September/October 2003 // Faculty and Staff Development
Faculty Development:
The Hammer in Search of a Nail
by Anne Scrivener Agee, Dee Ann Holisky, and Star A. Muir
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Anne Scrivener Agee, Dee Ann Holisky, and Star A. Muir "Faculty Development:
The Hammer in Search of a Nail" The Technology Source, September/October 2003. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

In 2001, as in the five previous years, respondents to Kenneth Green's Campus Computing Survey identified "assisting faculty integrate technology into instruction" as the "single most important IT issue confronting their campuses" (2001). To meet that challenge, nearly every institution has sponsored some form of faculty development initiative, reasoning that faculty must know how to use technology before it can be integrated into instruction.

Faculty development programs may include training classes, stipends, released time, access to support staff, and/or computer equipment in various combinations. The University of Central Florida, for example, has focused resources on developing a large program for distance learning and provides stipends and support for faculty to encourage the development of online courses (Hartman & Truman-Davis, 2001). As of fall 2002, the UCF virtual campus supported 716 sections with just over 18,000 students (University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning, 2002). Using the incentive of new computers for participants, Virginia Tech has enrolled almost 400 faculty a year in its Faculty Development Institute, a 3-day computer skills curriculum. So far Virginia Tech has allocated over 100 grants totaling more than $2 million to focus on instructional redesign in high demand areas, including core curriculum courses, upper level courses, and distance learning programs (Moore, 2001). The College Boreal of Ontario (Pollock, et al., 2001) and Wake Forest University (Morrison & Brown, 2002) have both used the advent of laptops to develop faculty expertise in using instructional technology.

The criteria for funding faculty projects in many of these programs include a variety of institutional goals, but seem to reside largely in the breadth of technology-enhanced courses and adaptability for large numbers of the faculty. The implication of such approaches generally is that "[f]aculty incentives such as professional development funds and summer grants are directed by an individual instructor's interests and needs rather than by college-wide goals" (Hutchison, 2001).

There is no question that faculty development can be a powerful tool for change. The question is, to what end is that tool being used? Faculty development has often adopted a scattershot approach which awarded money and other resources to early adopters to pursue their personal technology interests. Even programs that have evolved beyond this approach often do not tie faculty development to anything more than general improvement in the use of technology at the institution, or simply increasing the numbers of faculty who use technology in instruction. Given the many demands on institutional resources, it is critical to target faculty development in technology to the institution's strategic goals for the use of technology.

A Targeted Approach to Faculty Development

In 1998, George Mason University began implementation of its award-winning Technology Across the Curriculum (TAC) initiative (Agee & Holisky, 2000). TAC has developed a series of ten technology learning goals designed to insure that Mason students graduate with a range of technology skills. The TAC goals include, among others: the ability to create and use structured electronic documents, the ability to use electronic tools for research and evaluation, the ability to use databases to manage information, and the ability to use graphical and multimedia representational technologies. Building on this initiative, the university's faculty development program has gradually evolved from generalized training and incentives for technology use to a program targeted at specific technology learning goals for students. Faculty development has become the hammer to help the university nail down the TAC goals.

In its first four years, the TAC program invited faculty to propose courses that incorporate one or more of the TAC goals. As part of its program assessment, TAC tracked the skills that faculty were addressing, or not addressing. Though the TAC program called for proposals aimed specifically at incorporating databases into courses, after four years there were relatively few TAC courses targeting this skill. Similarly, while TAC had added a goal related to student use of representational technologies, many faculty themselves lacked the experience to incorporate work with digital imaging into their courses, and TAC received few proposals related to this goal.

Believing that the lack of proposals reflected a relative lack of faculty familiarity with these technologies, the TAC program teamed up with the Information Technology Unit's Instructional Resource Center (IRC) to design a faculty development initiative that would encourage faculty to incorporate database and imaging skills into their courses. The result was a series of three workshops on databases, as well as another series of two workshops on imaging. The IRC's instructional design expertise, one-on-one mentoring for faculty, and assistance with developing online resources for faculty were key elements in the success of the targeted workshops.

