June 1997 // Case Studies
Creating Change through Professional Development
by Ray Brown
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Ray Brown "Creating Change through Professional Development" The Technology Source, June 1997. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Professional development and technology support issues are two critical challenges facing higher education institutions. By implementing a common technology standard, Mayville State University and Valley City State University are proceeding to offer an aggressive program of professional development within a context of changes that is altering the environments of the campuses. With all students at VCSU receiving notebook computers in August 1996 and distribution to MaSU students in August 1997, it was recognized that support would probably depend as much on shared understanding of the broader environment as it would on specific technology skills.

Establishing software and hardware standards can provide several benefits. First, it is easier to design and offer traditional professional development opportunities when faculty, staff and students all use a common set of technology tools. As a second benefit, user satisfaction with technology support is often significantly higher when everyone on the campus is a source of information. Finally and most importantly, enhanced communication and the ease with which ideas can be exchanged unleashes a lot of creative energy.

Taken together, Microsoft® Office Professional and notebook computers provide an essential infrastructure for change. It becomes much easier to document improvements in learning that result from the most effective blend of teaching strategies with instructional technologies.

Both campuses offer varied and extensive training in use of the notebook computers for faculty so they will be able to take advantage of a large number of technology enabled classrooms and access to networked resources from the campuses and across the Internet. As a result, traditional constraints facing instructors who want to work with technology are no longer a problem. Increases in student satisfaction and retention are two concrete examples of the benefits of this approach. Further, both campuses have been recognized by accreditation teams, professional organizations and the media for their leadership.

For MaSU and VCSU, successful use of the universal notebook model took place within campus environments that provided important foundations for change.

Multiple opportunities for learning from brown bag seminars through formal classes

The professional development program on each campus includes varied and frequent sharing of information. Many sessions feature specific software applications in Microsoft Office Professional, the common e-mail package, network file management, multimedia, and assessment strategies. Faculty and staff become acquainted with Windows® 95, file management, and file transfer from older software.

Linking the technology with learning

While the power of the technology for change seems obvious, it is also critical to spend time thinking about the nature of the learning process itself. Funding from the Minnesota-based Bush Foundation provided important funds for professional development and campus conversations to better understand teaching and learning. At MaSU, the Developing and Implementing Instructional Strategies Project (DIIS) permitted faculty to integrate cooperative learning throughout the curriculum. Faculty surveyed hundreds of research studies that documented exceptional results from cooperative learning strategies.

The particular focus of the project was on improving problem solving, intellectual rigor, positive attitudes and group process skills all of which are critical for successful implementation of technology in the classroom. A sustained faculty development effort was designed and implemented with clear detailing of instructional procedures and access to national experts in the use of cooperative learning.

A detailed evaluation process was used to document the changes on the campus. At the conclusion of the three-year project, 91.4% of surveyed students reported use of cooperative learning in their classes. Over 85% of surveyed faculty indicated use of cooperative learning activities. The outside evaluator concluded, "Teaching and learning have changed since the beginning of the project…students appear more interested in their learning, there is more student-student and student-teacher interaction…there is less lecture and there is a more student-centered atmosphere." The investment of institutional energy permitted a shared understanding of the teaching and learning process at MaSU that is not commonly found on most university campuses. This foundation provides important insights enhancing the effectiveness of technology enhanced learning.

Partnerships to meet common needs

The campuses also receive benefits from the recognition that educators at all levels are dealing with similar sets of issues. Bush Foundation funding provided a similar stimulus for technology planning at VCSU. The Center for Innovation in Instruction (CII) was created to serve as a statewide technology training resource built through a unique partnership between the K-12 Department of Public Instruction, the State Board of Vocational Education, and the ND University System.

The CII in a brief span of time has exceeded original expectations by a wide margin. In addition to playing a central support role in emergence of the universities as leaders for the application of technology to instruction, the CII has at the same time had a significant impact on the state by elevating the level of technology awareness. Largely due to effort of the CII, there is a higher quality dialogue on technology issues on the campuses and across the state. In addition, the CII off-campus training experience meeting the needs of K-12 customers has contributed to more effective on-campus notebook training sessions.

Faculty, staff, and students at both MaSU and VCSU used the CII planning process to prepare for their successful implementation of the technology intensive campus concept using notebook computers. In addition to the training and consulting services offered the universities, the CII is now heavily involved in providing training to faculty in a variety of topics that include: Windows 95 operating system and the suite of software applications; presentation software and multimedia development; and e-mail to enhance communication between faculty and students.

Understanding Issues Involved with Change

The implications of technology create both opportunities and cause stress. Institutions should plan ahead and intentionally offer chances for people to think about the change process. The Kathryn Center (KC) was launched to offer professional development in team building, risk taking, and continuous improvement strategies. These opportunities also form a central part of student orientation at VCSU as new students are introduced to the technology intensive learning environment on the campus.

The Adventure Learning Course at the KC was designed as an opportunity to develop new areas of expertise in training that would be related to organizational adaptation and efficiency. Over time a very broad array of services evolves. Internally, people become more flexible and supportive of risk-taking needed to modify and create new processes. Over time, the institution itself becomes a powerful model with useful insights to share and a mechanism for passing information to other groups.

One staff member noted, "(In the) Fall 1995, I had the pleasure of taking my class of twenty freshmen through the Adventure Learning Course. I watched a group of total strangers grow in trust, communication and begin to build lasting friendships...I do not believe our faculty, staff, and students could have progressed as far as we have with all of the changes in our university in such a short period of time without Adventure Learning."

Financial and other resources were initially secured through a federal FIPSE grant and $100,000 in one-time special initiative funds from the ND legislature. The KC is currently generating additional revenues by offering training to public schools and corporate clients.

Through surveys of students, the impact of adventure learning and the other activities is very clear as 98% of student participants this fall either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that, "Course activities promote team-building." Faculty report in a similar way, observing that their students are more motivated for learning, work better in groups, and face learning challenges with more confidence.

Next steps?

The Improving Learning with Technologies (ILT) program is another important professional development initiative. Faculty and staff working to focus attention on learner-centered education gained over $2 million in competitive grants. This effort included a major federal Title III (Strengthening Developing Institutions) collaborative grant for $1.7 million. The five-year project establishes parallel, but intersecting and mutually reinforcing trajectories to further enhance the transformation of the MaSU and VCSU into learning-centered institutions.

The ILT project builds on the strengths of each university with faculty at VCSU working initially to define learning outcomes and helping students build CD-ROM based portfolios documenting their learning progress. MaSU faculty are receiving intensive training in multimedia technologies and are building on their knowledge in effective teaching and learning strategies. Representative faculty teams on each campus will assist with dissemination of new capabilities at their home institution and with faculty from the partner campus. In just the last six months, almost 90% of full-time and 60% of part-time faculty participated in one or more of a series of workshops on specific software packages and use of the notebook computers.


The technology initiatives and supporting professional development efforts not only create an environment for exchange of ideas, they also fundamentally alter the learning environment of each campus. There is now an emerging shared experience with preparation for notebook computer distribution and the growing understanding of the potential power which these tools provide.

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