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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.

About the Author

Steven Gilbert is President of the TLT Group and moderates the Internet listserv TLT-SWG.

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