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Improving Faculty Use of Technology in a Small Campus Community

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University faculty are often reluctant users of technology in their classes. This is especially true when it comes to having their students use technology in meaningful, student-centered ways (Warburton, Chen and Bradburn 2002). The main problem is that university faculty already have teaching, research and publishing requirements, and working to integrate technology takes time away from these activities. Also, faculty often become discouraged because they do not receive credit for their work in adding significant technology components to their courses.

This article focuses on a program designed to improve how faculty use technology at a small branch campus of a major state university. The grant-based program aims to allow faculty to alter their courses so that students are using technology in more student-centered ways such as for problem-solving and project-based work. To accomplish this, a combination of workshops, individual mentoring and various incentives have been used to entice faculty to explore new and different ways of integrating technology into their teaching.

The Community

Imperial Valley, Calif., is a rural county on the U.S.-Mexico border. It is one of the poorest counties in California, with high levels of poverty and unemployment, as well as low income and education levels relative to state averages. Yet with a branch campus of San Diego State University and a community college, students in the valley can earn any academic degree up to a master’s, including teacher licensing through an accredited teacher education program.

The Imperial Valley campus is small, with about 900 students and 29 full-time faculty members. Because of the campus’ size and the nature of its programs, it is possible to attempt campuswide change in technology use by reaching a relatively few number of faculty. Therefore, a program targeted at having faculty use technology in student-centered, activity-based ways could impact a large percentage of students; ultimately, leading to a technology-literate and highly educated workforce.

Title V Funds

In 2000, the San Diego State University-Imperial Valley Campus (SDSU-IVC) received a Title V grant from the U.S. Education Department. Increasing and improving faculty use of technology was the second of two major activities of the grant. Activity 2 of the Title V grant is designed to provide faculty with professional development in integrating technology “combined with student-centered pedagogy to foster students’ content learning, academic skills and technological literacy” (SDSU Foundation 2001).

In its first year, the grant was used to collect baseline data, hire a technology specialist to provide workshops and be available for individual help with faculty, as well as offer a series of technology workshops. The Title V grant also began offering minigrants for faculty to integrate student-centered technology into their classes.

During the first two years of the grant, activities focused on increasing faculty members’ skills with basic software, especially the Blackboard online course delivery system. Results from this period also show success in increasing student use of basic technology. However, progress in student use of more advanced technology - such as spreadsheets, presentations and the use of library databases for research - lags behind.

As I became more familiar with the work of the grant, I had concerns that there was little work with technology and curriculum together, even though that was a stated goal of Activity 2. As an assistant professor of educational technology and teacher education at SDSU-IVC, I was worried that there seemed to be very small focus on the creation of student-centered curricula that integrate constructivist uses of technology. Title V survey results confirmed this, with a huge jump in the number of faculty using technology in their teaching, but less significant gains in more advanced student uses of technology.

I offered to meet with the Title V team to discuss the future of Activity 2 if they were interested. The team agreed that they could use some help in taking the technology training to the next level: integrating student-centered pedagogy with technology. As that is my specialty, we agreed that I would work part time for the grant to improve the faculty’s use of student-centered technology.

The initial meeting included a discussion of the grant’s technology equipment funds and how best to use them. One problem that faculty have in integrating technology is the lack of campus resources. Our campus currently has two classroom labs with a third being built. These are all set up for individual instruction, with rows of computers on long tables, a presenter’s podium up front in a traditional lecture setup, and little room to move around or form groups to work cooperatively with the technology. Other campus technology access includes one open lab and a math computer lab, as well as faculty access to a digital camera, digital camcorder and several smart carts, which include a notebook and projector on a mobile cart. While still not adequate to fully support faculty, there has been a steady increase in available technology, largely because of the Title V funds.

I immediately suggested that it would be wise to buy mobile labs of laptop computers with wireless Internet access in the future; those in attendance agreed. Since our campus has limited space, small classrooms and old buildings that can be difficult to wire, these mobile labs would allow for slowly building the wireless network; thus, expanding the useful range of the labs. Having mobile carts, modern laptops and wireless Internet access would also mean that SDSU-IVC students would be getting access to the same quality of equipment as students at wealthier campuses.

Skills Workshops

With progress being made on technology access and in increasing faculty’s skills with the use of technology, the focus needed to shift more toward curriculum with a continuing emphasis on increasing faculty’s software and hardware skills. Based on my discussions with the grant team, I offered a series of workshops in spring 2004 and provided individual assistance where requested or needed.

