June 1998 // Vision
"Where Are They?":
Why Technology Education for Teachers Can Be So Difficult
by Claudia Rebaza
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Claudia Rebaza ""Where Are They?":
Why Technology Education for Teachers Can Be So Difficult" The Technology Source, June 1998. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

A funny thing happened to a campus event designed to bring our faculty together to exchange information and demonstrations of technology in the classroom. In the three years since the conference was launched, we have had steadily fewer faculty attending.

We surveyed our faculty to find out why attendance had declined at our on-campus technology conference (scheduled during a day when classes were not in session). Results indicated that while some faculty and staff did have a disinterest in technology, more often the problem was their frustration with it. Among reasons for why they were not using technology in their work, they cited lack of the following: training, support, space, equipment, and knowledge of what was available and how items could be obtained.

A number of the concerns that respondents voiced in this survey were simultaneously addressed head-on by our committee. We blitzed the campus community with repeated and sustained publicity over a six-month period to encourage direct involvement and response. We even developed a conference proceedings in order to give presenters a chance to publish their work. To address complaints about scheduling problems, we developed a year-round series to offer multiple opportunities for professional discussion as well as hands-on training. However the year-round series has drawn mostly staff, despite their greater scheduling problems, and so far getting submissions for the proceedings has been difficult. Despite a number of modifications, the draw for faculty members was still not powerful enough.

One obvious solution to the problem of faculty disinterest would be an infusion of money. A difference in attitude between that of staff (i.e., library, tech support, writing center) personnel and faculty members centers around perceived benefits from technology training. In fact, the year-round series to offer multiple discussion and training opportunities has drawn mostly staff, despite their greater scheduling problems. Staff members’ newly acquired skills may lead to promotions, different campus jobs, or even holding on to their existing jobs; on the other hand, faculty members often see very little direct benefit from utilizing, much less learning about, technology. Similar programs on other campuses have received strong boosts from linking equipment and funding, as well as direct stipends, to training opportunities. (When our campus made hastily coordinated, one-time technology grants available three years ago, the committee received over 50 applications in less than a week.)

Money, unfortunately, tends to be in short supply at most institutions, especially the money needed for technical personnel who can service equipment and answer new technology users’ questions. What drove the administration funding, and the faculty’s use of technology, was the bottom line. The faculty members most likely to have and utilize technology on our campus tend to be in top science programs, where use of technology is vital in such areas as accreditation and marketability to students. This has left our technology environment very fragmented, with haves and have-nots, making any overall training, utilization, support, or even communication problematic.

A suggestion made to me by an instructional resources (IR) director in New York made me think of a problem I have as a librarian. With the increasing demand for technology, opportunities for using our library facilities have been decreasing. For students, however, that is only part of the problem. Being told that technology should be easy adds to their discomfort. But the major difficulty arises because students are unable to properly put together searches; they are unable to think critically, and their vocabularies are generally deficient. I can help them solve most of the problems, not by showing them which buttons to push, but by asking them questions about what they are really looking for, and making them see that the way they are asking the question is not the only way it can be phrased, nor necessarily the best way. In short, the solution is to help them see "other possibilities."

One-on-one with a librarian or technology expert, at the terminal, on the subject of an immediate need, is the best solution to the problem. Unfortunately, no institution has enough personnel to spend all their time training people one-on-one. But the time has just about arrived when institutions (often spurred by accrediting groups or the business community) are beginning to require information literacy skills of all graduating students, motivating the students to come to classes with at least basic technology skills and the ability to use tutorials.

Compared to dealing with students, achieving faculty motivation is at quite another level of difficulty. One way of looking at the problem is by seeing who is interested in technology education. Our campus Teaching, Learning, and Technology Roundtable (TLTR) is made up of representatives from our technology services areas, and scattered individuals in science, nursing, business, education, humanities, and the library. Since it is not yet a formal committee on campus, the membership is entirely motivated by the issues. There is obviously interest in a variety of fields, yet the members do not necessarily represent colleagues in their areas.

Discussions have made it obvious that some colleagues are not only disinterested, but also annoyed by the idea that money might be spent on technology when there are so many other pressing needs. Another group whose opinion is rarely asked about technology or anything else, is the growing number of adjunct faculty who may be on campus for just a few hours a day, who may not have an office (much less a computer), but who are teaching an increasingly large percentage of classes. Visiting faculty also may have little input or other priorities. How can these teachers be motivated to incorporate educational technology in their classes?

To reach out to those faculty members who might be interested or at least willing to consider acquiring skills sufficient to incorporate technology in their teaching, practical help is needed. One way around the one-on-one conundrum is to have faculty help each other out with simple technology questions or applications. This becomes more cost effective for the institution, but the question of personal reward and politics now comes into play. Will the more skilled faculty members be punished at evaluation time (or tenure review) because all that time spent in assisting fellow faculty meant fewer papers published or presentations done? How important is the issue of technological proficiency on a college or university level? Newer faculty members may have the technical know-how, but not the motivation to serve as a troubleshooting resource. The generation gap may also leave older faculty members less likely to ask a colleague for assistance. What will motivate them to cooperate with each other? Is an institutional reward structure the only solution, and could any administration get such a policy implemented?

The problem in motivating faculty to learn about new teaching methods is difficult regardless of whether or not technology is involved. At this year’s conference we introduced a strand of sessions dealing with such issues as cooperative learning, constructivism, and teaching to large groups as a way of reaching out to faculty who felt technology was just another way of getting away from teaching basics. The sessions drew few people, despite an ironically timed plea on the campus listserv the day before the conference for a teaching center that offered materials and training on just such topics.

In the end it seems that there are many reasons for faculty members to avoid technology training. No matter how many learning opportunities you offer–lectures, hands-on workshops, handouts, classes, computer tutorials, media guides–what people really will find most helpful is a one-on-one approach, with instruction at the point-of-need.

As demand for "convenience learning" continues to grow, it may be that competitive pressures and a healthy respect for the bottom line will achieve the faculty cooperation no other motivation can bring about.

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