Training Instructors in New Technologies

For instructors to use technology in the classroom, they need certain skills in order to implement their plans. A few hardy individuals will lead the way on their own, but most need instruction and encouragement to get started, and a media facility and support staff to keep them going. The challenge is how to prepare the main body of faculty to expand their use of instructional tools to incorporate computers and new technology.

The Challenge

In the winter of 1995 the staff of ITS (Instructional Technology Services) at Western Michigan University, with support from the Office of Faculty Development, began to produce a series of instructional noon-hour seminars called ETT (Enhancing Teaching with Technology). Three ITS staff (two full-time, one half time) had just moved to a new office and officially changed focus from general and instructional graphics to instructional technology exclusively. Using computers for instruction was still fairly new and the seminars were a good way to advertise support services and the new ITS location. The seminars also featured those faculty members who had already started to use the Web and other technology. Topics included various aspects of using the Web, presentation software, animation, CGI scripting, virtual reality photography and live computer video conferencing. ITS staff also taught two- and four-hour hands-on computer workshops on some of these topics through University Computing Services.

But this didn't seem to be enough. The ETT seminars would give the faculty information and ideas, after which many would take a short workshop and learn to use the software. However, progressing on to the next step of producing an instructional project rarely occurred. Also, one workshop often did not give the faculty all the information they wanted or needed. Clearly the faculty needed a jump-start on their projects and time to follow through.

The Solution

To solve this problem, ITS joined with University Computing Services staff and the Office of Faculty Development to conduct an intensive week-long event called ETTI (Enhancing Teaching with Technology Institute).1 The project has been supported by funds from different combinations of sources each year, including the Office of the Provost, University Libraries, the Office of Faculty Development and University Computing Services. The organizers hoped to accomplish several things with this week-long venue: provide more in-depth coverage of topics than noon seminars; acquaint faculty with the support staff and computer facilities available on campus; give the faculty more time for hands-on computer experience in various areas; help faculty begin their projects so they could take away something useful on which to build; create a network among the faculty and staff for future work and support; and help the support staff learn more about what the faculty need and want.

The first year there was an enthusiastic response from the faculty, filling all the allotted spaces for participants, and this has continued through 1998, our third year. The event is scheduled in the spring or early summer at the end of a semester, which allows the faculty time during the summer to continue work on their projects for the fall semester. Topics have changed in response to feedback from ETTI participants, attendance and feedback from ETT seminar attendees and computer workshop participants, and interaction between support staff and faculty during the year.

The Structure of ETTI

The Institute meets for a full week, which consists of four days of instruction and open lab time on computers, and a final day for participants to share what they have accomplished on their projects and to evaluate the week. There is no charge to attending faculty for the instruction, materials or food. Each day begins with a lecture, discussion or demonstration in a central meeting area. These sessions often involve a presentation by a faculty member who is already using new technology for instruction. Participants then go to the computer lab of their platform preference (10 Macintosh and 12-13 Windows computers available) for hands-on computer instruction and free time to develop their projects. Exercises in the computer instruction sessions have been devised so that faculty can incorporate their own material. One day is devoted to the use of scanners and digital cameras, several of which are made available for faculty use during ETTI. The last half-hour of the day is an optional session on varying topics including copyright, electronic conferencing, tour of new facilities and a demonstration of a quick graphic technique. In order to encourage group cohesion and all-day attendance, morning and afternoon drinks and snacks as well as lunch are provided.

For the past two years, one person has been responsible for the overall organization of ETTI as well as supplementary materials and food. In addition to being responsible for at least one day of instruction during ETTI, this person also organized and conducted meetings; produced the brochures and daily agendas; procured supplies; printed out binder covers, indexes and name tags; reserved facilities; arranged catering and a book vendor; and designed and ordered the giveaway (T-shirt, portfolio, etc.). The intention for next year is to delegate these responsibilities more evenly among the staff.

