Focus on Institutional Culture Drives Faculty Technology Adoption at Genesee CC
- By Robert G. Knipe
Too often, institutions spend precious resources implementing a learning management system and associated collaboration, teaching and learning tools, only to find that a relatively small percentage of faculty use the tools to any significant degree. At Genesee Community College (GCC), we have achieved high faculty usage of online learning tools by focusing on institutional culture.
About 60 percent of Genesee full-time faculty use significant Blackboard online teaching tools in various combinations, for online courses, hybrid courses, or as online components to on-campus, face-to-face courses. The remaining 40 percent use minimal tools (posting syllabi, for example). Based on interactions with colleagues at other institutions, we believe our focus on institutional culture has made the difference for our students.
Genesee Community College, with enrollment around 5,500, is located in a rural, agricultural area between Buffalo, NY and Rochester. When I came to the college in 1990, I found a culture that actively supported technology. This culture was all-encompassing, from the faculty to the academic officers to the president. At that time, I was brought in as dean and given the task of starting a distance learning program. Today, about 13 percent of our FTE is generated from online courses, and more than 80 percent of our on-campus courses have an active online component.
We've created this culture of incorporating technology slowly and deliberately, always with the goal of supporting our primary mission. By keeping our focus on being learning-centered, rather than on the technology, we've made the adoption of technology tools more palatable to faculty. At GCC, our distance learning courses and online teaching tools are a baseline piece of our overall curriculum; we do not view them as a separate entity. In fact, the majority of the faculty who teach distance learning courses are full-time faculty who also teach in the classroom.
We have been successful in creating this pervasive, institutional culture of adopting technology by concentrating on three key strategies:
- We seek faculty who are tech-savvy and have already had their "paradigm shifted."
- We use leading-edge (not necessarily "bleeding edge") technology to make faculty implementation as easy as possible.
- We provide ample and frequent training opportunities and reliable, friendly support.
Luddites Need Not Apply
We make it clear to prospective faculty that technology is a part of our culture and not an optional tool. Faculty position announcements state up front that experience with distance learning technologies is preferred. In fact, we were among the first institutions in the State University of New York (SUNY) system to include distance learning in our standard faculty job descriptions.
Once we find faculty who are predisposed to incorporating technology, we reinforce and reward their usage. For example, the adoption of technology for teaching and learning is among the criteria for promotion. Also, we provide these faculty members with the newest computers available so that they have the tools they need to prepare course materials and interact with students.
As one of the deans who reads faculty promotion applications, I'm often amazed at how much our faculty members refer to the technology innovations they've made. They really do take it seriously.
Genesee does not pay faculty extra stipends for developing online courses, although we provide frequent, flexible, and friendly training opportunities (and food). And, when a faculty member creates an online course, he or she owns it. Only the syllabus belongs to GCC. By assuring faculty that materials developed are theirs, we've created a culture wherein faculty readily share content, tools, and resources with others. Nearly 60 percent of our full-time faculty are currently involved with distance learning. I think this happens because they see that it works for students and that it works for them. Plus they're in charge of quality control, so we don't have those "comparability" questions. For most it's just a non-issue.
Leading-Edge Applications and High-end Support Keep Technology in the Background
By creating a user-friendly online environment and staffing our IT department with people who really enjoy helping faculty, we try to take much of the drudgery and fear out of technology.
Our IT department set up the connections between our Banner MIS student system (from SunGard Higher Education) and our course management system (Blackboard Campus Edition 6) so that every credit course section is automatically given a course shell in the course management system. Faculty don't have to request the course shell; it's simply there for them to use. In the same way, students are automatically populated into courses so that at the start of each semester they have access to any course materials uploaded by the instructor. Also, the add/drop process is automatic, so student enrollment in the course management system is real-time.
