How can a college or university best support the faculty in the process of rethinking courses and curricula to unleash the truly revolutionary potential for technology to enhance learning? This article presents four key strategies that have contributed to a growing campus culture at embrace the potential of technological tools to enable fundamental pedagogical changes. Specific examples of each strategy are provided and key success factors are identified.
In recent years the potential of information technology to enhance teaching and learning has been demonstrated in virtually every subject matter discipline. At the same time, most faculty have become comfortable using word processing programs, e-mail, and the World Wide Web, and a wider range of user friendly software has become available. The 1998 National Survey of Desktop Computing and Information Technology in Higher Education revealed that the percentage of college classes using technology continues to increase, with 44.4 percent using e-mail and 36 percent using presentation handouts.1
These fairly common uses of technology in the higher education classroom, however, still do not capitalize on the real power of technology to make available real-world situations, aid visualization, facilitate collaborative activity among students, support analysis and synthesis of information, simulate complex environments, and provide continual feedback.2 These “deeper” uses of technology require conceptualizing the teaching and learning process in a different way and envisioning new instructional approaches that might assist students in attaining course goals.
Educational research reveals that new knowledge grows out of the process of relating new ideas to what we already know and exploring the interrelationships among ideas; new knowledge is not transmitted but is created by the learner. Also, knowledge is constructed by learners as they attempt to make sense out of their experiences and test their own understanding against that of others, notably those of teachers or more advanced peers.3 Technology can enhance learning by fostering the active processing and application of new ideas and by providing opportunities for students to engage in dialogue about ideas with their peers outside of class time.
One of the obstacles to integrating technology into our courses in ways that maximize the impact on student learning is the tendency to look at technology as a way of enhancing our current instructional approaches rather than starting from the “ground up.” Instead, we need to look back to our fundamental student learning goals for a specific course and brainstorm ways to assist students to reach these goals, keeping in mind that active involvement and dialogue about ideas are powerful catalysts for learning. Most faculty members find this kind of thinking energizing since their primary interest is in teaching and learning rather than technology. The question is, “How can a college or university best support this process of rethinking courses and curricula to unleash the truly revolutionary potential for technology to enhance learning?”
Certainly, adequate technology and support of its use is a necessary condition for success. No individual faculty member, department, or campus will be able to fully realize the potential of educational technology to enhance teaching and learning without a robust information technology infrastructure. Faculty access to hardware and software for development and use of educational applications, student access to PCs and the Internet both on and off campus, multimedia-capable classrooms with Internet access, training, and technical support are essential. However, these elements are not sufficient to create the desired revolution in teaching and learning.
Jane Marcus of Information Technology Systems and Services at Stanford University provides a very useful conceptualization of the factors affecting individual adoption of technology. In Marcusï¿½s model, adoption is a function of available resources, the perceived value of the innovation, and communication with other adopters. Her dissertation research provides empirical evidence in support of the model, indicating that social/contextual variables are as important as resources in encouraging adoption of technology.4
Subsequent research at also highlighted the importance of these factors. Faculty members on that campus were surveyed to identify factors that might influence the use of new instructional technologies. The most important factor identified was the need to be certain that technology would enhance student learning. Other important social/contextual factors were compatibility with the subject matter, advantages over traditional instruction, increased student interest, information on materials in the discipline, compatibility with existing course materials, and support from higher administration, chairpersons, and deans. Faculty were also asked to rate the importance of various incentives to use technology. Not surprisingly, released time, student and clerical support, and stipends were important incentives. In addition, however, faculty noted the importance of knowing that their efforts would contribute to promotion and tenure and would be recognized by the university community.
Four Key Strategies to Help Faculty Rethink Pedagogy Using Technology
This kind of research on learning and on adoption of technology can inform the design of campus programs to support faculty in rethinking pedagogy and using technology in ways that make a significant impact on student learning. For the past nine years, Duquesne University has been developing a comprehensive, campuswide program to reach this goal. The following sections describe four key strategies of Duquesneï¿½s program and the principles that underlie them, providing examples of ways the strategies have been implemented at Duquesne.
Encourage faculty to learn about the successful use of educational technology by colleagues at their university and by colleagues within their discipline around the globe.
Creating opportunities for faculty to learn about successful uses of educational technology on their own campus facilitates communication with adopters (a social variable identified by Marcus as important in promoting adoption of technology). Faculty can discuss the impact of technology on student learning and motivation, the amount of work required to develop and implement applications, and the perceived value. Faculty are often able to make the conceptual leap required to see how a colleagueï¿½s use of technology might apply in their own discipline (for example, a historian might easily envision how a philosopher colleagueï¿½s use of computer conferencing might be adapted). Clearly, however, there are disciplinary differences that make it difficult to see how particular uses of technology could be transferred (for example, a chemist might doubt that the philosopher colleagueï¿½s use of computer conferencing would be useful in learning physical chemistry). For this reason, it is quite helpful to create opportunities for faculty to learn about technology use by colleagues within their discipline at other institutions (for example, the chemist might easily be persuaded that a symbolic and numerical software program such as Mathcad would enhance learning in physical chemistry).
During the past nine years, Duquesneï¿½s computing center and faculty development center have partnered to provide a wealth of opportunities for faculty to learn about the ways in which colleagues at Duquesne and elsewhere have used technology to improve student learning:
Teaching with Technology Fairs. Five or six faculty members who are successfully using technology are asked to present at each fair. The goal is to have presenters from various disciplines, a wide range of educational uses, and projects representing various levels of sophistication. The format is similar to a poster session, with each presenter at a workstation demonstrating his or her work. Faculty who attend are free to converse with each presenter as long as they wish. Questions are often raised about the length of time needed to develop an application, the effect on student learning and motivation, and the amount of skill required.