To participate in these workshops (offered in spring 2002), faculty were required to submit proposals in which they described a specific assignment that would promote database skills or imaging skills in their students. As an incentive, the TAC program offered faculty a $1,000 stipend and one-on-one support from an instructional designer. Nine faculty members from a wide range of departments participated in the program in the database workshops; another ten faculty members participated in the imaging workshops.

Database Skills

The database workshops consisted of three sessions. Given the complexity of the tool, it was felt that one or two workshops would not provide sufficient time for the faculty members to develop a minimal comfort level. The first workshop provided an introduction to relational databases and allowed faculty participants to work through a series of exercises specifically focused on Microsoft Access. After the first workshop, participants met regularly with an instructional designer who helped them develop their learning goals, begin drafting a student assignment using databases, and plan the database they would need to construct for students to complete the assignment. In addition, they did background reading and additional database exercises. At the second workshop, faculty participants completed a group exercise where they collected data, created a database, and constructed queries for the database. For the third session, each faculty member brought a completed database on a CD with sufficient entries to perform test queries, as well as a final draft of the lesson plan for student use of this database. During the workshop, faculty presented their plans to each other for discussion and critique, and demonstrated their database products.

To achieve a complex goal in such a short time, it was necessary to establish two important parameters. First, faculty participants were required to use the same database software in their assignments (Microsoft Access). Second, the assignments had to focus on the essential database skills that had been identified as part of the ten TAC IT goals. Briefly, these skills involved entering data into a pre-existing database, conducting queries, sorting, and generating reports. For this series, the program was unable to support the development or implementation of assignments that required students to create their own databases, although that may be addressed in a later series of workshops.

A variety of assignments were developed during the workshops, all of which were introduced in courses taught the following semester. For example, in an introductory general education astronomy course, students collect data on specific stars in a telescope simulation, enter the data into a database, query the database for all stars that are members of a specific cluster, and export that data to a spreadsheet for further manipulation, including graphing. In a course on Spanish in the United States, students listen to speech samples, classify specific sounds, and record their classifications in a database; they then query the database in order to describe the general phonetic features of different linguistic varieties represented in the database (click here for a description of the project). In a U.S. history course, students input 1880 census records from Laramie, Wyoming territory into a pre-existing database and then query the database as part of an attempt to test the claims of historian Frederick Jackson Turner about the American frontier (Exhibit 1). Students in business communication use a database to collect observations on workplace culture and illustrate workplace communication issues (Exhibit 2). In a linguistics class, students use a speech database to test a hypothesis about the accents of non-native speakers (Exhibit 3). More than 250 students completed these database assignments in the first semester they were incorporated.

Digital Image Skills

TAC developed a similar set of two targeted workshops to help faculty design assignments using representational technologies such as digital images. The workshops focused on TAC's basic goals for students in this area: being able to download, copy, rotate, crop, resize, and label images and insert them into a document or Web page. The first workshop presented basic concepts about image formats and characteristics as well as an introduction to the TAC Image Gallery, a database designed to make images easily accessible to students completing assignments with representational technologies. Faculty also had a chance to do some hands-on image manipulation using Adobe PhotoShop, as well as to discuss and analyze some successful assignments requiring students to use digital images.

As with the database workshops, faculty met outside the workshop with an instructional designer to help articulate learning goals and begin to draft a student assignment. The second workshop provided additional information about tools for working with digital images and technical support available for faculty and students. Following more hands-on practice in manipulating and annotating images, faculty shared their plans for assignments. After the workshops, TAC staff and instructional designers created step-by-step instructions for manipulating images and worked with faculty to add images to the TAC Image Gallery.

The assignments developed for the representational technologies workshop covered a wide range. One asked students to incorporate images as evidence in a history research paper. Another required students to build an "electronic scrapbook" with maps, images, and news items to develop an understanding of anthropological concepts. In a philosophy course, students were asked to use images to illustrate their discussion of the information society (Exhibit 4). Art history students were asked to use visual details from an image to illustrate questions about a particular piece of art (click here for a description of the project).

