by Jo B. Paoletti // Commentary
Adapting a traditional course for online delivery can be a daunting task for many instructors. But once it has been posted, one's time investment is dramatically reduced during subsequent course revisionsor is it? Unfortunately, when instructors rely upon a course management system (CMS) that undergoes frequent upgrading, the answer to this question may often be "no." In this issue's first Commentary, Jo B. Paoletti discusses the challenges she faced as she adjusted to successive new versions of her university's CMS. As an early adopter of new technologies, Paoletti notes, she had previously adopted an idiosyncratic strategy of improvisation in order to stay current with technological changes; however, she quickly learned how short-term solutions in one version of a CMS could become problems when one is faced a newer version of the same system. In this article, Paoletti provides a helpful, even-handed assessment of what instructors, IT support staff, and software designers can do to minimize the pain of course revision.
by Zane L. Berge and Greg Kearsley // Commentary
Across the professional spectrum, distance training programs are used to build employee competency and ensure company success. However, such programs are effective only if they are sufficiently supported and sustained over time. In our second Commentary, Zane L. Berge and Greg Kearsley share the results of a survey they gave to a select group of business representatives, all of whom had previously written case studies on the role of e-learning in their organizations. Respondents were asked to assess the extent to which e-learning had become institutionalized in their workplace, to describe the most significant obstacles to sustained technology programs, and to characterize the leadership on e-learning issues within their companies. Berge and Kearsley analyze the answers, identifying crucical factors that limit the long-term viability of distance training programs and proposing areas for future research.
by Henryk Marcinkiewicz and Robert Sylwester // Commentary
In our second Commentary, Henryk Marcinkiewicz interviews professor Robert Sylwester, whose research highlights the relationship between cognitive development and new trends in educational technology. In this interview, Sylwester explains how an understanding of brain maturation during childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood can help parents and instructors to find appropriate strategies for instructing youth in computer skills. Particularly noteworthy points include Sylwester's emphasis on an apprenticeship model of technology instruction, as well as his claim that an older generation of faculty can learn a great deal from the highly adaptable minds of their students. By placing a greater emphasis on collaborative decision-making and reciprocal learning, Sylwester argues, our teaching will not only acknowledge students as responsible individuals; it will also remain sufficiently flexible in discovering further, unforeseen forms of innovative practice.
by Robert Sommer // Commentary
When psychology professor Robert Sommer decided to use PowerPoint slides and a digital projector in one of his courses, he did not expect technical problems to ensue during a unit on color perception. However, as he relates in our third Commentary, the color discrepancies he encountered with these tools served as an ironic illustration of the very visual concepts he intended to discuss with his class. Sommer provides a diagnosis of the problem he faced, an account of how he bypassed it, and some words of wisdom to other faculty members who may be considering such resources in their own courses. The moral of the story: When changing to a new form of technology, test it ahead of timeand be sure to retain back-up versions of the same material in the older format.
by Gail Weatherly and Randy McDonald // Faculty and Staff Development
In faculty workshops, promoting technology skills for online teaching may have limited effectiveness if such skills are not combined with a comprehensive strategy of instructional design. Authors Gail Weatherly and Randy McDonald, in their Faculty and Staff Development feature, illustrate how this combination was achieved in a ten-session series of workshops at their institution. As the series progressed, instructors were not only trained in the "nuts and bolts" of the course management systemthey also conducted a needs assessment of their target audience, considered different learning styles, incorporated a range of student activities and communication tools, took measures to ensure adequate student assessment and feedback, and regularly reflected on how their online design fostered specific pedagogical objectives. This approach to course development kept the technology rooted in practice, while also helping participants to improve their overall approach to teaching and learning. For readers seeking a holistic vision of faculty development, this article will offer a valuable model.
by Steven Wicker and Beth Boyd // Faculty and Staff Development
What incentives can be provided to encourage faculty members to adopt information technology in their courses? In their Faculty and Staff Development article, Steven Wicker and Beth Boyd discuss the various programs that Wake Forest University (WFU) adopted towards this goal. First, by hiring an academic computing specialist for each department, WFU offered its instructors a convenient source of hands-on support. In turn, though a faculty-led initiative in computer-enhanced learning, instructors had the opportunity to visit other universities, attend presentations by professionals from other institutions, and apply for release-time grants to support their own efforts with information technology. A further initiative allowed student technology advisors to assist faculty members with specific projects, whereas a Culpeper-sponsored grant program gave recipients the chance to work on their own independent projects over the summer. While the authors note that some programs had greater impact than others, they stress the importance of multiple faculty development efforts as a way to achieve the most comprehensive change.
by Colleen Carmean // Assessment
To ensure success, educational institutions need to establish a broad consensus regarding learning outcomes, the role of technology, and criteria for assessing current approaches to instruction. Once consensus is reached, such standards can then be implemented as policy. It seems simple enough in theorybut it can be very difficult to achieve in practice. Colleen Carmean, in her Assessment article, discusses her participation in an assessment workshop sponsored by the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative (NLII), and offers a frank diagnosis of the various obstacles that she and her colleagues faced in fostering campus-wide change. Aside from faculty resistance and bureaucratic inertia, Carmean cites a number of other factors: limited participation by department chairs, divergent interpretations of definitions and outcomes, limited resources, the temptation to adopt quick-fix solutions, and the inherent complexity of the questions raised in the process. Having isolated the most common roadblocks to institutional assessment, she then provides final recommendations for educators who still want to make a difference at their campuses.