Transitioning the Faculty: An Incremental Approach
Dr. David Wagner had been teaching at the University for twenty years in the Department of Economics. When he first started teaching, computers were just beginning to be used for economic modeling and forecasting. They were used primarily for research. Dr. Wagner was one of their proponents and used them extensively in micro-economics.
In the classroom, Dr. Wagner's lectures were from notes and printed handouts. At first, he used the blackboard; but when the Department purchased an overhead projector, he copied most of his notes to transparencies using colored pens for that purpose. He found that he could cover more detailed material this way and that he saved time when he taught the same course over again.
When personal computers were introduced in the mid-eighties, Dr. Wagner was one of the early adopters. He learned how to use a word processor and a graphics presentation program and he copied his handouts and reproduced his notes on the computer. These materials were either printed on paper or transparencies for presentation in class. He found that using the computer, he could change and edit the notes more easily and that the graphics were superior to his previous hand drawn ones.
Last year, his Department acquired two multimedia carts; and now Dr. Wagner uses one of them to present on screen the materials that he had previously printed. In addition, since the display is dynamic, he can finally do economic modeling and forecasting in class and give the students first hand experience in the use of models that he had only talked about for twenty years.
Next year he is planning on teaching his courses in an electronic classroom. At this point it does not seem like a major transition to Dr. Wagner since all of his material is already in electronic form and ready to go. However, he is looking forward to new activities in the classroom which allow the students to run more simulations and to interact with the materials.
In the previous chapters we have considered the many advantages of the switched-on classroom, the techniques to interactively engage the students, and the encouraging results from empirical studies. But how do we make it happen? In this chapter we will consider the practical steps for transitioning the faculty into the switched-on the classroom. The scenario of Dr. Wagner, is not unusual, but unfortunately it is also not the norm.
The educational frontier like most has its explorers and trail blazers. Then come the settlers. In business circles we speak of them as the market leaders and the followers. The innovators in the electronic classroom will be those that expend great time and energy to overcome the initial obstacles, to invent new ways of doing things, and to roll up their sleeves and make it happen. They will be the first to learn about the tools and concepts to make it happen such as hypermedia, presentation programs, multimedia devices, etc. These are special people whose intrinsic reward is to see it work for the first time. But only a few are so motivated or just plain crazed to be media frontiersmen. Most are followers, ready to go when the roads are in place and course is well charted.
In this chapter we consider when it is time to move the masses, and how to get them started. We will have to rely on reasoned advise and some practical experience rather proven method. Nevertheless, knowing the basic nature of teachers, the institutions of education, and the task at hand will help to develop plans for helping to transition the faculty into the switched-on classroom.
The Nature of Faculty
Faculty in higher education fall into two groups: (a) researcher first and (b) teachers first. Researchers tend not to be overly interested in instructional improvement. Teachers are interested in teaching but not in technology. Neither group is particularly interested in cost/benefit arguments for instructional technology or enamored by multimedia glitz. However, the researchers are interested in gaining more time for research by making teaching more efficient; and the teachers are interested in teaching more and in greater detail.
When trying to "sell" instructional technology to the faculty one has to remember which group one is addressing and the motives operating in that group. At one institution, a dean allocated $30,000 for instructional improvement and solicited proposals from the faculty for the development of course materials. Since is was a research university, the major of proposals were in support of faculty research projects and only thinly disguised as having to do with classroom instruction. One, for example, was to purchase a database that the faculty member needed for his research and to made it also available to the students in his class.
Like other potential groups of computer users, one must deal with the proficient, experienced users versus the beginning, novice users. To the extent that faculty are already computer users, the transition will be easier. On the other hand, when faculty still have to learn the basics of the operating system, the use of communication programs, and a range of applications, one has to start at ground zero. Remedial short courses will be necessary for the faculty to take the first step.
The Nature of the Institution
Educational institutions have many similarities with organizations in government and industry that have already experienced computerization. In industry, change requires a commitment on the part of top management, an effective plan to implement and manage change, and a critical involvement of the workers. In academia, the situation is the same. Top administrators must support instructional technology both in principle and in practice. They must provide both the necessary infrastructure of computers, electronic classrooms, and other support, as well as the reward structure for faculty to provide incentives for change. The institution must have a plan for effecting instructional improvement. This means more than committees, commissions, or centers. It means that the institution must have offices and powers to target and plan changes, to implement changes, to provide support for change, and to monitor and evaluate change. Finally, faculty must be involved from the beginning and throughout the process. Faculty must be enthusiastic about the changes and personally motivated to see them happen.
Educational institutions vary greatly in terms of the authority of the administration in determining the curriculum and the methods of instruction and the latitude of the faculty in defining the curriculum and the content of education. K-12 and community colleges tend more in the direction of top-down authority while universities and liberal arts colleges lean more toward academic freedom and a bottom-up formation of the institution. For the former, change is more easily implemented from the top-down. For the later, change is more likely to come from the down-up. In both cases, however, all levels of the institution must be meaningful engaged and supportive of the change.
The motivation for change at the institutional level will be survival. Educational institutions will have to change in order to stay competitive. Their school name and reputation will not be sufficient in the new age of electronic educational environments. Instead it will be their position on the new horizon of electronic education and their command of new instructional technologies. Admissions and tuition dollars will follow. Schools that are on the cutting edge of the switched-on classroom will safely move ahead into the next century of education while schools that lag behind will be abandoned like ghost towns.
What is Needed for the Transition Task
Previous chapters has helped to detail the abilities of the switched-on classroom. However, there are additional elements that are need to transition into the switched-on classroom, some obvious and others not so obvious. Without the following ingredients, change will be hindered or impossible.
Campus Connectivity: The most basic is the infrastructure of the campus or school. Every faculty member and administrator must have on their desk and hopefully at home a near state-of-the-art computer linked to a campus network. Depending on the needs of the faculty, additional devices, such as color scanners with optical character recognition and video and audio input are needed in close reach.
Campus Communications: Every faculty and administrator must be on email and make effective use of it. There should be listservs and other methods of communication at use. Where needed desktop video conferencing should be available. Effective use of the World Wide Web should exist among the faculty and the administration.
Supporting Software: A full range of application software must be available to the faculty, staff, and administrators. This includes operating systems, networking software, word processors, graphics packages, etc.
Academic Support Labs: The institution must provide adequate facilities and staff for production of courseware materials of all types. These facilities should provide services for scanning, video editing, production of presentation graphics, animation, HTML authoring, and courseware authoring.
Classroom Equipment: Finally, the institution must provide the classroom equipment from computers to video displays. Classrooms must be provided with connections to the campus network.
Some Principles of Transition
Finally, it is time for administrators and faculty to plan and act. This chapter concludes with a number of final suggestions to aid in the transition.
1. Don't push, don't pull, let the current do its work. It is a mistake to push someone into a new technology before it is ready or they are ready. Trail blazers tend to cope with frustration and will spend hours trying to figure out a solution to software or hardware problem. Not so with followers. They will become frustrated if the solution is not forthcoming and once burned they will be twice shy. The environment must be reliable, stable, and straightforward. The campus environment should be such that transition is the normal flow of things; thus, even the unmotivated will be caught in the current of change. For example, one can encourage the use of email and listservs by replacing paper copy memos, notices, and department newsletters with electronic versions.
2. Transition in small discrete steps rather than all at once. The industrial revolution did not happen over night nor can we expect the computer revolution in education to occur in one semester. Rome was not built in a day, nor will a multimedia course about Rome be created in a semester. Instructors should be encouraged to take small steps as they transition into the electronic classroom. For example, one might start by introducing electronic mail for all of the students. Next, some assignments could be submitted via email. Or similar to the opening scenario for this chapter, in courses with lecture notes, the material could be slowly rendered in presentation graphics which are copied as slides or overhead transparencies. Eventually, when they are entirely in electronic form, they can be hosted in the electronic classroom. Once in the electronic classroom, the materials continue to develop becoming richer, multidimensional, interactive, and extensive. When different software packages are used, they can first be used in a computer lab, then used as demonstrations in class. Finally, collections of materials can be gathered over time of images, simulations, or databases that will ultimately form the basis of the course.
3. Provide faculty support for course development. Throwing money at a problem is rarely a solution. However, given that a solution exists, it often requires time and money to make it happen. When faculty desire to enhance their courses with multi-media materials or develop new methods of instruction that depend on technology, they should be supported. Support may take the form of an instructional improvement grant that provides for summer support, funds to purchase needed software, course materials, and equipment, and funds for student labor to help in the development.
4. Provide training with incentives. When the computer skills of the faculty are not what they should be, institutions should provide short courses for training. Even when such courses are free, it is often difficult to get the faculty to participate, especially in higher education. Consequently, additional incentives are required from free food to discretionary funds. In the lower grades, training can be a part of teacher accreditation and continuing education.
4. Provide canned courses and turnkey systems. In many cases instructors simply have neither the time, skills, or incentives to develop their own courseware materials. In these situations, as we have done for many years with textbooks at the high school and college levels and workbooks at the elementary level, one finds, acquires, and uses pre-packaged materials. Such courseware may come as a supplement to the textbook or it may be marketed as a stand-alone package. These packages will require some knowledge in the use of instructional technology but will prove to be much easier than trying to develop one's own materials. Furthermore, these packages will probably provide sufficient flexibility in what can selected for presentation that they can be adapted to suit the styles and interests of most faculty. In the future systems such as HyperCourseware may be used as packages for these materials so that they include the full range of interact exercises in addition to the multi-media materials.
5. Recognize and reward those who make the move. We often talk about good teachers as role models for their students. Teachers also need their role models. Good teachers need to be recognized and rewarded for their efforts as they take the lead in adopting new technologies in the classroom. Such programs have proven to be extremely effective at all levels of education.
6. Encourage early retirement for non-adopters and hire young enthusiasts. Some faculty will never change and will resist new instructional technologies to the death. It will be with a sad and compassionate, "So be it!" that administrators will have to encourage early retirement for those faculty. In their place, as new positions open up, the policy should be to hire new teachers who are enthusiastic and facile in the use of new teaching technologies. To this end, graduate students, pre-service teachers, and colleges of education should move in the direction of new technologies to fill the void and meet the challenge of electronic education.
Change is usually motivated by both positive and negative forces. In education, the move to the use of new educational technologies is motivated by the positive incentive of enhancing the learning process and by the negative fear of obsolescence. The future of both the educational institutions and the faculty that inhabit them will depend on their ability to transition into the new electronic educational environment. As we will see in the next chapter, the switched-on classroom changes the landscape of education, the players, and the competitors.
Those who see the changes on the horizon and are ready to make the most of them will be the winners.
1. Set up an interview with one of your teachers. Ask the following questions: (a) How many years have you been teaching? (b) In what ways has your teaching changed over these years? (c) In what ways have you used different technologies for classroom presentation such as the overhead projector, films, videos, computer demonstrations, etc.? (d) What plans do you have changing your courses in the future?
2. Select one of the classes that you are currently in. What is the current use of instructional technology in the class? What instructor and institutional factors will be involved in effecting a technology change? Write out a plan for the transition of this class into the switched-on classroom? Describe the incremental steps that need to be taken.
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