Lunch Bytes. These brown bag lunch sessions often feature individual faculty who have used technology in effective ways, ranging from visualization of earthquakes in geology to student projects requiring use of import/export rate databases in global economics to virtual cooperative learning groups and electronic portfolios in occupational therapy. Each of these sessions attracts a diverse group of faculty who are often able to see how the ideas presented might apply in their own discipline.
Live Teleconferences. These satellite downlink programs, obtained from vendors enable Duquesne faculty to be aware of cutting-edge uses of educational technology. Immediately following such a downlink, participants discuss possible application of ideas presented during the program within the Duquesne University environment. Computing center and faculty development center staff serve as resources for this discussion.
Teaching Workshops. The faculty development center regularly offers workshops on a wide range of topics such as critical thinking, cooperative learning, and problem-based learning. Whenever appropriate, the content of these workshops includes ways in which technology might be used to reach the desired instructional goal. For example, structured, threaded discussion can stimulate critical thinking; cooperative learning groups meeting via computer conferencing can transcend the bounds of time and space imposed by the traditional face-to-face classroom; and information garnered from online resources and dialogue among class members may facilitate problem solving. In addition to these workshops on general pedagogical topics that include ideas for using technology, occasional workshops explicitly focus on technology-enhanced pedagogy. An example of this was the workshop, “Teaching Online Using Computer Conferencing Software,” offered in the fall of 1996 by the first faculty member at Duquesne to teach a totally online course. In this workshop, she described her use of discussion, case studies, and small group work and showed evidence indicating that students had attained the goals of the course.
Stimulate individual faculty and departments to think about their learning goals for students and how technology might be used to help students attain these goals.
As noted earlier, the most common uses of technology such as e-mail and presentation software tend to be “add-ons” to current pedagogy and do not capitalize on the real power of technology to revolutionize the teaching/learning process. Encouraging faculty to identify their basic goals for a course, on the other hand, frees them to think more creatively. What do they wish students to be able to do at the end of the course? What are the “bottlenecks” (critical concepts that many students fail to master) in a particular course? What kind of experiences and assignments will help students to master course goals? These kinds of questions provide the basis for considering alternative, technology-based approaches to facilitating student attainment of course goals–perhaps drill-and-practice tutorials for basic skills, computer conferencing to develop critical thinking, or multimedia to enhance visualization of important concepts. Likewise, an academic department might consider its overall goals for graduates of its programs and how technology could be integrated into courses to ensure that students do, in fact, reach those goals. For example, students in journalism might need to develop skills in carrying out online research, evaluating credibility of sources, and creating Web pages. In what courses will these skills be developed and how will these competencies be verified?
Duquesne University encourages this “ground up” rethinking of courses and possible uses of technology on the part of individual faculty as well as by schools and departments. When schools and departments pursue such thinking, there is the potential for significant curricular reform. What follows are a few ways that Duquesne has fostered rethinking of pedagogy.
Schoolwide Integration of Technology into the Curriculum. Duquesne’s School of Music made a commitment to integrate the K-12 National Standards for Arts Education into the School of Music curriculum and to extend those standards to the collegiate level. The guidelines accompanying the standards indicate that “the curriculum should utilize current technology to individualize and expand music learning… However, technology should not be used for its own sake, but in order to achieve the goals of music education.”6 Accordingly, the School of Music has examined its courses, noting the goals and content of each course and the technologies that could be used to increase attainment of learning goals. A theory course, for example, does not inherently require the use of technology, but student learning might be enhanced by use of a synthesizer module, music notation software, and computer-assisted instruction to develop ear-training skills. Strategic use of technology throughout the school provided a focus for relevant faculty development opportunities and led to the creation of a required freshman course, “Computers for Musicians,” to familiarize students with the technology they would use in later courses.
Online Course on Online Teaching and Learning. During the fall semester of 1998, Duquesne pilot tested a course on online teaching and learning. Seventeen faculty and administrators took part, with all coursework being carried out online using FirstClass computer conferencing software. This approach enabled faculty to experience the role of learner while, at the same time, reflecting on the teaching/learning process and designing their own course. In addition to reading the text,7 participants read “lectures” by the instructor as well as articles on the Web. They posted responses to questions such as: “What do you see as the role that you are likely to take as an online instructor?” “Do you see this as different from the role of an effective face-to-face teacher? Explain.” “What do you think will change for you in your teaching in the online environment?” Another assignment listed many instructional strategies that could be used in the online environment (for example, small group discussion, collaborative learning, problem-based learning, case studies, simulation, and project-based learning) and asked participants to identify ways they might be able to implement these strategies in one of their courses using technology. A separate “metacognition” conference provided a virtual class space within which participants could reflect on their own experience as learners. They might, for example, have noted how difficult it is to synthesize the comments of the 16 other participants or have speculated on why the degree of social interaction increased or decreased depending on the topic and the assignment.8
Summer Institute on Teaching with Technology. For the past four summers Duquesne has offered a summer institute for faculty. Participation is competitive, based on applications that describe a project that the faculty member would like to undertake, using technology to enhance some aspect of student learning in one of his or her courses. Faculty who complete the five-day institute receive a $1,000 stipend for their participation and commit to demonstrating their work within their own school and also in a university-wide venue. During the first day of the institute, there is a session on instructional design and an overview of available technologies. As a result of these sessions, a high percentage of faculty change their instructional strategy, choice of technology, or both. What is important is that faculty come to the institute having identified their instructional goal; institute instructors can then assist faculty in clarifying the best means for reaching that goal.