Supporting Faculty in Adopting Emerging Learning Technologies

The 21st Century Report released by CDW-G confirms an increasing trend of rising student expectations for technology on campus:

  • 63% of current college students indicate that campus technology was a critical factor in their college choice
  • 93% of current high school students indicate that campus technology is a critical factor in their college choice, 95% expect to use technology in some or all of their classes, and 76% say they are using social media as an educational tool
  • College students surveyed believe that the primary obstacle to further integration of emerging learning technologies into the classroom is that many faculty do not know how to use the technologies effectively
  • Faculty list the same obstacle, ranking it as the second most important barrier (after lack of budget)

In response to last year's report from CDW-G (which also emphasized student dissatisfaction with faculty use of technology in the classroom), we gathered insights from Patricia McGee, associate professor of instructional technology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, on approaches to providing initial, tailored training for faculty in interactive learning technologies.

This week, we turned to Jerome Waldron, CIO at Salisbury University and the designer of a highly successful center for instructional design and delivery at his campus, for further advice on how to offer long-term and more personalized support for faculty, even on a minimal budget.

Keep the Focus on the Outcomes, not the Tools

"Focus on the learning outcomes first, and the technology second."
Jerome Waldron, Salisbury U

The conversation that faculty need to have, Waldron suggests -- whether they have that conversation with a peer mentor or a faculty developer -- needs to begin with their goals for the course. It's a three-step conversation:

  • What are your goals for student learning in this course?
  • What do you want to do to help the students get there?
  • Here are some tools and ideas that may help you do that.

Waldron advocates focusing your efforts to train faculty in the use of emerging learning technologies on long-term faculty development, and he recommends providing faculty with one-on-one consultations that are focused on the needs of their course (not on covering the details of a given tool). Technologies can be brought to bear on course design when creative solutions are needed to address a challenge in the classroom. First, help faculty identify the challenge. Then brainstorm together about possible solutions.

The one-on-one consultation is a critical strategy, Waldron suggests, because it allows you to create a learning environment for faculty that nurtures them as they adapt to emerging learning technologies. "This training can't be only a top-down thing," he says. "It really puts faculty off when the integration of technology in the classroom comes as an order from the provost. Leverage your own faculty experts to help your faculty discover how to use new technologies to help them do their work."

"Let your faculty see they don't need to go it alone. Adoption rate of learning technologies will be much higher if the faculty know they are in a comfortable, supportive skill-acquisition environment."
Jerome Waldron, Salisbury U

Where to Start

Salisbury University invested in a high-tech studio for instructional design and delivery in 2008, but they didn't start there -- they have been providing faculty development for instructors hoping to use interactive learning technologies for over a decade.  If your institution has little budget to devote to the initiative initially, Waldron suggests seeking out low-cost opportunities to leverage your existing resources. For example, identify those faculty who are already on the cutting edge of integrating learning technologies into their classes at your institution, and create an incentivized mentoring program:

  • Offer a small grant to assist in covering software, hardware, travel, and training expenses for faculty proposing to pilot or expand their use of interactive learning technologies
  • Showcase and recognize their work in an annual or once-per-term faculty development event
  • Support them in presenting their work at a regional or national conference
  • In return, require that they serve as mentors to their peers

Waldron suggests formalizing the mentorship to the extent possible; for example, make sure it is well known that Professor John Doe, having received the grant, is now the psychology department's resident mentor available for consultation about integration of technology into the classroom.

As a place to start, this approach allows you to:

  • Build mentoring opportunities without the expense of hiring staff
  • Identify opportunities to further faculty research and showcase your institution's innovations in classroom pedagogy
  • Overcome one barrier to faculty buy-in, as faculty will be more ready to approach their own colleagues for mentoring than they will to approach personnel from another office

Here is a "phase 2" step that requires a little more investment but that also allows you to support more faculty and accelerate the pace of adoption: Hire a full-time instructional designer, or select one or more faculty who are on the cutting edge and adjust their workload, designating half of their time, three quarters of their time, or even a sabbatical to devote to mentoring their colleagues.

Increased Access to Tools and Training

Here is what a "phase 3" might look like. If you are prepared to make further investments in tools and training for faculty, here is how to do it cost-effectively.

First, provide space and staff for one-on-one consultations. If space is a scarce resource, Waldron suggests, you can hold the consultations in one of your existing computer labs or even in a conference room. In these consultations, once an instructional designer and a faculty member have talked through the course outcomes and the opportunities for integrating technological tools into the course, have the instructional designer walk the faculty through any steps they are finding difficult -- whether that means helping them develop their website, their LMS site, or a video-editing exercise for their course.

Second, if you can, provide a demo room or demo space where the faculty member can practice with the technology that is new to them.

Third, offer faculty opportunities to experiment with available technologies and increase their comfort level. You want to find entry points for faculty to gain exposure to the technologies students are using. For instance, Waldron notes that providing faculty with inexpensive flip cameras and easy editing software (such as iMovie or MovieMaker) allows faculty to "start comfortably at the YouTube level." This also allows them the opportunity to master a tool that many of their traditional-aged students are acquainted with and that can be applied to a wide variety of class projects.

Using Student Assistants

To begin maximizing the support you offer faculty, Waldron also suggests employing student assistants who can give trainings, assist faculty in the demo space, walk faculty through how to do specific tasks using new tools, or even provide technology support in the classroom, helping the faculty navigate the technology so that the instructor is free to focus on teaching.