Technology Training Wheels

Getting Faculty Critical Professional Development

HIGHER EDTECH | By Julie Smith

Having to use classroom technology without proper training is like learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels. More often than not, faculty are eager to use technology but institutions lack the resources and training needed for successful integration.

According to CDW-G’s 21st-Century Campus Report, faculty and IT staff report that, other than budget, the biggest impediment to classroom technology is that faculty do not know how to properly use it. Students agree, reporting “lack of faculty technology knowledge” as the top challenge to technology on campus.

As higher education institutions look to grow their technology programs, they should consider how to leverage faculty professional development as a critical component of the overall IT plan.

Salisbury University’s Path to Professional Development

Salisbury University, which serves more than 8,000 students on Maryland’s eastern shore, began its path toward 21st-century campus technology with just four classrooms in 1998. By spring of following year, the university significantly expanded its offerings with 25 technology-rich classrooms. Faculty returning from spring break were anxious to use the technology, but the university was quick to implement a professional development program to get them up to speed.

“Many faculty still wanted to use overhead projectors, even though they had brand new technology in their classrooms,” said Jerry Waldron, the university’s chief information officer. “Fortunately, we spent a significant amount of time researching best practices and success stories from other institutions and were prepared to support faculty through ongoing professional development.”

To meet the faculty’s needs, the university built a professional development studio, located in the library basement, to provide hands-on experience and practice with the new technology.

Today, the university’s Office of Instructional Design & Delivery (IDD) has grown out of the basement and boasts an interactive studio and consulting space equipped with every piece of technology faculty will encounter in the classroom in the new Teacher Education and Technology Center. The staff offers faculty hands-on consulting services and one-on-one guidance on how to integrate technology into online, blended and traditional courses. Most importantly, IDD gives faculty an opportunity to practice and grow their technology skills, whether they are just starting out or need fine tuning for programs already in place.

“Faculty come to the lab and sit down with consultants to discuss their curricular goals.  Our consultants first look at desired learning outcomes, then determine what types of technology will help meet those outcomes,” Waldron notes. “Our goal is to help faculty develop lesson plans that benefit students and increase their engagement in classes.”

Faculty can also collaborate with the staff, which is comprised of full-time instructional technology designers and student assistants.

Salisbury has increased the number of smart classrooms to over 150, so the technology has become ubiquitous. “As faculty become more comfortable using technology, many are embracing the professional development that we offer, often bringing their own ideas when they come to our studio,” Waldron explained. “It’s our job to help them turn those ideas into actionable lesson plans that improve the student learning experience.”

To make the most of these kinds of programs, Waldron encourages institutions to look to their students for ways to help faculty understand technology and how they can use it as a learning tool.

Hit the Ground Running

Before implementing new classroom technology, institutions should consider these professional development tips for faculty:

  • Continuous programs: Instead of implementing one-off training programs for new technology, institutions should consider leveraging professional development programs throughout the year to ensure that faculty understand the new technology and are using existing technology. Refresher courses throughout the year will also help faculty improve their skills and increase their comfort level
  • Archive resources: Have you discovered a great program or set of resources?  Consider archiving programs and tools online, so that faculty can access resources anytime/anywhere
  • Get the funding: Securing the necessary funding to sustain professional development programs over the long term is critical. If budget is a challenge, institutions should consider online programs to reduce staffing expenditures
  • Engage with next-gen students: Institutions should look to the students for guidance on the technology they want to use in the classroom. Faculty and staff can collaborate with students on their goals for using technology as a learning tool, and work together on how to achieve those goals
  • Professional development labs: Like Salisbury University, institutions can implement labs dedicated to technology professional development. Labs should be a friendly place where faculty feel comfortable expressing new ideas and provide an opportunity for them to collaborate with experts and students.  Labs can also allow faculty to practice their lesson plans before they go into the classroom environment
  • Tailor offerings: Institutions should work with faculty to come up with plans that work best for their specific needs, and tailor offerings to what will work in the classroom environment

Positioning for Success

As institutions increase their technology offerings on campus to meet growing student needs, it is critical that campus leaders develop a comprehensive, ongoing professional development program that is incorporated into the strategic technology plan. As faculty begin to feel comfortable using new technology to engage with students, many will start coming up with their own ideas and feel empowered to use technology without the training wheels. And when faculty are ready to hit the road, they will have peace of mind knowing that they have ongoing support and resources just in case they hit a bump along the way.

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Julie Smith is vice president of higher education for CDW-G, where she leads a team providing best-in-class information technology products to address higher education institution issues with processes and reporting, state mandates, institutional funding, staff resources and technology standardization.

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