Colleges encourage faculty to go high tech
By Ronald Roach
T o get students proficient and comfortable with the Internet and the latest information technology, Morris Brown College officials have required its undergraduates to participate in a laptop purchase program this fall, one of the first ever such initiatives at a historically Black institution. Through campus-wide wireless Internet connections, the laptops provide their owners constant connectivity to the World Wide Web, a move that is sure to increase student use and awareness of the Internet.
At the same time, the college donated individual laptops to Morris Brown faculty in a gesture to encourage them to establish online learning opportunities for their students. “We wanted to reward our faculty and provide them an incentive to incorporate information technology into their courses,” says Dr. Charlyn Harper Browne, dean of faculty at Morris Brown College in Atlanta.
Morris Brown College officials believe they are taking a pragmatic approach to motivating faculty to embrace the use of advanced information technology. Such pragmatism recognizes that faculty are needing as much — if not more—attention than students with adapting to new technology.
The devotion of resources and special attention to faculty also means that institutions are asking their teachers to shoulder the greatest burden as information technology gets incorporated in the classroom.
Nationally, surveys document the steady increase of information technology in the college classroom. The Campus Computing Survey, undertaken annually by Dr. Kenneth C. Green, a
visiting scholar at the Claremont Graduate University in California, reports that more faculty members are incorporating technology resources in their courses. Three-fifths (59.3 percent) of college courses include the use of electronic mail, up from 54 percent in 1999, 44 percent in 1998, and 20.1 percent in 1995. More than two-fifths (42.7 percent) of college courses now incorporate World Wide Web resources as a component in the course. In 1995, Web use was 10.9 percent, 33.1 percent in 1998 and 38.9 percent in 1999. Nearly a third (30.7 percent) of all college courses have a Web page, compared to 28.1 percent in 1999, 22.5 percent in 1998 and 9.2 percent in 1996.
Technology’s Impact on Teaching
The adoption of information technology in the classroom is changing the college teaching profession, according to observers. With the use of innovative software, hardware and the Internet in the workplace, schools have accepted responsibility for providing their students exposure to and training on new information technologies. For faculty, becoming familiar with techniques that use the World Wide Web, create distance learning courses for distribution over the Internet, and use multimedia presentations as teaching tools represent three basic areas in which many are being trained.
Basic expectations of faculty are that they master the tools and techniques that have been around over the past 15 years and use the Internet for research and communications. Traditional software applications include presentation programs, word processors, database programs, spreadsheets and statistical analysis packages. Basic use of the Internet by faculty means that they are posting their course information on Web pages, having chat sessions with students, exchanging e-mail, giving quizzes over the Internet and other course management measures.
“We use Web-based instruction as a supplement for our traditional undergraduates,” says Dr. Lee Monroe, president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas. “And we envision developing distance-learning programs for our nontraditional students.”
After making Internet-based teaching and learning a priority at the small private AME church-affiliated school, Monroe says he has delegated consensus-building around Web-based course tools and their implementation to faculty members. Currently, faculty members at Paul Quinn are experimenting with two brands of Web-based course management software, Blackboard and WebCT.
Prior to the Internet’s rapid emergence during the past five years, faculty usually picked up information technology skills and expertise according to their own individual requirements. Even though faculty members have had desktop personal computers as standard office equipment, the individualized approach to technology allowed for a wide variation of familiarity and expertise among faculty members at individual institutions.
“What you see when faculty began technology training is that people came to it from all different levels,” Browne says.
Dr. Joanne Morse, a professor in the pharmacy school at Hampton University, had picked up an array of computer skills, such as programming and database development, when she worked as a research scientist in the pharmaceutical industry. Those computer skills and her scientific expertise made her doubly attractive to school officials who hired her as a faculty member in 1997.
“I teach anatomy and physiology, but I also teach [pharmacy students] Microsoft Office applications,” Morse says.
The Internet’s emergence has nevertheless shifted the responsibility of information technology use and skill development from individual faculty members to either individual academic departments or to institutions as a whole. This shift in responsibility and institutional approach reflects the Internet’s revolutionary impact on higher education.
Schools have responded to the change brought about by the Internet with a wide range of policies and practices. Schools like Morris Brown are mandating laptop purchases as a way to immerse students in Internet use and information technology to prepare them for the workforce.
“Our increased emphasis on technology at Morris Brown is designed with our students’ success in mind. We want every student who passes through Morris Brown to be part of America’s information ‘haves’,” says Dr.
Dolores E. Cross, Morris Brown president.
Yet preceding the student laptop purchase requirement, the school began training faculty in 1999 on various software programs and Internet use, according to Morris Brown officials. As a result of the training, faculty are expected to post their course listings on a Web-based course management system, known as Academe. Faculty members also are expected to set performance goals, which now include an information technology component, according to Browne.
“Faculty members will be evaluated on whether they meet the technology goals they set for themselves,” Browne says.
Faculty have had the option of getting training in software tools, such as the presentation programs, word processing and spreadsheet use, that are being required of Morris Brown students. Browne adds that more information technology requirements will likely be mandated for faculty.
With the movement towards greater use of instructional technology by faculty, institutions want to establish reasonable policies and procedures to ease its adoption. As a practical matter, many institutions typically introduce training opportunities long before considering implementing technology requirements, according to a number of higher education officials and experts.
“You have to get people prepared,” says Dr. Gloria Scott, president of Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C. “They’re going to be requirements. And policies must be developed. . . that has followed a period of training and exposure.”
Training classes often initially attracts faculty members who are highly motivated and interested in new technology. Officials say that identification of a core group of “early adopters” can enable an institution to sponsor faculty peer groups around information technology, thus easing the process of wider adoption by faculty.
The development of strategic plans by institutions has played a key role in alerting faculty to the enhanced emphasis that technology is getting at schools. The Executive Leadership Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based outreach organization established by leading Black executives at Fortune 500 corporations, operates a technology support team. The team assists HBCUs with developing campus-wide strategic plans for information technology. Based on research on “best practice schools,” the foundation’s Technology Transfer Project advocates that schools plan judiciously for faculty development, according to officials at the foundation.
“In schools that have a comprehensive strategic IT plan, [instructional technology] is a major part of the plan,” says Dr. Samuel M. Hampton, program manager with ELF’s Technology Transfer Project.
This past summer, the Technology Transfer Project sponsored a summer technology camp for faculty. Twenty-five faculty members from 12 HBCUs attended the week-long training session, which was held at the Bethune-Cookman College campus in Daytona, Fla.
College officials agree that placing an institutional focus on faculty IT development is necessary to push widespread adoption of technology in the classroom. The institutional focus on faculty IT training, when backed by the president and included in a campus-wide strategic plan, is a critical phase for institutions seeking widespread faculty IT use, according to experts.
There is variation among institutions as to how IT deployment is occurring. At the University of Maryland University College, faculty members have been undergoing comprehensive training for several years to make that institution one of the nation’s leading state universities for distance education. UMUC offers degrees in 24 online bachelor’s and master’s programs.
Schools that offer online degree programs require faculty teaching those courses to undergo training to learn radically different teaching styles and pedagogies. Teaching a course completely online requires a teaching style that differs from what takes place in the classroom.
“Forty to 50 percent of our courses are taught online,” says Dr. Barbara Kaplan, executive director of the UMUC Center for Teaching, Learning and Assessment. “We require a five-week intensive course on how to teach online for faculty [who staff the distance learning courses] . . . Our mandate is to become a virtual university.”
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