectively to improve teaching and learning? See
if it applies to you if you’re someone who is responsible for helping those
faculty members; a colleague who likes to help faculty members; or one of those
faculty members yourself.
· Look for Low-Hanging Fruit. Identify a few courses in one or two departments
where you are likely to find support for your efforts, a few individual faculty
members likely to be receptive, and a few Low-Threshold Applications (LTAs)
that meet their needs.
· Pick Courses and Faculty Members. Pick a few courses in one or two departments
that have as many of these characteristics as possible: unusually large enrollments;
high administrative overhead; or clearly identified “instructional bottlenecks”
where many students get stuck each term or where the current teacher (possibly
you!) would most like to get someone else to teach the course. Pick the faculty
members who currently teach these courses and who you expect will be receptive
to your requests and to your offers of help.
· Begin Assembling a Collection of LTAs. Start with yourself and closest
colleagues. Get people to examine what they’re already doing successfully
with technology in their own courses. Look for applications that seem so simple,
so natural, so obvious that the faculty using them don’t even think to
mention them to anyone. Look for ones that actually save time by helping with
course-related or classroom management (e.g., templates for organizing, calculating,
and sharing grades with students). Look for ones that actually seem to help
students learn more, more easily, or more quickly based on the observations
of the faculty involved.
Look for LTAs that other faculty will be able to adopt or adapt with low incremental
cost in dollars, time, and stress. Usually, these are based on technologies
(hardware, network access, software) that are either “almost ubiquitous”
(e.g., Microsoft PowerPoint), or available commercially at low-cost to teachers
and learners (e.g., GradeKeeper, XanEdu). They can also be gotten from “open
source/open course” collections of instructional and professional development
resources (e.g., Merlot, Harvey Project).
· Organize Your Online Collection of LTAs. Ask one of your librarians
to help structure and catalog your collection and provide guidelines about how
to describe the individual LTAs so that most faculty members will be able to
find those that match their needs.
· Learn, Teach, and Assess. Learn how to use some of these LTAs. Most
useful LTAs can be introduced to a potential faculty user in a 30-minute meeting
with a nested set of 5-by-7-inch envelopes and cards. This can be done as a
workshop or in smaller, even one-to-one sessions.
The final level of mastering a new educational use of information technology
is being able to help someone else learn how to use it. Explaining and helping
another to use the application almost invariably deepens that person’s
understanding of the application. If every mainstream faculty member learned
and taught one new LTA to a colleague, it would greatly accelerate what is happening
among mainstream faculty at most colleges and universities. This process simply
extends the way most mainstream faculty have already learned to use basic technology
tools for their own work.
Steven Gilbert is President of the TLT Group and moderates the Internet listserv TLT-SWG.