Retrofitting Academe: Adapting Faculty Attitudes and Practices to Technology
LeAne H. RUTHERFORD, Assistant Professor Instructional Development Service and SHERYL J. GRANA, Assistant Professor University of Minnesota-Duluth Duluth, Minn. The Chinese character for "risk" combines under one roof the symbol for uncertainty with the symbol for opportunity. If postsecondary education is to succeed, it will have to take the risks, and overcome the fears and uncertainties caused by change to avail itself of unprecedented opportunities presented by technology. Faculty, often gatekeepers of knowledge, must seize the moment. This means adapting their attitudes and remodeling their practices to retrofit academe. Changes in the Classroom In many classrooms where emphasis has shifted from teaching to learning, transformations have been occurring that take some adjustment. Learning is becoming more active and less authority-dependent. Pushing lecture to the side, other educational strategies that actively involve students are being recommended and used to enhance student learning: case studies, cooperative learning, debates, peer projects, collaborative endeavors... Technology itself both mandates active learning and assists it. No matter the form, the ultimate goal for these multi-dimensional methods is to create students who can function independently and think critically. Reaching such developmental goals has never been easy. Students may resist these new methods, preferring that faculty give them the "right" answers. Some faculty may resist because, never having had instruction in how to teach, they teach only as they themselves were taught (which for many means exclusively lecturing). Vacating the stage to becoming a facilitator rather than the font of learning may seem counterproductive and rather bland. Finally, issues of control surface. However, although many faculty have adapted, retrofitted and remodeled their teaching, it is time to do more. Adjusting Roles, Redefining the Destination Traditionally instructors have been the entrance to information. If not the gate, then surely they were the gatekeepers. They have had control over the terms and facts of the subject matter. They have had control over the input, the throughput and the output. Exit control. Enter technology. Enter access to so many facts and so much data that Solomon couldn't deal wisely with them. Enter the Information Age. Enter changing faculty roles and a burgeoning knowledge base pointing to the need for information literacy in an information age. Faculty will have to renovate attitudes, refurbish frayed pedagogy, and rewire old circuits to accommodate all of these technologically inspired changes. The current definition of critical thinking is being replaced by the larger term, "information literacy." Fortunately, information literacy and critical thinking have a great deal in common. In Information Literacy in an Information Society: A Concept for the Information Age, Doyle defines an information-literate person as one who can identify a problem, recognize the need for accurate and complete information to make decisions, ask questions based on information needs, develop search strategies, access and evaluate information, organize and integrate information and use it in critical thinking and problem solving.1 The emphasis is less on knowledge for its own sake and more on process based on utility. So what has changed? The proliferation of sources of information, the speed with which it can be obtained, and its quantity. The revolution started by the printing press was a cow-path compared to the revolution started by electronic advances that have brought us the Info Superhighway. All institutions are currently wrestling with architectural questions of what technology, how much technology, which technology, for whom, and at what cost. Electronics is the common denominator. That includes interactive TV; e-mail; Internet; mainframe resources such as Veronica, Lynx, Gopher and X Windows; or micro resources such as the World Wide Web, Microsoft PowerPoint; CD-ROM...an explosion of hardware, software, and even language. Faculty members, who will live in "this old house" through the chaos of retrofitting, understandably worry. They worry about getting enough tools and equipment to function comfortably, enough time to retool and reorganize their modus operandi, enough training in technological mechanics and methods to feel in control, and enough tolerance for change to get through this massive and messy alteration. Above all, faculty often have fears that may prevent them from adapting their attitudes and practices to include technology in their teaching. What Can Prevent Faculty from Adapting The following issues that concern faculty, while not an exhaustive list, illustrate what may prevent instructors from learning and using new technologies. Fear of change: "I've come this far in my life without needing this technology, so why do I want to learn it now?" Explicit or implicit, fear of change is part of the human condition; the unknown is frightening. In the long run, however, not adapting is suicide. Fear of time commitment: "How can I spend the time necessary to deal with this stuff? I just don't have the time to spare." Many simply feel they cannot afford the time to learn new procedures or techniques. Others may fear that spending a short period simply leads down a slippery slope to longer periods, or that other work will suffer. Committing time to learning technology means it is being taken away from something else. It appears to be a zero-sum game. Fear of