Barriers to and Strategies for Faculty Integration of IT (Distance Learning)

introduction

At most institutions of higher education, faculty members wear many “hats.” Among other responsibilities, they are expected to teach, conduct research, and participate in institutional and public service. Within the teaching realm, faculty members have always had multiple responsibilities. For example, in addition to being content experts, they may need to become course design, assessment, communication, community or interaction experts. Instructors can be described as architects, consultants, resources, reviewers, and role models (Oblinger & Hawkins, 2006). It is primarily (though not exclusively) in the teaching realm where instructional technology (IT) is relevant. The more that faculty utilize IT, the more the non-content aspects of teaching become salient.

Depending on level of faculty expertise, asking them to increase the time and effort they put into their teaching might reduce the time and effort they can devote to research, service, and other institutional requirements and responsibilities. Why should they, especially if there is very little acknowledgment or tenure/promotion credit given for incorporating IT into their teaching? This is, in part, why many faculty members may have to be dragged “kicking and screaming” into using these technologies.

background

To address the predicament faced by faculty, it would be helpful to provide some guidelines on how to balance multiple roles (and the time and effort required). However, there do not appear to be any models that deal with this challenge. One way to help understand the process of IT adoption is to consider the different roles or positions of individual faculty members. For example, non-users of IT face a much steeper learning curve than do instructors who have partially or fully integrated IT into their teaching. Learning to use IT might, therefore, be thought of as a socialization process.

In their model of socialization to groups, psychologists Moreland and Levine (2000) highlight the importance of the processes of evaluation, commitment, and role transition. In particular, in order to acquire a new identity as a group member, an individual must pass from being a prospective member to a new member to a full member. This passage is a function of how both the group and individual evaluate each other, their respective levels of commitment to each other, and the eventual transition in roles as the individual passes into and through the group.

For purposes of this chapter, we assume that higher education faculty go through a similar socialization process with IT integration. In particular, they must first evaluate the IT options available to them and determine if using those options is feasible. If their commitment to integrating IT into their teaching is high enough, they may begin learning about those options, depending on the support and resources of their institution. This learning process might shift the instructor’s role from a prospective user to a new user and eventually to a full user of IT. The barriers to IT integration vary depending on the user roles that faculty play in this socialization process, how they evaluate IT, their own and their institution’s levels of commitment to its use, and their IT learning curve. Table 1 presents a developmental model of faculty integration of IT loosely based on Moreland and Levine’s (2000) group socialization model.

Table 1. Developmental model of faculty integration of IT

Role

Evaluation

Commitment

Learning Curve

Non-user

Negative or neutral

Low

Very Steep

Prospective user

Negative, neutral, or positive

Low to medium

Very Steep

New user

Negative, neutral, or positive

Medium to high

Steep

Experienced user

Positive

High

Moderately steep

Table 2. Major barriers to IT integration in higher education

Technology-Related

Wide range of IT Options

Role Conflict

Pace of IT Improvements & Innovations

Academic-Related

Time & Effort

Academic Quality of Courses

Incentives & Compensation

Tenure & Promotion

Job Security

Both non-users and prospective users of IT may not adopt it for several reasons. They may negatively evaluate the use of IT, lack the time and effort necessary to commit to its use, or fear the steep learning curve that awaits their efforts to integrate IT into their teaching. New IT users are more likely to evaluate its use favorably and to have more commitment to using it, yet will still have a steep learning curve. Of course, if new users’ initial experiences are negative, they will be less likely to increase their commitment to and use of IT. Experienced users will typically show positive evaluations, high levels of commitment, and less steep learning curves. However, with each of these roles, there are potential barriers that limit the initial or continued integration of IT into faculty members’ teaching.

perceived barriers

Even assuming adequate levels of training, support, and access, there are many barriers to faculty members’ adoption and integration of instructional technologies. Table 2 lists some of the major technology-related and academic-related barriers to IT use in higher education.

Prospective IT users may have the misconception that they should learn about and use IT because it makes teaching and learning more convenient. This may be true to some extent, but it is no more true than the claim that instructors use a textbook for convenience. In this sense, there is nothing special about new instructional technologies. Whether one is talking about a pencil, a textbook, a whiteboard, or a 21st Century classroom, these are all tools along a continuum. Even if faculty members do not see it this way, their Net Generation students increasingly look at many of these new technologies as “pencils” (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005), and those students use the technologies for multiple purposes (Donlevy, 2005). However, for faculty, this is one of the most obvious barriers when facing emerging technologies—the ever increasing, wide range of options. Even when they evaluate the use of IT favorably and are committed to integrating it into their teaching, they quickly become alarmed at how many different pencils they need to sharpen! The fear of failing to master these applications is also quite real (Beggs, 2000). Even for instructors who are experienced IT users, learning to use additional existing or new technologies can be a formidable challenge.

The content realm is probably valued most highly by the majority of faculty members. However, when new technologies are added to the changing characteristics of students, non-content aspects of teaching become more important, and attention is diverted from the content focus. Faculty might accept the fact that proper IT integration ideally results in a shift from faculty-centered instruction (passive learning) to con-structivist or student-centered learning environments (active learning) (Duhaney, 2005; Groves & Zemel, 2000). However, the dual role required of them has proven daunting for many. Exactly what is the faculty’s role—IT or content expert? There is no clear definition of the roles required to teach a course that takes the emerging technologies into account. Important questions to consider include to what extent and how often a faculty member revises and re-designs a course and who helps with those processes. This potential role conflict or role ambiguity may inhibit non-users from transitioning to prospective IT users. New IT users will need to negotiate their new roles actively. On the other hand, most experienced users have probably resolved the conflict or ambiguity associated with the new roles required by the integration of IT.

Closely related to these issues is the constantly changing nature of IT. With technology changing often and quickly, why should faculty spend time and effort learning something that may be radically changed or even obsolete in a few years? For example, an institution may be moving from individually created faculty course web pages to the adoption of a common learning management system (LMS) platform. Alternatively, there may be a conversion to a different LMS platform or to a new version of the existing one. Finding the time to stay current in their discipline, to bring in new material, or to update to a new text is made more difficult when time must also be devoted to staying current with instructional technologies (Beggs, 2000). Recognizing the need to adjust to IT improvements and innovations might decrease the likelihood that prospective users will increase their evaluation of and commitment to using IT. This barrier is also an issue for experienced users who may need to learn to use revisions of the IT that they have already mastered.

In addition to these technology-based barriers, there are several faculty-related barriers to integrating IT. Investment of time and effort pose one such barrier (Beggs, 2000). In fact, this expenditure is at least implied within all the barriers we discuss. From training, to decision-making about which IT options are applicable to a specific discipline, to actual implementation, becoming proficient enough to use IT effectively calls for a significant commitment. “Why,” ask faculty, “should I make this investment?” Even the most committed new and experienced IT users, who know the answer centers around improvements in learning, are aware of the heavy costs in time and effort. This barrier probably has the strongest negative effect on the evaluation and commitment of non-users and prospective users.

Some faculty also worry about the academic quality of courses that integrate IT (Davis, 2005; Duhaney 2005), with suspicions of bells and whistles being used for their sake alone. Barone (2005) suggests that “Some traditional academics feel that the habits of the Net Generation result in a superficial grasp of their discipline and do not embody the gravitas of an ‘educated’ person” 9). Duhaney (2005) points out that even more careful planning is required for a course that integrates technologies than for a traditional course. In addition, most higher-education faculty are not specialists in course design. They are teaching because of their content expertise. In many disciplines, it is uncommon for faculty to receive pedagogical training while they are graduate students. Determining how to integrate IT forces faculty to examine curricular design, something that they are often not used to doing. Because of this state of affairs, non-users may resist integrating IT because it also requires that they specify learning objectives and outcomes of their courses.

Another important barrier to faculty’s willingness to embrace IT integration is the perceived lack of substantive incentives and compensation. While release time, grants, and awards (if available) are a good start towards helping faculty get started and feeling that their efforts are recognized and respected, they are often not sufficient to offset the necessary amount of time and effort invested in training and implementation. Sometimes, even when such incentives are offered, prospective users may be unable to take advantage of those opportunities due to teaching load, departmental, or other university demands. Additionally, when materials using IT are created, issues of intellectual property and uncertainty created by loosely defined copyright policies (Duhaney, 2005) present yet another issue for faculty.

All these barriers culminate in concerns over the tenure and promotion (T/P) process, an issue of utmost importance for faculty. It is widely held that efforts in IT integration, although undeniably linked to teaching, do not fit into the traditional teaching, research, and service categories of the T/P process (Davis, 2005; Hagner & Schneebeck, 2001; Seminoff & Wepner, 1997; Young, 2002). Many faculty are waiting for tangible recognition for the substantial time and effort investment required for IT integration, and it can come in no other way than by “having a positive impact on tenure, promotion, and salary decisions” (Hagner & Schneebeck, 2001, p. 4).

Closely related to the T/P issue, and equally important, is faculty concern over job security. Many higher education institutions have moved towards the creation or development of master courses by ranking, qualified faculty. These courses are then taught in multiple sections by individuals with or without tenure, often receiving lower salaries and no benefits. Some faculty feel that this trend heralds the erosion of the academic profession as faculty currently know it. It could also be viewed as a challenge to the traditional notion of faculty autonomy, a privilege faculty will be very reluctant to give up (Hagner & Schneebeck, 2001). As Beggs (2000) puts it, “devaluation of their profession and the possible elimination of their job” 9) constitute a serious suspicion about and obstacle to faculty involvement with IT.

overcoming barriers

What can be done to overcome these many barriers and to encourage faculty to participate in the “new academy” (Barone, 2005)? As Mitterer (2006) notes, the explosion of digital technologies represents “a veritable Trojan horse ofpedagogy” (p. 60) for higher education. Non-users and prospective users need to be convinced of the wisdom and necessity of incorporating IT into their courses. As the list of barriers indicates, this is a very challenging task. Table 3 presents an overview of key strategies to attain greater faculty engagement with and use of IT.

First, IT is not a single thing that can be used in the convincing process. Different faculty will be interested in different kinds of technologies (Beggs, 2000). Thus, one strategy might be to provide faculty with very general overviews of the different technologies and what can be done with them, especially within their disciplines. Faculty who are exposed to this information might convince themselves of its worth and pursue more-specific training on those technologies that are most relevant to their interests, expertise, or discipline. If the general overviews could be delivered by experienced faculty users within the department (or if there were an IT support person familiar with the discipline), new users may more readily see how technology fits into their and their discipline’s values. Because they are often not familiar with a faculty member’s discipline, IT trainers and consultants may have a more difficult job when they lack the credibility of a faculty member’s peers.

Table 3. Strategies for overcoming the major barriers to IT integration in higher education

 

Barriers

Strategies

Technology-Related

Wide range of IT Options

Provide General Overviews of Options

Encourage Small Steps

Support for basic as well as advanced technologies

Role Conflict

Foster Support & Training from Peers

Departmental Roundtables

Pace of IT Improvements & Innovations

Emphasize Student Need & Demand

Academic-Related

Time & Effort

University & Departmental & Course-Specific LMS Templates

Departmental Standards & Requirements

Academic Quality of Courses

Greater Emphasis on Pedagogy

Emphasis on Course Design & Redesign Using IT

Peer Review of Courses Using IT

Incentives & Compensation

Increased Reward Structure for IT Integration

Tenure & Promotion

Increased Guideline Definitions & Clarity

Greater Emphasis on Quality Control

Job Security

Greater Value, support, & reward for collaboration

To reduce the learning curve for and time needed with the new technologies, faculty who are inexperienced with IT could be encouraged to simply use those tools. Trying to integrate them into their course more fully could be something that occurs later. By taking “baby steps,” these faculty might not get as frustrated or overwhelmed by the time and effort demands, yet they still might begin to see some advantages and opportunities that those technologies offer (Villano, 2006; Beggs, 2000). At the same time, IT support staff could calibrate their efforts to teach the basic technologies to new users and the more advanced technologies and integration possibilities to experienced users. Working around faculty members’ schedules (rather than having set times for training) would also increase receptivity to learning about new technologies.

With regard to the potential role conflicts that can inhibit the integration of IT, experienced users can assist in clarifying the roles that new technologies enable or require. One strategy to combat role conflicts might be to hold regular roundtable discussions within departments to help faculty identify and articulate discipline-specific ways to achieve academic and IT integration. Another option is to create intra-departmental training programs that rely on experienced IT users helping prospective or new users (Clayton, 2005; Efaw, 2005). These approaches might show faculty how they can gain knowledge or expertise without taking on a new teaching role. It is also possible that experienced faculty members within departments will assume specific technology-related roles. These departmental experts can be an important source of support and training for both new and experienced users.

Because so many faculty members consider themselves to be instructional technology novices, efforts to increase IT integration must focus on encouraging and nurturing the non-users and prospective users. Efaw (2005) described a 3-phase approach to facilitating faculty integration of technology. The phases include learning about and becoming more favorable towards available technologies, practicing with and receiving feedback on those technologies, and continuing to develop expertise through workshops, discussions, and mentorships. In each phase, this approach relies heavily on the experiences, modeling, and feedback of veteran technology users in the socialization of new users.

To some extent, students are the force of change for faculty members (Donlevy, 2005). As more instructors utilize IT in their courses, students will come to depend on those technologies and might also complain about it when instructors do not include them. Thus, as more faculty and students rely on IT, the demand for incorporating IT into courses escalates. Faculty will increasingly find that they must begin incorporating these technologies, or they will figuratively, or literally, lose their students. A good strategy might be to recruit students to increase faculty use of IT. For example, survey data (e.g., Kvavik & Caruso, 2005) can be used to show faculty what students like or expect. Students should be encouraged to be more proactive regarding their education, at least in terms of how their instructors integrate technology into courses, by requesting specific technologies or applications from their instructors (Hagner & Schneebeck, 2001), particularly those that prepare them for the workplace (Beggs, 2000). They could also participate in IT roundtables and serve on IT-related committees at their institutions.

When turning to the more academic-related barriers, ways of overcoming the issue of time and effort becomes a prominent question. One simple solution is the development of departmental and course-specific templates within the institution’s LMS platform (Clayton, 2005). Such templates allow less-experienced faculty members to minimize their learning curve with the LMS. They would also allow student access to standardized resources and materials for multiple sections of a course.

Another possible route to overcoming the time and effort barrier is the development of university and departmental standards or requirements (Seminoff & Wepner, 1997). For instance, some institutions have begun to identify the minimal technology tools that all faculty members need to have. It may be that faculty members do not need to become technology experts. Some could argue, for example, that because the IT support staff are the experts, instructors do not need to learn the new technologies. However, if faculty will be using these technologies, there most likely needs to be some minimal level of understanding in order to troubleshoot and use them effectively. It is very likely that faculty will need to develop at least some level of expertise with the tools they use. Institutions might, for example, require a Web-presence for all their courses. At minimum, all faculty could present their syllabi and instructor contact information online, preferably through an LMS. