Cathy Griffin-Famble, Ph.D., Chair, Education Department, Winston-Salem University
The use of technology to enhance and reinforce concept formation during classroom instruction is fast becoming the rule rather than the exception in colleges and universities across the nation. The Microsoft Power-Point presentation is standard fare. “On-line, web-enhanced, live feed with streaming video” are phrases that are familiar in course descriptions and class listings today. As technology in its various forms proliferate colleges and universities, findings from recent research studies on technology in the higher education arena reveal a mixed bag of both positive and negative impact. (Larson et al., 2002; Tomei, 2002; Valmont, 2003; Roblyer, 2006) Essential to meeting the needs of today’s post-secondary learners, the millennial students, are intellectually astute faculty who are adequately prepared to use multiple modes of instructional technology in their lesson delivery.
While the technology proficiency of P-12 students has increased steadily over the past decade and college students bring more techno-toys than books to their dorm rooms, have the professoriate kept pace with learning and using technology? Have colleges and universities kept pace by providing faculty with the necessary training to be facile in computer applications, instructional software and up-to-date hardware needed to be effective in their instructional delivery and discourse? What is needed to bridge the technology-gap with the die-hard, “remember Woodstock boomers” who stand at-the-ready to share their knowledge in the traditional lecture mode that still predominates in higher education classrooms. This article focuses on the previously mentioned questions in an attempt to shed light on one problematic issue for today’s college teachers and students alike. In examining technology usage, when and how the professoriate will ever catch up, becomes the sixty-four thousand dollar question.
Findings from Research Studies on Technology
Roblyer (2006) views technology as a channel for helping teachers communicate better with students and asserts that technology can be an enhancement to instructional delivery. “It can make good teaching even better, but it cannot make bad teaching good. Consequently, technology using teachers [professors] never can be a force for improved education unless they are first and foremost informed, knowledgeable shapers of their craft.” (p. v) It almost goes without saying that without adequate knowledge or skills in technology, the professor is in peril when it comes to preparation for utilizing today’s “smart classroom.” Standard tools of technology such as accessing Hyper-links, Blackboard shells, platforms, webBoards, e-attachments, and public folders can become formidable challenges for even the most diligent professor.
The daily routine in academia on average is fraught with course loads, committee work, advising of majors, departmental and university-wide responsibilities. University life, with the hectic daily grind, leaves little time for another set of skills to learn, moreover to develop the level of competence that allows for inclusion of these skills into teaching strategies. Furthermore, technology-based methods should be based in both learning theory and teaching practice (ibid). Clearly, this cannot be accomplished without spending adequate time and effort to learn technology-based methods and to gain competence in the subsequent technology-related skills.
In integrating technology, a basic premise is that disparate narrative pieces of information from the content area can be designed for better clarity in the learners’ concept formation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2000), while over 2.8 million teachers K-12 are responsible for using technology in their instruction, they receive on average less than twelve hours of technology training. How many hours of systematic technology training and professional development are faculty receiving per year? The number of hours found in the literature was as disparate and idiosyncratic as are faculty across university settings.
How then do professors acquire the technology skills necessary for use in their courses? Are institutions of higher education systematically preparing their faculties to utilize technology in their teaching and daily work? According to Tomei (2002) “the use of technology in a school [university] or school district without benefit of the necessary infrastructure to adequately support its use as a viable instructional strategy is a Technology Façade.” (p.9) Tomei asserts further that there must be a “clear understanding of curricular direction, lesson goals, learning objectives and student learning styles must precede any development of technology-based resources. (Ibid) The outward appearance of being onboard with cutting-edge advancements in on-line instructional delivery and other technology-based formats abound. This type of add-on, superficial technology serves no real purpose. There should be an appropriate need that the technology-based method addresses. If enhancement of the learning process is the goal, then the strategies, methods and approaches used for instructional delivery should be presented in a format that lends itself to the variability of the types of learning styles of the students as well as their professors.
The research of Larson et al. (2002) found both faculty and student concerns regarding “technology in teaching and standards for students, including technology’s impact on communication and relationships in teaching and anxiety around technology use.” (p. 123) Their findings also identified another problematic, student technology background and ability to learn at optimal levels with instructional formats that rely heavily on technology-based methods. Larson et al. found that many graduate and commuter students “have little opportunity to use university resources… both students and faculty struggle with the technological changes in curriculum and instruction.” (p.124) More importantly, when no entry standards for student technology competency are set, the faculty in the study “found it was stressful for students who were not computer literate to try to master basic computer skills and at the same time, learn course content that was electronically delivered.” (Op. cit., p. 135)
Taking into consideration the many challenges faced by faculty in utilizing technology, perhaps a different view of the acquisition of computer competence is warranted. A taxonomy that arranges technology competence by objective has been suggested.
Tomei (2002) proposes a taxonomy for instructional technology, consisting of six levels quite similar to the Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Bloom,1953; Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001). This taxonomy is a hierarchical arrangement, based on the complexity of skills achieved by the learner that progressively moves the learner from basic literacy to communication, decision-making, instruction, integration and the highest level is their ability to have impact on societal relationships.
It clearly delineates how the learner gains competency and literacy in the use of technology-based formats. At the lowest level, the learner’s (professor or student) main objective is literacy, defined by Tomei as a basic understanding of the computer and its components. The learner is able to operate the computers major features: Master keyboarding and clicking and dragging objects, use webbased search engines, download information via file transfer protocol, operate input and output devices, etc. The next level of this taxonomy finds the learner able to communicate with the outside world, sharing ideas and working collaboratively through computer operations. As the learner moves up the taxonomy, their skill level increases with mastery of the components needed to successfully navigate technology-related formats of instructional delivery. The learner moves progressively from basic literacy to communication, decision-making, instruction, integration; their goal is reaching the highest level, which is their ability to have impact on societal relationships via the resource of technology-related formats of communication.
