How to Handle IT Late Bloomers

By David Starrett

I once walked into a faculty member’s office to find an extraordinary Post-It noteboard on his desk. The off-white plastic cube with one glass side, conveniently angled toward his view, was a field of yellow with reminders, phone numbers, and messages. He told me that this was the most effective use of his computer monitor that he could think of. While he is in the minority, and a shrinking minority at that, there are still some faculty who have not yet caught up with the computer age.

To be sure, some instructors will never use a computer as a productivity-boosting tool, let alone an enhancement to teaching and learning. For some, it is simply a matter of not wanting to be bothered. Some faculty may be approaching retirement and don’t want to learn something new (though some near-retirees still relish the challenge and do make the effort to learn a new trick). For others, it is a disbelief in the technology that keeps their resistance up. They refuse to learn about IT because they do not believe there is any great benefit to using computer technology.

Various terms have been used to describe faculty who are behind the times in their acceptance of technology: laggards, late-adopters, trailing edge, reluctants, and even luddites (a name derived from a movement of textile workers in early 19th-century England, who rejected the technological developments of the Industrial Revolution, seeing technology as threatening to their way of life and livelihood). Regardless of the terminology used, it is important for us to keep in mind that in our push to get faculty to embrace IT, those most resistant, fearful, or reluctant may best define the undertaking.

It may be tempting to dismiss the concerns of the faculty and try a brute force approach – something along the lines of “accept IT or find another job.” But this, of course, is not an effective way to address the problem. It is more useful to investigate just what these faculty concerns are. What is keeping faculty from fully embracing IT? What can we do to alleviate their concerns, or at least work to address them? Following are several questions to consider in areas that can truly impact our faculty development efforts.

Support. Is campus leadership visibly on board? Is technology part of the school’s mission and strategic plan? Is adequate funding being provided or budgeted for the technology, including hardware, software, and personnel? Is the appropriate infrastructure in place or being implemented in the near future? Are personnel in place to do the training and support for faculty? What faculty development opportunities are being provided –training, travel to conferences, software, etc.?

Incentive and reward. What encouragement is there for embracing IT? Are there incentives such as stipends, release time, or recognition? D'es the promotion, tenure, and merit process adequately recognize the efforts and products of faculty technology usage?

Penalty. Is there a risk to the faculty member in learning to use technology? Will a faculty member be penalized because of the time, cost, or effort in incorporating technology?

Autonomy. D'es technology encourage and/or allow faculty members a greater degree of oversight or control over their teaching? Do faculty still have the same degree of freedom in their teaching, classroom, and scholarship when they use a lot of technology?

Workload. D'es the learning, implementation, or use of technology increase workload? If workload is increased by using technology, is there allowance or compensation for it elsewhere in the faculty’s overall workload?

Copyright and ownership. Who owns the technology-based teaching materials that faculty develop? Can faculty copyright materials they develop? How do copyright laws affect the use of technology-based materials – for example, putting materials on the Web?

Quality. D'es technology-enhanced teaching have the same level of quality as teaching without technology? Are there assurances, markers of quality, or best practices to benchmark against?

Plagiarism and cheating. D'es the use of technology lead to a higher likelihood of cheating or plagiarism by students? Is the campus providing training or tools to detect or reduce plagiarism and cheating?

Validation. Are technology-enhanced teaching materials as effective as non-technology-enhanced materials? How can faculty validate the effectiveness of their technology-enhanced teaching tools or scholarship?

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