appearing incompetent: "What if I look like a fool? I don't want my colleagues or students to think I can't do this!" Human fears of appearing incompetent or silly keep many of us from doing a number of things: singing in public, for instance. And instructors may hesitate to try a new computer skill with a class for fear of bumbling and looking incompetent. Fear of techno lingo: "What's an 'FTP' site? All those acronyms are beyond me: TAPI, PCI, IDE... What is 'hypertext,' a 'home page,' 'native signal processing'? And 'flaming,' what's that?" Fear of techno failure: "What if I try tech and it fails me? The message I sent via e-mail came back, 'host unknown.' Where do I turn if I get stuck?" Fear of not knowing where to start: "Where to start? How to start? What's most urgent to know? Most important? Most significant?" Retrofitting for the new world of technology is like thinking about remodeling a house. Start in the bedroom or the kitchen? Rewire or replumb first? With so many tasks to do, deciding where to start is the biggest impediment. Fear of being married to bad choices: "What if I buy the computer equivalent of an Edsel? Tech choices are big-ticket items." While making technological choices may have greater consequences than selecting paint colors, not making any decision at all makes a decision by default. Moreover, waiting for something better to come along is futile. Something better is always coming along. Fear of having to move backward to go forward: "What good is a computer keyboard to me? I don't type." If faculty haven't learned a skill-one now necessary to efficiently use technology in academe-then part of their fear of technology is really the lack of knowing a needed skill. Fear of rejection or reprisals: At all cornerstones of life, rejection can be found. Not retrofitting due to the possibility of backlash is analogous to not searching for a mate. Those who don't look, often do not find. Tips to Help Shift One's Perspective
"I've lived this long...I don't have time... where to start...What if... What if...What if...?" Overcoming fears, real or imagined, takes a shift in perspective. The following suggestions aid in making that shift. • Be realistic. Technology is here. Money is following it. The Annenberg/CPB Project, for instance, has set aside $2 million for two initiatives, one of which is for research on "how courses are changing in response to student use of technology and how faculty rethink courses accordingly." Job announcements are more frequently containing clauses that indicate candidates must be attentive to the "rapidly evolving incorporation of instructional technology into the teaching/learning environment" (excerpt from a recent ad for a faculty position). Faculty who have access to technological resources but do not use them are stigmatized. Luddites didn't succeed in discouraging the Industrial Revolution; faculty who refuse to read their e-mail won't succeed in discouraging the Information Revolution either. Furthermore, instructors who wait for institutional norms to change before they incorporate technology into their teaching and learning will have waited too long. Jumping on the bandwagon is harder these days because the bandwagon is a Concord jet. Being realistic means accepting that trouble and time are both involved. If sociologists study computers and their kin in the same way they studied the effects on labor of household devices such as vacuum cleaners and washing machines, they might conclude that electronically mediated aids to communication are not necessarily labor-saving devices either. They are labor-changing devices.2 Technology d'es not avert the task, but it can transform how it is performed. One example comes from the science side of physical education. Students in a motion-analysis class used to do kinematics by hand-calculating from 16mm film; now they can use computers. The goal is the same, but with technology's assistance, speed and ease are increased and drudgery decreased. Furthermore, with the glamour that computers bring to the assignments, students routinely go beyond the requirements. Decide who's boss. Instructors must decide what it is they want to accomplish in their classes. Then they can start to get their arms around how technology can help attain those goals. Contrasting the role of technology with the role of instructional objectives, the dichotomy is message vs. medium, means vs. ends, master vs. servant. Technology is a medium, a means and a servant. It is questions over who is in the driver's seat and the choices we are making that are the concern of books like Silicon Snake Oil.3 While certainly magical at times, technology is not an elixir for curing all educational ills. It can do much to activate passive courses, to personalize impersonal classes, to give access to education for those hitherto without access. In the words of the National Education Association's director of its new Education Technology Center, Barbara Yentzer, "We're not talking technology for technology's sake, but to improve education."4 For example, when an instructor aims at getting to know her students better because that is one way of increasing the fun and the "profit" in teaching, then corresponding with them by e-mail is a good choice. Or if an instructor wants to improve the writing of students, have them write more via e-mail. If instructors want students to work in small groups but know the scheduling difficulties of trying to find time to meet out of class, suggest students correspond by computer-no scheduling hassles. Ease into the technological flow. All