Utilizing Technology in Course Preparation and Delivery

By Mark Gura and Bernard Percy

Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from Recapturing Technology for Education by Mark Gura and Bernard Percy, published 2005 by Rowman & Littlefield Education (formerly Scarecrow Education) http://www.rowmaneducation.com/.

Higher education (including community colleges, four-year colleges, universities, and adult education programs) is facing two issues: low enthusiasm for the use of technology in course development and delivery and a lack of understanding about the way it should be used to reshape educational programs.

Begun in 1990, the Campus Computing Survey (www.campuscomputing.net ) is the largest continuing study of information technology in American higher education. This annual survey focuses on the use of computing and information technology in higher education. In the 2003 report Kenneth Green, founding director, comments that he has found an increasing use of technology to support instruction and the increasing role of course and learning management software. However, “few campuses provide recognition and reward for faculty efforts at instructional integration … in their review and promotion process.” This lack of recognition and reward are all indication of the struggle technology still faces to become enthusiastically accepted in course development and delivery in higher education.

Reluctance to utilize technology in course preparation and delivery remains very strong. There is an influx of people who grew up with technology and who are increasingly using it to support instruction, but they are still a minority of the faculty. The largest percentage of faculty are those who grew up in what Arlene Krebs, director of the wireless education and technology center at California State University—Montery Bay, refers to as the “typewriter generation.”

What are the issues, fears, and concerns—the reluctance factors—that lie behind the typewriter generation’s unwillingness to use technology in college and university classrooms and lecture halls.

What’s behind the Reluctance Factors?

The following is not intended to be a complete listing of reasons to resist the use of technology in higher education but d'es provide a general understanding of the key factors influencing this reluctance:

* Reluctance to change
* A culture that values independent iconoclasts
* Cost of ownership, utilization, and increased workload (with increased use of technology
) * Time and energy
* Role of faculty: Vulcan mind melder, creators of knowledge, or …
* Evidence of success
* Accountability, recognition, and reward for technological innovation and utilization

Reluctance to Change

Nobody likes change except we babies. – Allan Dobrin, senior chancellor and chief operating officer, City University of New York

It is human nature to resist change. In an interview, Allan Dobrin provided a cogent summation about change in higher education:

“In every organization people resist change, it is just a human quality. Even change agents, whose job is to help others change, don’t like to make personal change. So if something foreign, such as technology comes into people’s lives, it is natural for them not to want to use it, they want to do things like they did before.

“In the case of businesses, people had no choice, if you didn’t make change you would go out of business. Educators as a rule are not risk takers (entrepreneurs are more likely to be a risk taker). So in college and universities there is a risk adverse group.

“Higher education is one of the oldest institutions in society (along with the Catholic Church) and we have a tradition of avoiding change. When you introduce technology, nothing bad happens to you if you don’t use the new tools available to you, so there is no reason to use them. The result is an inertia, a resistence to change. In elementary schools, there is also no negative consequence if you do not use technology, and that is at the heart of why it d'esn’t happen.”

A Culture That Values “Independent Iconoclasts”

The story is told that when General Eisenhower became president of Columbia University, he was discussing the types of changes he would like to make in how the university was run. One of his staff looked at Eisenhower and commented, “You have to understand, general, that faculty ARE the university.”

An important part of the culture of higher education that is valued and perpetuated by faculty is the right to be independent iconoclasts (a term we first heard from Ron Spalter of City University of New York). Lev Conick, vice president for information technology services and chief information officer at Case Western Reserve University, in a talk he gave, commented that trying to bring a major change, such as the increasing and cooperative use of technology, to higher education is like trying to herd cats. He showed a wonderful commercial for a high-tech company to illustrate his point; cowboys are trying to bring a herd of cats into town, and they are discussing the “satisfaction” they get from their work, as they tend to the various scratches and wounds they receive from the roundup. The question becomes how to “round up” the faculty, so they agree to use new technology in their work.

Cost of Ownership, Utilization, and Increased Workload (with Increased Use of Technology)

The cost of ownership is a major concern, not just in terms of the purchasing cost of software and hardware (including upgrades and issues such as software bugs.) Other costs include the costs of profession development, support services, and licensing of products.

