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Engaging Faculty with New Tech

Technology innovation does not always come easily for time-crunched faculty members in higher ed. Here's how one institution provides a variety of training opportunities to help inspire faculty to try something new.

closeup of colleagues working together on a computer

How can college and universities encourage faculty to use new technologies in their teaching? We talked with Julin Sharp, assistant vice president for information technology at Marist College, about her institution's efforts to engage faculty with innovative tools and pedagogies.

Among Sharp's responsibilities is leading Marist's Digital Education group, a centralized team that works with faculty across the college to support technology-enabled teaching and learning. The department's stated mission is as follows:

"Digital Education is committed to leading the promotion, infusion, and support of technology-facilitated pedagogical innovation. This innovation is designed to aid faculty in enriching student learning experiences as a means to develop the intellect, character, and skills required for enlightened, ethical, and productive lives in the global community of the 21st century.

"Our interdisciplinary team offers a broad range of services to promote and support pedagogical innovation and technology-enabled learning, including but not limited to:

  • Training and support for faculty, staff, and students on teaching and learning in the digital environment;
  • Promoting ongoing discussion on learner-centered teaching, with emphasis on collaboration and active learning;
  • Facilitating the use of state-of-the-art educational technologies for faculty, staff and students; and
  • Providing individualized consultations to aid in the design, production, and evaluation of digital learning materials."

Here, Sharp gives an overview of those services and the faculty training strategies that have worked best so far.

Campus Technology: What do you think the most common challenges are with faculty trying new technologies?

julin sharp

Julin Sharp

Julin Sharp: I believe one of the biggest issues is time. Faculty are doing so much during the academic year. They are teaching, grading, holding office hours, conducting research, serving on committees and much more. Learning a new technology takes time and many already have a packed schedule, so it's hard to squeeze in one more thing.

CT: What are some of the strategies you've used to help engage faculty with technology?

Sharp: We've developed a variety of training pathways for faculty. They can come to a faculty showcase to hear their peers discuss technology in the classroom, they can attend an open lab which allows them to drop in and ask any questions they may have, they can attend a workshop, they can work through a certificate track, they can do a two-day seminar, or they can participate in a collaboration project. They can also schedule one-on-one time.

CT: Are there certain approaches that have been more successful than others?

Sharp: Our certificate tracks are successful and our faculty showcases are successful.

CT: Can you give an example of how each of those work?

Sharp: Certificate tracks consist of four or five one-hour workshops and some include an online course component. A few examples are: Student Engagement, Blended Classroom, and Innovative Online Teaching. Faculty can participate either in person or through WebEx. There is typically some type of deliverable at the end of the certificate track.

One of our recent faculty showcases focused on peer assessment within the learning management system. We then conducted a workshop on utilizing peer assessment within the LMS later that week. Another topic was "Using Technology Tools to Think Outside the Box," where a faculty member shared various tools she used to inspire innovation and creativity in the classroom. Again, we then hosted workshops on those tools later in the week.

CT: How do you recruit faculty to put on a showcase?

Sharp: We have a variety of recruitment methods. First, we host a yearly award series where faculty, staff and students can apply for Excellence in Digital Course Design, Innovative Use of Technology, and Technology Collaboration awards. We ask the winners of those awards to return the following year to deliver a showcase. We've also asked various faculty members to give showcases if we know they're doing something innovative with technology. And we have faculty who request to give showcases or who nominate a colleague to do a showcase.

CT: How do you assess what faculty engagement approaches work best?

Sharp: We use surveys to assess what is working and we also look at attendance data.

CT: Is there a threshold attendance rate you typically are hoping for?

Sharp: This varies by training type. There are certain types of training where a one-on-one scenario is most appropriate, especially if a faculty member has a specific use case in mind. Other workshops can be most beneficial if there are 10 to 15 faculty members involved. We typically look at the trends throughout the semester and see which workshops were the most popular and which were not as popular. We then look at the timing of those workshops to see if maybe a particular day of the week or time of the day tends to have higher attendance. We also look differently at the workshops that are provided during the academic year versus the ones that are provided over the summer or during winter break.

CT: It seems like institutions can often struggle to get faculty to take advantage of these types of training resources — to get them in the door, so to speak. How do you make sure faculty are aware of all the services Digital Education has to offer?

Sharp: We use a variety of methods to advertise. We send out e-mails to the faculty e-mail lists. We have a website and a Twitter account where we post information. We're beginning to make the move into Snapchat as well. We also post flyers around campus and reach out to deans and department chairs with any workshops that we think would benefit their faculty in particular.

CT: Could you give an example of an individual faculty success story?

Sharp: We had a faculty member interested in doing a vlog assignment. She came to training on our video capture system and we also trained her students. She asked them to vlog their reflections from their field experiences instead of doing the reflection papers. The students loved it and she loved it as well. She got more detailed reflections from the students using the vlog than she did from the papers, she was able to see them grow throughout the semester, and it saved her a lot of time in grading because she gave them feedback in vlog form. She was very happy and now we train her students every semester. She's doing lots of vlogs and moved completely away from paper-based reflections.

CT: What's next — are you planning any new approaches, fine-tuning existing efforts, perhaps both?

Sharp: We are always fine-tuning our efforts. We make modifications to the certificate tracks and workshops based on the feedback we receive from the surveys. We're also piloting online training opportunities for faculty to do at their own pace. One of the new approaches we're planning is to gamify some of professional development: We are organizing the content in the learning management system as a game. Faculty will be able to choose different tasks to do to earn points. More points will be awarded for more difficult tasks. They'll be able to "level up" at certain point thresholds and will be able to track their progress on the leader board.

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