instructors have used some technology in the past: test banks on disk, camcorders, VCRs, overhead projectors, etc. They can build on that experience and the confidence it inspired. What is available now is faster, better, more accessible and varied in application, but a block off the old chip, nevertheless. Instructors need to remember that what they will be doing is an extension of what they have done before. Gaining technological competence is truly gaining technical literacy-an incremental process. Farmers plow, plant, cultivate-and wait. Germination and growth take time. Become familiar with techno-culture. Read catalogs from software companies, ed-tech journals such as this one or EDUCOM Review, manuals, trade "rags," instruction books such as Eddings' How the Internet Works... even though they may not be totally comprehensible. Tune into PBS "Computer Chronicles." Encourage your libraries to subscribe (hardcopy and/or online) to publications with electronic thrust. When purchasing software, send back warranties that include a complimentary subscription to magazines about computers. Read them, too. Let the language wash over you until it no longer seems as foreign. Sign up for teleconferences such as the one recently aired, "Beyond Technology: Delivering Mediated Degree Programs" sponsored by the California State University Commission on the Extended University. Be tolerant when teleconferences are too long, too technical, too much. Learn about conferences, institutions and institutes for teletraining that address your instructional needs. For example, in August the 11th Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning in Madison, Wisc., focused on teaching strategies for distance learning. Its proceedings will be available on microfiche indexed in ERIC. Watch for gatherings with technological themes. Workshops held on-campus, too, can orient faculty to institution-specific electronic advances and facilities. For example, just today a representative from Intel presented information about desktop computing capabilities in the next 12 to 24 months to interested faculty and staff. Institution to institution, nationwide technological disparity exists. Some universities are giga leaps ahead of others. It is safe to say, though, given the pace with which technology is advancing, that no institution is without major questions on how to integrate technology with teaching and learning. Example: Training for Interactive TV By way of illustration, at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, where interactive TV is just two years old, we recently conducted a half-day workshop, "Tuning in to Teaching on ITV," to prepare a fairly large cohort of faculty to teach on interactive television for the first time. It dealt with context, concerns, controls, course design and contingency issues so that novice ITV instructors could feel both confident and comfortable as they begin to teach on this exotic medium. Workshop participants were divided into two groups. One group was deployed to the broadcast site; the other group was sent to an on-campus receiving site. Midway through, participants changed locations so they could experience and empathize with what their students would encounter either on- or off-campus. That empathy helps them anticipate students' instructional needs and to plan accordingly. How to perform proactive planning was the central issue in the workshop. Anticipation is the name of the game. Usually, faculty assume a certain level of support for on-campus, everyday teaching. But that support may be lacking, different or less immediate in a distance education/ITV framework. The best advice for novice ITV faculty is to start planning very early (at least six months before the course convenes) to design the whole course in advance, to prepare a detailed syllabus (60-70 pages are not unheard of), and to involve a faculty developer or course designer in the planning process. The best training for faculty involves asking the right questions. If they can ask the right question, they can foresee the associated problems. And if they can anticipate a problem, they can probably avoid it. Here are sample questions randomly picked from a list of 30 that our workshop addressed: How d'es teaching on ITV differ from same-room teaching? How will I plan the equivalent of office hours? How will I get to know my students? How will students at different sites get to know each other? Whom will I call in case of broadcast troubles? Will copyright issues intrude on preparing my materials for distribution or viewing or library shelving? How will my tests be distributed, monitored and collected? What should I wear and not wear on camera? Where should I look to make eye contact? How will I learn to run the equipment? The mechanics of transmission worried faculty the most: selecting cameras, handling switches, zooming, panning... Fortunately, those skills are easy to learn. The 67-page workshop packet contained diagrams of the studios and studio equipment, plus extremely simplified diagrams of the controls. To further allay their fears, arrangements were made for faculty to have individual appointments with the technical personnel to get a little hands-on time. The workshop included the opportunity for faculty participants to experience active learning in this medium, which has so much potential for deadly passivity. (For more expansive treatment of this issue, see "Fully Activating Interactive TV: Creating a Blended Family" by Rutherford and Grana, in the October 1994 issue of T.H.E. Journal.) More Strategies to Smooth the Way • Play. Faculty are often too hard on themselves. Many expect instant success and total perfection in their attempts at technological innovation. They need to give themselves permission to try, fail and try again. Setting aside a time to experiment with these new tools may be as simple as making an appointment with their computer from 1-3 every Friday to investigate the mysteries of the Internet. Like the punch line to the old story, "Hey, Mister! How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" "Practice, practice, practice," may be the answer. Network With Others. This is not time to be the Lone Ranger. Bring up technological experimentation in conversations-over lunch, in the corridors, on e-mail. Look to see who has Home Pages on the World Wide Web. Find out who is innovating and activating their classes. Talk with them. Ask if you can visit their classes and view tech-techniques in action. Many faculty are philosophically eager to try but procedurally unschooled. If a business communication instructor is blocking off computer lab time for her classes to produce group-written reports, another instructor may want to see the nuts and bolts of the operation. How do they sit; how many in a group? Are they evaluated on product and/or process? What d'es the instructor do while the groups are working? In higher education, if ever there were a time for collegiality and cooperation, this is it. Collaborate on conundrums introduced by technology. Lately, for example, large numbers of students on our campus have been starting to cite electronically obtained sources in their research papers. Composition instructors began chewing on how best to teach that convention. They conferred, concurred and finally deferred to the APA and MLA style guides, but without totally solving the problem of how complex the citations became. Instructors will likely continue to discuss this issue, probably by e-mail. Networking must occur personally-faculty member to faculty member. However, other partnerships have to be created and other links forged. Compartmentalization has to decrease. Tidy institutional boundaries will have to blur and disappear. Service components may have to become educational components; educational leaders may have to become technological followers; tech leaders may have to become educational followers; and to get the job of teaching and learning done well, organizations in higher education will have to communicate with each other. For synergistic effects to occur, more faculty must become involved with cross-curricular, pan-institutional committees such as our Instructional Technology or Distance Education Teams. Furthermore, faculty must work with administration to gain their understanding of resources needed for educational remodeling. Reverse roles. Students are often more technologically sophisticated than instructors. Their expertise can be tapped with dynamic results and doubled rewards. By reversing roles with the instructor, not only do students become involved with conquering the content in question, but their learning relationship with the instructor shifts toward cooperation and egalitarianism, thus enhancing learning.5 On our campus, one instructor just beginning to dabble in electronically mediated instruction wanted to: 1) stir the interest of his Business Law class, and 2) begin creating a multimedia supplement for the course. He devised a bare skeleton for the supplement; then student teams selected a segment of that skeleton to flesh out as a prototype. The student products ranged from mundane to magnificent. While some used simple transparencies on an overhead projector, others presented their project with Microsoft PowerPoint, simultaneously learning while taking the teaching role. Final Thoughts More than tweaking teaching with technology but less than using the wrecking ball for total demolition, retrofitting involves considerable turmoil. Back to Chinese, the character for turmoil or potential for conspiracy pictures three women under one roof. In higher education, the ideograph for trouble might depict teaching, technology and change under one roof. Since it is unlikely that any of these three occupants will move out, to achieve harmony, the academic residence must be remodeled and practices and attitudes adapted. LeAne Rutherford (Instructional Development) and Sheryl Grana (Sociology-Anthropology) are Assistant Professors at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Both LeAne and Sheryl are empathetic to the plight of faculty facing these ongoing changes in the technological and academic worlds. They struggle themselves with "keeping up" and "staying abreast." They encourage all faculty to join the struggle, brave the uncertainty, seize the opportunity, and take a risk. E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]
References: 1. Doyle, C.S. (June, 1994), Information Literacy in an Information Society: A Concept for the Information Age, Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology (IR-97). 2. Robinson, J.P. (1980), "Housework Technology and Household Work"; In S.F. Berk (ed.), Women and Household Labor, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Press. 3. Stoll, C. (1995), Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway, New York, NY: Doubleday. 4. "Electronic Considerations for a New Era," NEA Higher Education Advocate, May 1995, p. 3. 5. Rutherford, L.H. (1988), "A Strong Suit for Class Action: Role Reversal," The Journal of Staff, Program, & Organization Development, 6(3), pp. 107-111.
This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.