We have also made it relatively seamless for faculty and students to go back and forth between Blackboard and the Banner student information system. The entry into our unified digital campus is called GenESIS--GENesee Electronic Student Information System. Although GenESIS comprises many systems, all the applications are available to users via a single signon, thanks to integration capabilities provided by our Luminis Platform.
At some institutions, there is no real-time integration between the student information system and a learning management system, like Blackboard. This lack of integration requires faculty to sign in to the administrative system to perform administrative tasks, and then into Blackboard to access its learning tools. Similarly, students must sign in to the administrative system to perform tasks like registering for courses or applying for financial aid, and then log in to a second learning system to access syllabi and other course tools. With Genesee's "digital campus" faculty and students gain seamless, timely access to both systems. Redundant logins are eliminated.
This integration relieves faculty workload and, more importantly, simplifies their interaction with technology. Our single sign-on environment is also empowering: It lets users help themselves. Whenever we consider adding a new application, we first ask ourselves, "Will it integrate seamlessly into GenESIS?" If the answer is "no," it will likely be rejected. There's some pressure within SUNY to move to a statewide LMS system, but until any system "plays well" with Banner and compellingly demonstrates improvements over what we’re using, we'll continue to make our decisions based on functionality over standardization.
Our use of technology is not limited to the virtual academic world. Genesee boasts 80 "smart classrooms" (56 percent of all available classrooms) across our seven locations. All have wireless connectivity. These smart classrooms are replete with networked computers, projection systems, document cameras, video/DVD playback equipment, and Internet access. Eighty-four percent of all Genesee classrooms have a combination of a networked computer and related technology. Indeed, we have more classroom technology "on the ground" than most baccalaureate colleges and universities in the SUNY system.
Smart classroom technology not only allow immediate access to the Internet, but gives students experience with skills they'll need for jobs or further education beyond the associate's degree. Students gain first-hand experience with ways technology is integrated into training situations, and are encouraged--often required--to create technology-infused presentations, portfolios, and "capstone" projects in their courses.
In order to support our high-end technology environment, we do outsource to SunGard HE, which works alongside Genesee faculty and staff to determine technology needs and wants, help with resource allocation, contribute to long-term planning, and seek cost-effective ways to meet needs.
Although Genesee has a high level of technology support and expertise, our institutional cost per FTE compares very favorably with other institutions. We're a quality, flexible, high-tech, high-touch, multiply accessible educational bargain for the citizens of western New York.
Decentralized and Varied Training Opportunities Meet Faculty Needs
A third pillar of Genesee's success has been to offer frequent and diverse training options. Instruction consists of some mandatory training supplemented by many optional and flexible training opportunities for updating, polishing, and revising skills.
New full-time faculty are given a one-course release from their standard five-course teaching load their first semester to participate in a unique and free Instructional Design course. The course has three primary instructors, rotated so faculty can see many ways to apply technology. They emulate and adopt modalities that best suit their teaching styles. For example, I have a different organizational style of putting material together than another instructor. By having both of us teach the course, we show faculty that they have the flexibility to use tools in a manner that suits them and the content and skills they're teaching. This course also demonstrates to new faculty that we are there to support them and provides a forum to ask questions early in their GCC enculturation. Adjunct faculty also are welcome and encouraged to take this course. As of spring 2008, 71 full- and part-time faculty have completed the course.
The instructional design course is a three-credit, 200-level course in the Teacher Education Transfer curriculum, but it's really a graduate-level course for college faculty only. Making it a college credit course underscores the importance of the material and gives it a level of legitimacy that a workshop may not have. Providing one-course release time also assists faculty in making the time commitment necessary to participate. In addition to style differences, the three instructors have different areas of expertise. I bring teaching experience and my distance learning background to the course. The professor from the Education department brings depth in pedagogical and learning theory, and the director of Academic Computing brings technological perspective. All three are competent instructional designers.
