Providing faculty with good support for technology integration requires a wide range of skills and patience. A sense of humor also helps. IT professionals, as well as Instructional Designers and Educational Technologists all have different titles and levels of skill. Some embrace technology wholesale, some are cautiously optimistic about the promise of technology to reform. Others are skilled with politics while others focus on design and production of tools and interventions.
One thing that all technology professionals in education have in common in any environment is the challenge of navigating culture change. Technology has done awesome things, but has also imposed on everyone a large learning curve. Often change is difficult on an individual level, and also when it comes to organizational structures. It needs to be acknowledged at all times that this is not a phenomenon of the past. In 2017, it is still a reality even for organizations which embraced technology decades ago with ambition. This is true partly because people adapt at different rates, and because the technology product landscape is continuously evolving and shifting. The rate of adoption of technology can even vary due to scholarly changes in various fields. An example would be the hard sciences where industry and for-profit enterprise propels change more quickly than other fields.
In the face of ongoing change and recurring volatility, it’s good for all stake-holders in technology integration to stay mindful of the big picture. Change is a continuum but it needs guidance and nurturing. I attempt to keep one idea prominent in my mind in all interactions related to educational technology, be they focused on the business, technical, or learning side of the equation.
The idea is to at all costs avoid the us-and-them dichotomy. This can emerge for many different reasons. Sometimes the reasons are organizational, sometimes they relate to intellectual styles, sometimes they relate to scholarly differences. No matter the impetus, tech and non-tech lines seem to inevitably be drawn. Sometimes they are imposed on others by judgmental individuals. Many labels are self-imposed in the form of “I’m not a technical person”. My goal is wherever possible to avoid alienating any individual or group by falling into discussions which re-enforce that type of unnecessary clash.
On a campus or within a school, the dichotomy of us and them often manifests itself in disagreements about pedagogy or technology ; form versus content ; or even teaching versus managing. My personal view is that the pitting of those pairs of ideas or activities against each other is extremely unproductive. At their core is alienation, control, and competition, ideas that are counter-productive in education. In their wake we lose any hope for meaningful dialogue about learning success. The trap has been laid for all to fall into. The lines are drawn and pedagogy becomes what I like to call pedagotcha.
For that reason and others, a best practice in my opinion is to strive to lead others away from that type of discourse towards a more inclusive discussion. For that type of leadership to prevail in a discussion or group one needs the ability to translate ideas from the abstract to the technical and back again, for all involved, gracefully, while avoiding the appearance that either a technical or pedagogical view or bias has any more merit than the other. This is a challenge to implement but has the potential to build positive energy towards technology integration even in the face of organizational resistance to technology.
I have found in my travels that one method for avoiding pedagotcha is to identify and reward all teaching innovation no matter how big or seemingly small. A ceramics instructor at a small state college whose only use of newer technology for instruction is email should never suffer the label of “not using technology in a meaningful way for instruction”. A more positive, inclusive, and productive approach would be to identify their current efforts, applaud those efforts and assist them in deepening their understanding of technology by helping them translate their current use of technology into a professional development milestone. This process represents one important component of the ideal Faculty Development strategy, which if done poorly often becomes something faculty negatively refer to as faculty control.
Even though email is taken for granted in most places today, the simplified use of email for a hands-on Ceramics course has pedagogical, andragogical, and or theoretical merit, which could be summarized in a formal way that might not have been previously highlighted.
Ceramics 101 – Faculty: Christine Stoneware
Communication is the essence of any kind of instruction. Email provides me (as the instructor) a form of asynchronous means of communication for ideas, references, and images. This in turn affords me a means of communication extending beyond the classroom and campus for instructional purpose as well as logistical benefits. My time giving hands-on instruction in the ceramic studio can be fully maximized without taking away from the students experience on the whole.
Using URLs and attachments within my electronic communications allows me to share with students various ideas, concepts, outside events, and content related material that would otherwise be difficult or costly to organize and distribute in the live classroom. Further, the personal desktop computing experience that all of my students benefit from at home and at school gives my students a valuable way to organize an interpret my communications and the information I share. They are also able and encouraged to use those desktop and web based resources to investigate further their own tangential ideas or interests related to ceramics.
With a simple observation like this department chairs and faculty support can offer validation for a given faculty who may otherwise feel self-conscious about the tidal wave of technology on campus and the pressure and competition among faculty that can follow. This is a small thing which can be done to focus on what is being done rather than on what could be done.
In addition to identifying all faculty successes, even small ones, instructors must be encouraged to be creative with teaching, and by extension with technology integration. So while supporting all types of technology use formally, having formal research to justify an intervention should not be a requirement to using a given technology. We should never obstruct the creative and experimental aspects of teaching. In these cases avoiding pedagotcha is important for those who support faculty, as well as an ability to be a kind of safety net.
The contribution of faculty is not just the creative part. Assessing the impact of any technology use continually is critical if faculty are to benefit as a community of professionals with the shared goal of student success. Any use of technology big or small should be tracked and evaluated in some fashion, so that its value can be known and nurtured, or its failures avoided. In that sense, instructional technology support teams, and instructional designers, and IT professionals work in living laboratories. The only way to success is to have information on all the complex social and technical scenario outcomes. With documentation on technology integration efforts that includes BOTH technical and pedagogical perspectives, such as the short ceramics course example, a valuable local (school specific) knowledge base can be developed. That knowledge base can be a valuable resource for technical and teaching related stakeholders.