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Sharing Techno-Tales

Sharing Techno-Tales
Symposium focuses on faculty use of technology

These days, most people’s digital focus is on the NASDAQ’s plummet. But while media pundits uttered grim prognostications about the future of the technology sector, everyone at the recent HBCU Faculty Development Network Symposium was bullish on technology.
The symposium drew a diverse array of scholars, from junior faculty juggling 4-and-4 loads, to department heads laden with committee work and faculty development directors looking for a roadmap through the maze of IT products and acronyms. There were the expected sessions on grant-seeking and -writing. And there were several sessions on service learning — an area in which HBCUs are traditional leaders — and learning communities — the putative theme of the conference. But far more sessions focused on technology. They ranged from the highly advanced to the most basic.
The title of one session was “Instructional Technology Infusion Strategies for Faculty,” so, of course, the technology refused to cooperate.
The presenter, Dr. Mercy Fapojuwo of Shaw University, stood patiently by, as did the capacity crowd of teaching faculty and faculty development directors who had gathered to hear her talk at the Norfolk, Va., symposium. At the front of the room, three troubleshooters were checking every connection, jiggling every plug on the laptop-projector setup and clicking every icon on the screen in an effort to discover why the souped-up PowerPoint program had sputtered to a halt.
“I really want to learn more about this stuff, but my department only has one laptop,” sighed a woman from a small Midwestern school. “Ours, too,” noted the woman sitting beside her, from a Virginia school. “I had to take it home and play with it to really get comfortable with it. And now I’m the only one who uses it.” An entire row of faculty traded knowing smiles at the exchange.
Finally, 20 minutes into the session, the IT experts declared victory. The source of the problem? “The power strip wasn’t turned on,” says the youngest of the techies, sparking groans and chuckles from the audience.
Fapojuwo merely shook her head and gave a rueful smile as she fired up the introductory slide, admitting she had committed a cardinal sin. The conference schedule was so tight that it allowed her only five minutes to set up and test the unfamiliar equipment. “You should always allow at least half an hour,” she says. 
Such technology glitches weren’t enough to discourage the crowd. Dr. Stephen L. Rozman, dean of Social Sciences at Tougaloo University and a co-founder and co-director of the HBCU Faculty Development Network, says, “People from majority institutions are often amazed when they come here and see how creative and dynamic our faculty are, how wide-ranging their interests are.
“These are people who have interactive classrooms, who want to be up on all the latest developments” in theory, pedagogy and curriculum design, Rozman adds. “People who just want to continue giving straight lectures don’t come here.”

Technologically Challenged
In another session, Hampton University officials offered their model for the startling changes that IT has made on their campus.
Hampton had the advantage of a strong directive — and an apparent blank check — from President William Harvey’s office.
“[Harvey] told me, ‘I would like to expand the definition of a contact hour,’ says Dr. Debra Saunders White, Hampton’s assistant provost for technology. “I would like for faculty to be able to put up talking points before class and after class, for students to be able to respond.’ “
But making that directive a reality required a monumental effort that impacted the campus at every level. “We laid 280 miles of fiber-optic cable to every dorm, every classroom, every administrative office…[and] we went from 500 users (of e-mail accounts) to 5,000 users in a period of six weeks,” White explains. The initiative that landed the university on Yahoo! Internet Life’s 2000 Most Wired Universities list (see Black Issues, May 25, 2000).
Hampton followed a blueprint that included providing e-mail accounts with home access to everyone on the campus, instituting laptop purchase and loaner programs for faculty and staff, and providing six full months of training.
“Currently, we have 400 online courses encompassing 2,000 students and I can’t even tell you how many faculty.”
Faculty and students went from moaning and groaning that they were being forced to learn a whole new method of preparing and responding to assignments to panicking whenever the server crashed. “It was amazing how quickly we became dependent on the new technology,” White adds.
And it all started with a simple resolve. “We decided that we
couldn’t build from a basis of ignorance, that it would no longer be acceptable to say, ‘I don’t know anything about technology. I’ll just leave that to the young folks,’ ” White says.

— Kendra Hamilton can be reached at [email protected].

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