After the first year there was a departmental reorganization that moved ITS staff to University Computing Services. This made communication and organization much easier since all staff then had a closer working relationship with each other. From eight staff members, a different pair was in charge of each of the four days of instruction, one staff person for each of the two computer platforms. Each pair was responsible for organizing and preparing the morning lecture, discussion and/or faculty presentation, for developing the exercises used to teach that day, and for that day's handouts. Coordination of the exercises from one day to the next was critical. Often material used in regular computer workshops could be adapted for use during this special event. Staff members also spent time assisting in the computer labs during times of instruction and when there was open lab time. Student employees were also a valuable resource in assisting ETTI participants with questions.

Challenges and Solutions

One of the first challenges encountered by the organizers was when to hold the event. Western Michigan University has 16-week fall and winter semesters followed by intensive 8-week spring and summer sessions. Grades are usually due on a Tuesday and the next semester begins the following week, so essentially there is not much of a break between semesters. Both staff and faculty are very busy during the fall and winter semesters, but many faculty members do not teach the spring semester and even fewer are in the area during the summer. ETTI was held the first two times between the spring and summer sessions and this past year between the winter and spring semesters. Either time meets the goal of giving faculty time after ETTI (the summer) to continue work on their projects. Evaluations from ETTI participants, though, have indicated that there is no one good time for everyone but that the times chosen were not unmanageable for most people. Holding the event at the end of the winter semester did, however, mean much additional work on top of normal duties for the staff. Tentative plans for next year are still to schedule ETTI for the last week in April at the end of the winter semester, but to begin organization earlier and to take steps to reduce or reschedule some of the normal workload for that time.

Deciding what topics best meet the needs of faculty and what is feasible to cover in four days is also difficult. The first year ETTI covered a very broad range of topics (e-mail, electronic testing and conferencing tools, searching the Internet, creating Web pages, creating interactive assignments, using presentation software for instruction, and more). By the second year, the staff found that those attending had less need for some of the instruction such as e-mail, Internet searching, and using presentation software and more interest in time to work on their own projects. The desired emphasis of the faculty has shifted almost completely to the Web and creating Web pages. For those who can't attend the full week, basic versions of ETTI courses are now offered as regular 2-hour faculty-only computer workshops every semester under ETT.2

Encouraging faithful daily attendance has always been difficult. Devoting an entire week to workshops may seem like a large commitment, but the great majority of those who have attended ETTI stated a preference for the continuous week of instruction with free time for assisted work on individual projects rather than breaking the sessions up over a longer period of time. We have found daily attendance to be critical for two reasons. First, the lab exercises usually build on each other so that participants who don't have the previous day's completed exercises and skills are not prepared for the next day and hold the rest of the group up with their questions and problems. Also, a group relationship and mutual enthusiasm builds over the course of the week as participants spend time together and help each other, and sporadic attendance works against this.

Several things are done to encourage daily attendance. The registration policy states clearly that preference is given to those who are attending the entire week. Registrants are also not allowed to miss the first day, since the lab exercises build on one another. Those wishing partial attendance are considered on a case by case basis only if there are empty spaces and no persons on the waiting list. To discourage skipping all or part of a day once ETTI has begun, the agenda for each day is not passed out ahead of time (a general schedule d'es appear in the registration materials). Attendance on the final day for sharing work and a verbal evaluation of ETTI by the attendees is rewarded by participation in a drawing for gift certificates for software and books.

Results

Over the course of three years, sixty-seven faculty members have attended ETTI. Out of the forty-nine who attended the first two years, at least thirteen have Web pages up.3 Other attendees, while not using the Web presently, have either begun projects that are not yet up or have at least begun using presentation software in the classroom and making slides for use at conferences. ETTI participants also often consult the participating UCS staff with questions and requests for project assistance, likely because of the relationships established during ETTI. Participants also assist and encourage others in their department on Web projects and other uses of technology, and the ETT Center (Enhancing Teaching with Technology Center), a computer multimedia lab for faculty, has seen an increase in use since the training programs have started. The effects of ETTI go beyond the participants and the work they accomplish during the workshop.

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This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.

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