By David G. Brown and Elson S. Floyd
Building university programs that capture faculty enthusiasm for
computers and learning
Computers are expensive. Changing teaching habits is time-intensive, risky and difficult.
Even so, many faculty throughout the country are quickly and courageously experimenting with computer-enhanced instruction. To encourage more widespread use of computers, universities are embracing a number of concepts and programs aimed at both faculty and students.
The availability of new methods has sparked the most thorough self-examination of teaching and learning experienced in the 20th century. Finding extra time to learn new methods is a problem; motivating the desire to explore is not.
CREATING THE RIGHT CLIMATE
Before faculty members can afford wide-scale
experimentation with computer-based learning,
there must be an enabling environment that includes
four elements: universal student access to
computers (equity); reliable networks (predictability);
multiple opportunities for training and consultation
(convenience); and a faculty ethos that values
experimentation and tolerates falters (security).
Most successful development programs reflect a
sympathetic understanding of faculty culture, including:
· Centrality of educational theory: Educational theory must drive the adoption of
technology, not vice versa. When redesigning courses, the instructor-innovator must
first identify how students learn, how the material is best conveyed and the essential
role of the instructor. Only then is it possible to consider what approaches should be
· Education is about communication: It is the computer's power to enhance
communication between mentor and learner, not fancy classroom presentations or
even faster analyses, that is driving the paradigm shift.
Hybrid instruction: Most faculty will insist upon testing and proving computer
enhancements as components of familiar face-to-face courses.
· Flexibility: There is no "cookie-cutter" pattern for a single methodology of best
teaching. Requirements vary by discipline, by subject matter, by professor, by student
and by circumstance.
The "computer explosion" will proceed at different rates in different domains of
knowledge, based upon factors such as copyrights, the character of information, the
geographic proximity of subspecialists and the skill sets of disciplinarians. New
teaching methods will be adopted most rapidly if faculty lead at rates appropriate for
their individual disciplines.
User-friendly programs must allow faculty to "do it themselves" without massive
commitments of personal time.
· Friends teach each other: Like speaking a language and driving a car, most learning
about computer use occurs by observing others. Information about
computer-enhanced learning is most trusted when it comes from traditional sources,
such as teaching colleagues, disciplinary associations and meetings, and library
· Patience: New methods should first be tested among smaller sets of learners.
Campaigns should be directed toward exposure, toward consideration of technology
-- not measured in any single year against an "adoption" rate.
Like driving a car, most learning about computer use
occurs by observing others. Information about
computer-enhanced learning is most trusted when it
comes from traditional sources.
Like electricity and the automobile, computers must become an expected part of ordinary
living. Actions that move a campus in this inevitable direction include:
· Promoting e-mail: An "industrial-strength" e-mail system will lure even the most
reluctant to start using their computers.
· Encouraging use outside the classroom: Departmental minutes and faculty
committee documents can be generated electronically as a means of encouraging all
who wish to participate to learn computing fundamentals.
· Assuring universal access: Until an instructor can reliably assume a reasonable level
of universal access, course redesign must be constrained to accommodate the
computerless. If a campus is to afford threshold computing for all its members, it may
have to restrict (by policy and/or surcharges) unwarranted and casual overuse of the
system by a few individuals.
· Standardizing equipment, software and courseware: By doing so, faculty and
students can help each other through equipment failure and learning challenges.
· Enabling portability: Significant time is saved when the same computer can be carried
to and accessed in all locations. If the computer is to be a universal tool, access to
campus networks must be provided from faculty homes and student apartments.
Consider paying the monthly fee for an Internet provider such as IGN (a better and
often cheaper alternative to large modem pools).
· Clarifying academic policy: Technology presents new opportunities for plagiarism,
collaboration and very rapid communication. Faculty members should not have to
deal with establishing new ad hoc policies because they are early adopters of the
computer. A faculty committee, preferably elected, should articulate these policies for
the community at large.
Taken together, these strategies emphasize the importance of reliability, setting specific
expectations for all members of the community, drawing people into using computers and reducing the individual investment of time required to achieve adequate proficiency levels.
It's commonly held that the capacity of computer chips doubles
every 18 months. In such a dynamic period, extraordinary effort is
required of faculty who must not only maintain the authenticity of
teaching by established methods on tested and trusted
information bases but also must explore and evaluate, even
eventually learn, new data sources and new techniques. In a
fast-moving world information exchange becomes even more
important. Best practices may include:
Swap-and-share sessions: In poster sessions or twice-monthly
seminars, the early adopters can share their experiences and
knowledge with colleagues.