In the course, we explore teaching and learning processes and work with participants to make their courses more learning-centered, involve higher-order thinking skills, focus on demonstrable student learning outcomes, and authentic assessment of those outcomes. We want to make sure that our faculty are designing instruction in a pedagogically sound manner, not just tweaking existing course material to put online. In short, we challenge them to "shift their paradigms."
The adjunct faculty who participate in the Instructional Design course do so for a few reasons. All are seriously interested in improving their teaching skills and expanding their technical expertise. A number of the adjuncts who take the course also use it as a resume-building tool and have moved into full-time teaching positions at Genesee and other colleges.
Another favorite training opportunity is a summer Blackboard "boot camp." Although faculty are not paid to attend, many come back year after year. The week-long boot camp consists of full day sessions which focus on various aspects of the course management system. Presenters are from our Computer Services department and also Blackboard administrators and have extensive teaching credentials and teach regularly as adjunct instructors.
Over the course of a week, time is given to exploring Blackboard tools available. Not only are the technical "how to" points covered, but time is spent on discussing "why/why not put courses online." This is always lively discussion, as veteran faculty share their stories of successes and failures: what worked and what didn't. The veteran faculty who return yearly are critical to the workshop, since new faculty often find mentors willing to assist them in developing course materials and in learning about Genesee.
It's also been fun to have faculty come to the summer workshop or ask about participating in the Instructional Design course, as a result of student interest in using technology. "I came because my students want me to put my handouts online" is a frequently heard admission from faculty. For some it begins and ends there, but many see the other tools and start to take advantage of them. It helps to have a Blackboard course shell already in place for every Genesee credit course.
Other training opportunities are very decentralized. Indeed, faculty training and development is so endemic that we have about a dozen committees doing some sort of staff training and development at any given time. A popular option is a Blackboard Brown Bag session that is held every Friday during fall and spring semesters. The week before the start of a semester, we have "drop-in help sessions," where faculty looking for assistance (or just needing a quiet place to work) can stop by. We also conduct periodic workshops on different aspects of instructional design, and a large number of faculty attend workshops outside of GCC. Our attitude is that we don't force training on people, but we want to make it readily available to them.
"Just in time" training occurs routinely also. Sometimes faculty ask a question in an e-mail. The answer often leads to "Oh, I can use that for this, too!" moments. And visits to faculty offices for one-on-one sessions often lead to an impromptu "While you're here, can you help me with ..." session.
The college also has been successful in securing grants to support instructional design. One part of a Title III project focused on building a computer-based language lab. The project not only allowed us to purchase hardware and software, but also provided faculty release time to re-develop existing courses to take advantage of the technology. One instructor built a multi-faceted learning module covering instruction and assessment for the course management system. This is now placed into all foreign language course shells and adopted by all foreign language instructors. Perkins grant funds have been used to build additional smart classrooms and provide faculty incentives and resources to develop new course materials for use in those smart classrooms.
Genesee has also been fortunate in that our president's vision has long included technology as a key component of any new project. He encourages all of us to write grants that include technology.
Putting in place all this technology, support, and an open culture has taken time. We've done it slowly and consciously. As a result, Genesee has become a recognized leader in our pervasive, creative, responsible, and cost-effective uses of technology. In May 2008, we were the first community college to host the State University of New York's annual faculty Conference on Instructional Technologies, which 600 faculty, staff, and administrators attended from across the 64-campus SUNY system and from other states.
Online learning opportunities not only help keep GCC learning-centered but also support our open access mission. The college serves a geographic area about the size of the state Rhode Island. For many of our students in rural locations, online learning is their most convenient access to college. For the balance of our students, we provide the flexibility they need to complete their studies while balancing jobs, family, and other demands of life. Online learning helps get students in the door and helps keep them on track in reaching their goals.
Students do not see a demarcation between their in-classroom and online learning. We also try hard to erase or minimize barriers, for faculty as well as students. At GCC, we've had some success with enculturating technology in support of teaching and learning and making it omnipresent, transparent, easy to use, and always the means rather than the end.