For example, the cost of support service has been very high, including the cost of personnel to “hand hold” staff as they bring technology into their classrooms, handling the technical issues and concerns. As costs come down it is easier and less expensive to hire support personnel, and the savings allow more money to be spent on professional development and instructional design issues and needs.

No or Minimal Impetus for Professional Development

Higher education, as a rule, d'es not require professional development for faculty, though there is support for attending professional conference or delivering a paper. Though there is a trend toward offering instruction in using pedagogical tools, it is a voluntary, please-come-if-and-when-you-can-approach.

Role of Faculty: Vulcan Mind Melders or Creators of Knowledge, or …

Father Guido Sarducci is a fictional character created by comedian Don Novello. He has a classic routine entitle “The Five-Minute University” in which he offers people a college education for $20 that takes five minutes to complete. His college program consists of learning what the average college student remembers after five years of leaving college. For example, his class on economics consists in memorizing the key concept of supply and demand (he has thought about opening a law school, if the student has a minute).

How faculty members view the legacy they want to leave with their students greatly impacts how and what they teach. Some want students to just show what they remember by the end of the term so that their grade can be determined (students view content as relevant only if it appears on the final exam), i.e., a sort of Vulcan mind meld (a reference from the TV show Star Trek where Spock touched his fingertips to someone’s temples so that he and the other person could immediately read each other’s thoughts). The persons believing in this model will, for the most part, be the sage on the stage who expects students to repeat their thoughts back to them, they may use some technology but only as a visual textbook. More than likely they will teach from the “typewriter age” mentality, with minimal interest in and use of technology.

Facility and Filters

George Otte, director of instruction technology at City University of New York, discusses the role of faculty in the classroom as that of a facilitator and intermediary. He comments, “A teacher’s critical role is to help each student understand what to do with the information so it becomes applied. The key point is to take information and turn it into knowledge, by application, practice and interaction.” He further explains why the teacher needs to be an intermediary: “Now students see so much data, they look to the teacher to be the intermediary, to help decide what are good sources of information and good information. In essence the teacher becomes a filter.

The majority of students do research on the Web, but the data isn’t vetted and students all too often assume it is the truth; they need to develop the ability to evaluate data. Though faculty may be reluctant entrants into the use of technology, like it or not, this role of faculty as facilitators and filters is essential to ensure their students understand, correctly evaluate, and use correct data and sources.

Evidence of Success

The film Jerry McGuire contains a phrase that has become part of the American vernacular, “Show me the money.” Many are asking the question about the use of technology with the question, Show me the evidence of success [in utilizing technology in higher education course delivery and development].

Kenneth Green commented in an article he wrote entitled “To Epiphany—and Beyond!” (2004),

“Yes, technology—from film and television to online content and interactive simulations—can aid and enhance instruction and learning. But we do not have a clear definition for instructional productivity or precise methods to measure student learning and outcomes. At the classroom, program, and institutional level, we do not have firm definitions and consistent measures to assess what we do with IT resources or the impact of institutional IT investments and deployment efforts.

So while we may not be able to define academic productivity, we know it when we see it or, more precisely, when we experience it. In other words, we have evidence by epiphany. Which innovations make a difference in teaching and learning and the need to understand the connection between educational computing, learning, and teaching.”

Many educators are still not willing to accept “evidence by epiphany.”

Accountability, Recognition, and Reward for Developing Course with Technology
Allan Dobrin commented, “For technology to be more broadly implemented in higher education organizations, you have to make people more comfortable with change, as well as more the educational environment to where educators are held more accountable. You would also need to get a system of rewards for student’s performance, this will motivate educators to find tools to help them perform better, and lead to greater integration of technology.”

Few higher education organizations offer a major reward or acknowledgment in terms of tenure for a faculty member who adopts and adapts technology in creating innovative classroom activities (service and scholarship are still the main considerations).

Kenneth Green (2004) commented, “This decade may be marked by efforts to make institutions accountable for the continuing (and rising) investment in IT. Inquiring minds—board members and public officials, parents, and even some faculty—will focus on two questions: (1) Why don’t faculty do more with technology? and (2) Why don’t colleges and universities make better use of information technologies in campus operations and services? As we enter the third decade of the ‘computer revolution’ in higher education, these seem like fair, time, and yet, admittedly difficult question that we in the campus community will have to address.”

comments powered by Disqus

Campus Technology News

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.