Benchmarking trips: Each semester a delegation of faculty could be encouraged to travel as a group to another campus where they can observe and discuss with their disciplinary
colleagues how technology is enhancing learning.
On-campus workshops led by visiting experts: Early adopters from other campuses could
share experiences in periodic seminars, such as "Computer Tip Talk," in which students
are encouraged to guide their classmates toward meaningful computer usage; best practices conferences, featuring three or four outside experts who can talk about practices
at their institutions and trends; and subsidized attendance at national computer meetings.
Training upon request should be viewed as ordinary and
expected. To that end, consider conducting intensive
summer workshops for faculty on such topics as Using the
Computer to Support Collaborative Learning or Enhancing
Writing Instruction Through the Computer.
TRAINING ON CALL
In spite of all these opportunities, most students and faculty seek training "just in time" and in response to a specific need. Because the ways in which students and faculty use
computers are so diverse, common training strategies and times don't work very well. Much individual instruction is required. Training upon request, especially for a particular class, should be viewed as ordinary and expected. To that end, consider conducting intensive summer workshops for faculty on such topics as Using the Computer to Support
Collaborative Learning, Setting Up a New Course on the Computer, Enhancing Writing
Instruction Through the Computer, or Establishing a Web Page for Research and Teaching Purposes.
Designating a faculty member to maintain a database of articles or Web pages devoted to
computer-enhanced learning will encourage faculty and students to note items that might be of general interest. Likewise, faculty should be able to call upon the institutional research office or a committee of peers to study the overall impact of technology upon learning, and to analyze the impact of specific uses in specific courses.
None of this will happen without leaders and structured responsibilities. Computer advice
must come from sources that are trusted, available at all hours, appropriately equipped and knowledgeable. The primary agencies encouraging adoption should be faculty centered. Both Wake Forest University and Western Michigan University have established a number of "enablers," including:
Academic computer specialists: These individuals, placed in each academic building,
assist faculty and students in a discipline or cluster of disciplines. They are hired by and
report to the department chairs. Each is responsible for searching out computer programs
that are particularly relevant to his or her discipline. Typically the academic computer
specialists are most intimately involved in the development of computer usage for specific
A highly trained corps of students are individually
assigned to professors to help them enhance their
courses and research through the adoption of the
computer. Other student computer experts live in the
residence halls and are on call to answer students'
Computer Enhanced Learning Initiative (CELI): Each semester a different faculty member is freed from teaching responsibilities to become the director of CELI. He or she meets regularly with former directors and director designees to create and implement programs that encourage faculty exploration of using computers for instruction. Each director focuses upon two or three specific programs, and all organize swap-and-share sessions and benchmarking trips. Collectively this group functions as an associate provost for the consideration of technologically enhanced instruction.
The Committee on Information Technology: This elected faculty committee advises the
administration regarding the features desired in the standard computer and the standard
software load, and it sets faculty policy related to the computers.
Deans and department chairs: Special funds have been established in the deans' offices for supporting equipment and software purchases. By including these allocations as a normal part of the budget process, the advantages of decentralized decision making can be realized.
Information systems and the help desk: Information systems is responsible for establishing and maintaining the network and for staffing the "always open" information desk.
· STARS and RTAs: A highly trained corps of 50 students, each working at least 10
hours per week, are individually assigned to professors to
help them enhance their courses and research through the
adoption of the computer. Another 20 student computer
experts live the residence halls and are on call to answer
specific questions from other students about the computers.
· Library trainers: At Wake Forest, responsibility for orienting
students to basic computing is centered in the library. Librarians also sponsor
sessions for both faculty and students on how to use particular software programs.
Upon request from a professor, librarians will instruct an entire class on how to use a
computer program needed for that class.
To succeed, an initiative for faculty usage must be faculty led, student facilitated,
multifaceted and well supported.
For More Information:
Wake Forest University
Western Michigan University
David G. Brown is Vice President and Dean, International Center for Computer Enhanced Learning, Wake Forest University. Elson S. Floyd is President of Western Michigan University.
* Photographs courtesy of WAKE FOREST UNIVERSITY