These workshops included skills sessions on basic and advanced Power-Point, Inspiration Software, Web page creation I and II, as well as digital video I and II. The curriculum-focused workshops featured an overview of technology in education, integrating application software (e.g., word processing, spreadsheet, etc.) for student-centered learning, and integrating existing Web sites and projects for student-centered learning. The skills workshops also modeled the use of technology for student-centered learning and included discussions of curriculum design with technology.

Faculty Use of Technology Chart

Student Confidence and Technology Use Chart

Spring 2004 Results

As is often the case in voluntary professional development programs, a small core of faculty attended the workshops regularly, while many others only attended occasionally. The most successful workshop was on using Inspiration Software, which was attended by more faculty members than any of the other workshops. Within two weeks of the workshop, four faculty members told me they had since used the software in their classes or were going to in the next week or two. Overall, the skills workshops were better attended than the curriculum-focused ones. However, questions and discussions in the curriculum-based workshops focused on issues and problems in implementation more directly at the heart of my efforts.

During the semester, several faculty members asked me for individual help. Their requests included assistance with basic skills, curriculum questions, as well as being a guest lecturer in one class where I also assisted a student group in creating their own professional Web page. Since the grant offered a $3,000 minigrant last semester for a major project integrating student-centered technology, I had hoped that faculty would be interested in more intensive help in preparing their proposals. Ultimately, I did give some assistance to the only two faculty members who applied for the grant.

I believe my work had a generally positive impact on the faculty members who participated, as feedback from my work was encouraging. A number of faculty attended many of the workshops, while several more attended more than one. However, informal comments indicate that some faculty have already started to expand their use of technology in the classroom.

Future Plans

Based on my experiences and participant feedback, we made some modifications to the approach I was taking for the fall 2004 semester. Instead of individual workshops, fall workshops were conducted in series of three to four per topic. This allowed ample time to focus on basic and advanced skills with the hardware and software tools, while also providing plenty of time to work on curriculum. Participants will leave each series with projects they have created, as well as with the curriculum to use the technology for student-centered purposes. Workshop series are planned for application software, digital video, as well as for Web pages and projects.

In addition, I will be working weekly with the winner of the minigrant to help implement her plan. So far, this has involved basic help in Web page creation and Web site design. We have begun discussing ways of integrating technology into her curriculum in more student-centered ways. I also intend to continue working with the other faculty member who submitted a grant proposal so that his next proposal will have a better chance of being accepted. I believe continuing the dual approach to faculty development in technology with the modifications just described will continue to build the faculty skills in technology. Hopefully, it will also lead to faculty integrating more student-centered uses of technology into their curricula.

Conclusions

Assessing results from my work with faculty is more difficult than simply using a survey. To get a better sense of how technology is being used, faculty members should be interviewed, videotaped, observed, and/or have their syllabi analyzed to see how they are using technology in class. In addition, students should be surveyed and interviewed about their experiences with technology. As our infrastructure expands, and as faculty receive more training in student-centered technology use, we can expect to see more students working on technology projects for their classes. Increasing numbers of faculty asking for individual assistance also would be a positive sign, as would continued increases in attendance at technology workshops.

I believe this program now offers all the elements of a successful faculty development in technology program: small workshops based on faculty interest, one-on-one assistance, incentives for faculty to participate in workshops and technology projects, and an expanding infrastructure to support faculty in advancing their use of technology. The Title V grant has already had success in getting faculty to start using technology in the classroom. And students are benefiting by being exposed to technology such as Blackboard and PowerPoint. Time will only tell whether the new focus on advanced tools and curriculum will encourage faculty to innovate and help Title V reach its goals of faculty use of technology in student-centered ways and technology-literate SDSU-IVC graduates.


References

San Diego State University (SDSU) Foundation. 2001. “Improving the Education of Hispanics in Imperial County, California.” Title V: Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program Grant submitted on behalf of SDSU-IVC. 12 March. Online: http://www.ivcampus.sdsu.edu/title_v/pdf/TitleV.pdf

Warburton, E., X. Chen, and E. Bradburn. 2002. “Teaching With Technology: Use of Telecommunications Technology by Postsecondary Instructional Faculty and Staff in Fall 1998. National Center for Education Statistics.” Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics. Online: http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2002161

Wepner, S., S. Scott, and J. Haysbert. 2003. “What Are Colleges and Universities Doing to Promote Technology Initiatives?” Journal of Computing in Teacher Education 20 (1): 17-27.

Wepner, S. and N. Seminoff. 1997. “What Should We Know About Technology-Based Projects for Tenure and Promotion?” Journal of Research on Computing in Education 30 (1): 67-79.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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