Faculty Uses of Computers: Facts, Fear, and Perceptions

by DR. JOHN J. HIRSCHBUHL University of Akron Akron, Ohio and DR. SUNDAY O. FASEYITAN Indiana University Purdue Fort Wayne, Ind. Higher education spent billions of dollars on computer equipment during the 1980s. Unfortunately, current studies indicate that the use of computers for instructional purposes has not yet hit the mainstream of university education. Some researchers emphasized the importance of organizational factors, such as costs of implementation and incentives for faculty in form of money, release time and promotions as the most important variables in the success of computer-based instruction.1,2,3 Others considered student and faculty attitudes in their studies.4,5 In addition, faculty characteristics such as an instructors' age, length of service, gender and the technology orientation of their discipline have also been considered.6,7 These variables of personal attributes, organizational factors and attitudinal elements are usually considered separately, but it is certainly plausible that they interrelate. Thus, we conducted our own study to determine the requirements for faculty adoption of computers for instruction. The goal was to identify those factors that demand the most attention from educators and administrators attempting to implement widespread adoption. Findings indicate that the technical orientation of the faculty's discipline, plus their computer self-efficacy, utility beliefs and general attitude toward computers are the significant predictors of adoption. The findings are discussed in terms of the need for training to raise the confidence of faculty members in their use of computers. Asking the Right Questions The question is not "Why aren't computers widely used for instruction?" The question is "What kind of instructors use computers for instruction?" To explore these questions, our study examined the differences between faculty who were adopters of computers for instruction and those who were non-adopters. The following questions were posed: To what extent are faculty using computers in their instructional activities? Do the personal attributes of discipline, rank, research commitment and gender relate to faculty's level of adoption of computers for instruction? Do organizational factors such as instructional policy, incentives, technical support and staff development affect faculty adoption of computers in their instructional activities? Do attitudinal factors: computer self-efficacy, computer utility beliefs and general attitudes toward computers, affect the adoption of computers for instruction? Findings of Study A survey was designed to obtain data on instructional computing activities, personal attributes, organizational support and the attitudes of faculty. This questionnaire was mailed to faculty selected at random from six state universities in Ohio. The response rate was 43% of the 600 faculty originally polled. Overall, the results show no significant difference between computer adopters and non-adopters in their personal attributes of gender, rank and research commitment. The lack of a significant relationship between research commitment and computer adoption for instruction weakens the frequent argument that the low value given to teaching in promotion and tenure decisions may be responsible for faculty not wanting to involve themselves in integrating computers into their teaching. The only personal attribute that was a consistent predictor of computer adoption was the technological orientation of the faculty's discipline. One explanation is that disciplines that are neither quantitative nor technological in orientation require more cognitive effort to integrate computers. The study also found a lack of significant relationship between adoption and the organizational variables of instructional policy, technical support and staff development. However, this may not be interpreted to mean that these factors are not relevant in any way. It may be that such organizational factors only serve to maintain, but not motivate, faculty to adopt computers for instruction. Further, because absence of organizational support may lead to dissatisfaction, administrators need to continue to make it available. Indeed, the interrelation of these variables indicates that those faculty who were aware had taken advantage of staff development offered by their institution. Perhaps the most unexpected finding of the study was the negative relationship between adoption and incentives, which is contrary to other reports. This indicates inadequate or ineffective incentive schemes are being used to promote the adoption of computers for instruction. It is also possible that faculty respond more to intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivation. Suggestions It is suggested that appropriate training be given to faculty to overcome their fears of using computers for instruction and to increase their technological literacy. The bottom line is faculty should be trained in the use of computers and demonstrate a willingness to adopt computers for instructional purposes before the university launches a technology project. Instructor training should include a specific focus on how to design instructional content for the intended media; this is especially true for multimedia projects as the requirements for integrating video, audio, animations and graphics are fairly technical. Once having successfully finished one project, an educator's confidence and enthusiasm will increase exponentially and less support will be required. Decision makers should heed this "train first" principle.


John Hirschbuhl is assistant to the Associate VP of Information Services and a professor of education at the University of Akron, Ohio. Sunday Faseyitan is an assistant professor of engineering at Indiana University Purdue University at Fort Wayne, Ind. References: 1. Hofstetter, Fred T., "The Cost of PLATO in a University Environment," Journal of Computer Based Education, Vol. 9, No. 4 (1993), pp.148-155. 2. Keane, D. L. and Gaither, G., Academic software development survey. In Sprecher, J. W. (Ed.), Facilitating Academic Software Development, Academic Computing Publications, Inc., McKinney, TX (1988). 3. Butler, D. L., "Interest In and Barriers To using Computers in Instruction," Teaching of Psychology, Vol. 13, No. 1 (1986), pp. 20-23. 4. Whiteside, M. F., Lang, N. P. and Whiteside, J. A., "Medical Students' Attitudes Towards the Use of Microcomputers in Instructional Tools," Journal of Computer Based Instruction, Vol. 16, No. 3 (1989), pp. 90-94. 5. Skinner, M. E., "Attitudes of College Students Toward Computer Assisted Instruction: An Essential Variable for Successful Implementation," Educational Technology, Vol. 28, No. 2 (1988), pp. 7-15. 6. McCord, J., "A Faculty Computer Nexus." Microcomputer working paper series, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 254 116).

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.