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Tactics for the Smart Classroom: Getting Smarter About Faculty Involvement

Higher education classrooms are being outfitted with the latest technology equipment, software, apps, and tools at unprecedented rates. From iPads to whiteboards and clickers to AV equipment, these new additions are meant to make teaching and learning more effective for everyone involved. When done right these initiatives achieve exactly that. But when it's not done properly, universities wind up with frustrated faculty and technologies that end up gathering dust on the shelf.

Some schools have gotten it right when it comes to professional development in the smart classroom. Here are five strategies that they're using to help faculty members embrace technology and integrate it into their classrooms:

  1. Create peer training groups. At MBA@UNC, some faculty come into the program ready to use technology in their classrooms; others need help.

    "A whiteboard is pretty advanced for some of us," said Douglas Shackelford, associate dean for the online MBA program offered through the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler campus.

    Instead of equipping classrooms with technology and expecting faculty members to use it, Shackelford said, the university trained a small group of "ambassadors" who help other professors get onboard with the new equipment, software, and applications. Facebook, for example, was introduced not only as a social networking platform for students but also as a communication tool for professors to use with one another and with their students.

    "We basically created a community around technology maximization," said Shackelford. "As that community grew so did the number of faculty members who embraced and used the technology."

  2. Carve out time for professional development. New technology initiatives can be fast and furious as IT departments collaborate with campus academic divisions, network groups, and other entities to meet deployment deadlines. Faculty members can get swept up in the excitement and wind up with classrooms full of technology that they don't know how to use.

    To avoid this scenario, Phil Komarny, CIO and vice president for information technology at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA, said his team carves out time for professional development. Working with instructional designer Mary Spataro and a team of work-study students (who assist faculty members in the classroom), Komarny navigates busy teaching schedules to ensure that all professors get the training and support that they need. "Support is a key factor to making sure the technology is used properly and effectively," said Komarny, whose team has also developed wikis, blogs, and other Web-based support tools for faculty members.

  3. Align IT with academic instructional departments. Komarny, Spataro, and their respective team members work together to develop and orchestrate professional development programs for Seton Hill's faculty members. If this collaboration didn't exist both say that the task of getting professors on board with technology would be insurmountable.

    "We can't do what we want to do on the development side if we don't have the IT support," said Spataro, who often bounces ideas off the IT team.

    When faculty members complained about a multistep sign-on process, for example, the two entities worked together to come up with a single-portal option where professors can "access everything that they need," she said.

  4. Create a link between technological innovation and pedagogical effectiveness. If professors know that the time they're putting into professional development will ultimately help them teach better, then the odds that they will participate and be engaged will be that much higher.

    "Many faculty members are experts in their disciplines, but they are not experts in technology," said Joseph Ugoretz, associate dean of teaching, learning, and technology at Macaulay Honors College in New York. "In some cases they see technology and the associated learning curve as threatening and intimidating."

    To overcome this hurdle, Ugoretz said, the college set up an instructional technology fellows program where a cohort of graduate students (most of whom are doctoral candidates) work with individual professors to develop syllabi, create activities and assignments, and assist in classroom instruction. The doctoral candidates have extensive teaching experience and possess the academic background necessary to connect technology to the course material. "They provide a level of support that integrates both technology and pedagogy on a peer-to-peer level," said Ugoretz. "It's extremely effective."

  5. Finally, involve faculty members in the planning process. Getting professors to integrate smart classroom technologies into their lessons, lectures, assignments, and projects can be as simple as opening up the lines of communication early between those instructors and their IT and instructional technology departments.

    "We start by asking professors what they want to accomplish in their classrooms," said Joseph Battaglia, director of budget, planning, and project management at Adelphi University's Office of Information Technology in Garden City, NY. "Letting them tell us what they want--in their native languages--is very productive."

    Using a project management approach Battaglia and his team sit down with faculty members and the school's Faculty Center for Professional Excellence to develop a charter. Most recently the process was used to develop a tech-enabled simulated training room where students learn how to address heart attacks, strokes, and other medical emergencies. "This initiative was a success because teachers played a role in designing it and using it," said Battaglia. "That kind of collaboration goes a long way in ensuring that everyone is on board and successfully utilizing the IT that we purchase and install."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].

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