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Faculty Development and the Diffusion of Innovations

Faculty are being asked to adopt, and adapt to, a number of information age innovations in teaching. While some have adopted these technologies enthusiastically, the majority of instructors have been much slower to integrate these new tools in their teaching. Faculty developers remain frustrated with professors who appear to resist technology integra- tion or those who clearly refuse to use these innovations in their teaching.

What's needed is an examination of the source of the resistance. Why would some faculty be so skeptical when others have achieved great success and discovered new ways to increase learning outcomes? Why would faculty resist tools that can help them simplify their work? The answer is that not all believe in the inherent ability of technology to achieve these outcomes. They have to be convinced before they will integrate technology into their teaching.

These teachers have to be convinced based on their own needs and values. Of course, they likely share some of the values with those who are quick to adopt and adapt. Both groups are interested in improving students' learning, for example. However, there are important differences and these must be addressed if larger-scale integration of information technologies for teaching is to occur.

Once differing needs are assessed, a faculty development and support system sensitive to these differing needs should be established. Below, we outline a model for such a system and detail the theory and related literature behind it.

Early Adopter
Early Majority
Favor revolutionary change Favor evolutionary change
Visionary Pragmatic
Project oriented Process oriented
Risk takers Risk averse
Willing to experiment Want proven applications
Generally self-sufficient May need significant support
Horizontally connected Vertically connected

Diffusion of Innovations
Institutions attempting to establish faculty development and support that is sensitive to differentiated needs can benefit from work done 40 years ago by Everett Rogers on the Diffusion of Innovations (1962). The relevance of Rogers' ideas persists, and is perhaps more relevant now in the midst of the information technology revolution. Diffusion of Innovations theory can provide an excellent framework from which to design, promote, and deliver faculty development and support.

In our work with the University of Vermont, Marlboro College, and Tufts University, in conversations with numerous other institutions, and through a survey of the literature, we have confirmed the relevance of Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations theory. In turn, we have developed a framework for faculty development based on it. This framework provides guidance to institutions seeking to plan, develop, and implement both online and face-to-face faculty development opportunities.

Rogers' theory has been cited frequently—even in the last 10 years—in literature about instructional technology. Rogers' theory posits that a population can be categorized based on its tendency to be innovative ("Individual Innovativeness"). It also states that those who are more inclined to innovate will adopt an innovation before those who are less inclined. Rogers showed that the percentages of each of five categories within the target group coincides with a bell-shaped curve that illustrates Innovator (2.5 percent), Early Adopter (13.5 percent), Early Majority (34 percent), Late Majority (34 percent), and Laggards (16 percent).

In 1991, Geoffrey Moore used Rogers' ideas as a basis for a book about marketing high-tech products to a mass market. In the book, Moore (1991) talks about the "chasm" between the second and third of Rogers' categories: Early Adopter and Early Majority. He points out that consumers in these categories have very different reasons for adopting a technological innovation and marketers must address these differences in order to reach mainstream markets.

A number of authors in the field of education have picked up on this notion and have written about adoption of technological innovations by educators. Geoghegan (1994) confirms the existence of Moore's categories among college faculty and asserts that mainstream faculty members go largely unrecognized in faculty development and support for technology integration. Carr (1999) suggests that "needs-based diffusion strategies" be used. Donovan (1999) confirms that it's critical to "get to know faculty" to understand differentiated needs and expectations before effective faculty support can be implemented. Hagner and Schneebeck (2001) suggest an alternative set of categories, mirroring Rogers' five areas. They also emphasize that assessing faculty based on these categories is an important first step.

The central theme of all of the noted literature is that there are significant differences between people who fall into Rogers' Early Adopter and Early Majority categories. These differences create gaps in motivation and expectations. Such gaps should be recognized and bridged in order for large-scale technology integration to happen.

Diffusion-Based Faculty Development
The professional development framework described here includes strategies for bridging the gap between early adopter and mainstream faculty groups. The framework includes considerations of a variety of needs and expectations across the target groups. By attending to these needs, the framework helps developers achieve success in readying faculty for innovation and ensures that faculty will achieve desired outcomes.

Our framework suggests the creation of a faculty development structure that uses multiple "spaces," with each space providing a different point of entry into the structure. The spaces can include both physical and online tools and resources, but online tools would be used as a central starting point. The "Learning Modules" space would include direct instruction in the form of self-paced tutorials and guided practice activities. The second space—"Effective Practices"—would provide access to a database containing success stories of technology integration. In the "Communities of Practice" space, faculty would engage in conversations with others with similar interests in order to plan technology integration.

Content in each of the spaces is driven by the content and activity in the others. For example, a faculty member entering through the Effective Practices space may decide that they would like to learn how to integrate the same technology used in a particular story in the database. They would follow a link from the story to a tutorial in the Learning Modules space, or perhaps find out about a face-to-face workshop related to the technology described in the success story. On the other hand, they may decide to join a discussion with faculty members in their own discipline who have integrated technology in a way similar to the success story. They would then follow a link to an online discussion in the Communities of Practice space. In this way, the model provides encouragement for faculty to participate in each of the spaces, but d'es not require it. The model is also flexible and learner-centered, providing opportunities for faculty to engage in project-based learning, collegial communities, and effective practices research and demonstration at their own pace and by their own choice.

It is the flexibility of the framework that addresses the diffusion of innovations cited earlier. Imagine an Early Adopter who tends to be project-oriented in their implementation of technology. Their project orientation would support the development of a good success story for the Effective Practices space. A more pragmatic Early Majority faculty member would be able to study the success story for proof of the application's efficacy. The Early Adopter might also participate in a number of communities of practice, because of their horizontal interest in the application of technology. At the same time, the Early Majority faculty member, with their vertical connectedness, would be interested in a specific community formed around the interests of a shared discipline. There are a variety of ways that the open, flexible framework provides access to faculty development that are differentiated based on the needs and interests of Early Adopter and Early Majority faculty.

Testing the Framework
We have not yet overseen the implementation of such a comprehensive framework. However, concepts central to the framework have been developed through work with higher education practitioners, while components of the model have been prototyped. Limited feedback thus far confirms the relevance of the model, though it is clear that a careful process of assessing faculty and determining their categories will be critical to the model's success.

The faculty development framework outlined here provides for differentiated participation based on "Individual Innova-tions." Not all faculty members will be interested in using tech-nology for the same reasons, nor will they have the same expectations about the outcomes they might achieve through technology integration. There are fundamental differences in the ways that people approach the adoption of an innovation, and programs designed to encourage such adoption must be sensitive to these differences.


Carr, V.H. (1999) "Technology Adoption and Diffusion," United States Air Force Air War College Gateway to Internet Resources. Available at Accessed October 7, 2002.

Donovan, Mark (1999) "Rethinking Faculty Support." The Technology Source, September/October 1999. Available online at Accessed October 7, 2002.

Geoghegan, William H. (1994) "Whatever Happened to Instructional Technology," paper presented at the 22nd Annual Conference of the International Business Schools Computing Association. Baltimore, MD.

Hagner, Paul and Schneebeck, Charles (2001) "Engaging the Faculty," in Educause Leadership Strategies, Volume 5, Technology-Enhanced Teaching and Learning: Leading and Supporting the Transformation on Your Campus.

Moore, Geoffery. (1991) Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Technology Products to Mainstream Customers, New York: Harper Business.

Rogers, Everett M. (1962) Diffusion of Innovations, New York: Free Press of Glenc'e.

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