Other recent research suggests a paradigm shift away from viewing technology competence as just mastery of isolated computer skills; to more emphasis on what Valmont (2003) identifies as, developing technology literacy. Valmont suggests that we view literacy differently and identifies two related sub-components or aspects of technology literacy: Visual literacy - the ability to identify and interpret visual messages as well as construct visual messages, and Media literacy - the ability to interpret and construct in multiple communication formats (e.g. video, music, art). Not only are these two sub-components becoming more critical for millennial students, but they are essential for today’s faculty, especially those instructors who must prepare and deliver instruction through Microsoft Power Point and other multi-media formats.
Further examination of the Larson et.al. (2002) study revealed that faculty viewed the context of teaching using and requiring advanced technology skills as problematic. Two key questions were: “Do we use class time to teach the use of specific hardware and software or do students go to a technology workshop? More importantly, can we require assignments that utilizes technology if we do not simultaneously teach the software.” (p. 134)
As the two worlds of student and professor interface in the classroom, both must face the traditional challenges of dissonance: cognitive and intra/interpersonal. Now a third challenge surfaces and that is one of technological competency. Clearly, systematic and programmatic efforts are warranted to effect university-wide change, in the arena of instructional technology.
Missing links that might assist the professoriate in becoming technologically competent are adequate Professional Development opportunities over-time, a prolonged experience; workshops, seminars, and incentives provided at the college/university that foster technology literacy and usage. Leadership that recognizes and values the role of technology as an enhancement to teaching and learning must assert more influence in changing the traditional teaching ethos. Moreover, faculty who desire to learn and teach using technology-based formats should be acknowledged, given release-time or other incentives for additional training, and given that technology training in-house whenever possible.
Maduakolam and Bell (2003) offer guidelines when providing in-house instructional technology for faculty that will serve to support and sustain faculty engagement over time in the on-going process of gaining proficiency in technology:
Provide tangible incentives (hardware and software, more supervised practice time, course release-time for training).
Secure administrative endorsement for university-wide faculty training using a model that is product-based, such as their Technology Infusion Project.
Seek from chairpersons and deans the recognition of IT developed courses as an important criterion for annual performance evaluation (p. 350)
While faculty gaining proficiency in technology is surely a goal high on the list of today’s colleges and universities, ultimately the greater goal is technology integration into the fabric of teaching and learning. Technology-integration across disciplines, colleges and, ideally, university-wide calls for a candid assessment of what is and is not being done. The literature is replete with impediments to technology integration, from funding resources to training and support. Bielefeldt (2001) asserts that the most helpful technique for promoting integration of technology was reported to be professional development for college faculty (mentioned by sixty-eight percent of the respondents). (p.7). Faculty initiative and skill in using technology was also important according to thirty-six percent of the respondents.
Strudler and Wetzel (1999) in a study of four exemplary colleges of education found one major theme that emerged across their case studies was the need for strong, committed leadership to support the goals of technology integration. “At the core of informed leadership is a person who has internalized the complexity of effective technology integration and who exercises their influence over time to ensure that various enabling factors are put in place or being addressed.” (p.68) It was also determined that “pedagogical fit” was another factor that influenced how and when faculty used technology in their teaching. Faculty must be open to using technology-based formats. They must also see these formats as useful and helpful as they teach in their discipline, not just the latest fad.
As universities and colleges of education stretch their faculty beyond physical and emotional capacity to embrace and infuse technology in their courses, the final question becomes, at what cost? Are Boomers who have been forced into the technological era of academia able to cope, conform and adapt their teaching? Do certain segments of the student population, those struggling to finance their education, students ill-prepared for college, do better in “smart classrooms”? These answers will be determined by those stalwart institutions that have put commitment and resources ahead of rhetoric. Those colleges and universities that choose to address the brave new world of technological innovation by developing a “schema for technology integration” Strudler and Wetzel (1999, p.68) and a willingness to examine their true technology aspirations will lead the way. Whether full technology integration is the goal or computer literacy, the foreseeable future for college and university professors is one of opportunity, change and challenge. The challenge is to keep pace with the millennial student in an ever-changing technological world.
Anderson, L.W. and Krathwohl, D.R. (2001) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman Publishers.
Bielefeldt, T. (2001) Technology in teacher education. Journal of Computing in Teacher Education. 17 (4), 4-12.
Larson, D., Dutt-Doner, K.M. and Broyles, I. (2002) Don’t ask, Don’t Tell: A Flawed approach to technology standards in higher education. Journal of Information Technology. 11 (2), 123141.
Maduakolam, I. & Bell, E. (2003) A product-based faculty professional development model for infusing technology into teacher education. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education 3 (3), 340-352.
National Center for Educational Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (2000) Internet Access in Public Schools and Classrooms.
Roblyer, M.D. (2006) Integrating Educational Technology Into Teaching. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall Publishers.
Strudler N. and Wetzel (1999) Lessons from exemplary colleges of Education: Factors affecting technology integration in preservice programs. ETR & D. 47 (4), 63-83.
Tomei, L.A. (2002) The Technology Façade. Boston: Allyn & Bacon Pub.
Valmont, W.J. (2003) Technology for Literacy Teaching and Learning. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Publishers.