As a result of these two sets of workshops, many more students are being asked to use databases and digital imaging to enhance their learning—which is exactly the intended goal of the TAC program.

Benefits for Students, Institutions, and Faculty Members

How is this targeted approach different from previous faculty development programs? First, faculty development is no longer an end in itself; rather, it is tied to student learning and advances curricular goals set by the faculty. In the earlier models, faculty workshops on databases or digital imaging might or might not have resulted in any curricular development or new student learning in these areas. The TAC approach provides assistance to faculty not just in learning new technologies, but in developing assignments that will require students to use these skills as part of their learning in one or more discipline areas.

In addition, this targeted approach increases the impact of money spent on faculty development. Earlier approaches focused on individual faculty members who made their own decisions about the use or non-use of technology in particular courses or sections of courses; however, these activities focus on teams of faculty and on department-wide approaches to integrating technology. As a result, technology assignments developed through the workshops will become part of an ongoing library of assignments available to other faculty members. Stipends are not given to faculty members just for attending workshops; stipends are giving for designing new student assignments in the workshops, and for implementing the assignments in courses and assessing the results.

Whereas it is often difficult to assess the impact of more traditional models of faculty development, the TAC model provides some clear assessment benchmarks related to student learning. The end result of faculty development in this model is student learning, so the assessment centers on the students' use of the assignments created through these workshops: Are the assignments successful in helping students learn to use the targeted technologies?

Following the first semester of using these assignments (fall 2002), the TAC program is working to collect assessment data about student learning. But anecdotally, the faculty report success in helping students to use the targeted technology. Commenting on the database assignment his class completed, one faculty member noted, "The database assignment was a success. . . . The students definitely learned how to make a focused linguistic hypothesis, they were able to test it using the database, and I even think they learned about the virtues of a database." Another faculty member said, "Many students already had database skills, while others had none; however, those who did not learned the logic behind relational databases. The main benefit of the assignment (which was the original intent) is that students were able to see patterns among the functions of different business cultures while seeing the unique natures of particular cultures."

Finally, this approach provides workshops designed to address specific faculty learning needs. Rather than a generic workshop on databases and/or on database software, for example, these professional development activities offer participants the knowledge and skills necessary to integrate databases into their course design. As a result, activities can be sequenced to meet different levels of faculty skill and different levels of curriculum development in a particular discipline. Also, because individual mentoring is built into the activities, faculty get attention and development just where they need it.

Aimed at the right nail, faculty development is a powerful hammer for achieving institutional goals.


Agee, A. S., & Holisky, D. A. (2000). Technology Across the Curriculum at George Mason University. Educause Quarterly, 23(4), 6-12. Retrieved November 25, 2002, from

Hartman, J. L., & Truman-Davis, B. (2001). Institutionalizing support for faculty use of technology at the University of Central Florida. In R. M. Epper & A. W. Bates (Eds.), Teaching faculty how to use technology: Best practices from leading institutions (pp. 39-58). Westport CT: Oryx Press.

Hutchison, K.R. (2001). Developing faculty use of technology: The Bellevue Community College experience. In R. M. Epper & A. W. Bates (Eds.), Teaching faculty how to use technology: Best practices from leading institutions (pp. 93-114). Westport, CT: Oryx Press.

Moore, A. H. (2001). Designing advanced learning communities: Virginia Tech's story. In R. M. Epper & A. W. Bates (Eds.), Teaching faculty how to use technology: Best practices from leading institutions (pp. 79-92). Westport CT: Oryx Press.

Morrison, J. L., & Brown, D. G. (2002 July/August). Faculty development that works: An interview with David G. Brown. The Technology Source. Retrieved November 25, 2002, from

Pollack, C. et al. (2001). The evolution of faculty instructional development in the use of technology at College Boreal, Ontario. In R. M. Epper & A. W. Bates (Eds.), Teaching faculty how to use technology: Best practices from leading institutions (pp. 59-78). Westport CT: Oryx Press.

University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning (2002, October 22). UCF virtual campus: Enrollment and course trends. Retrieved January 22, 2003, from

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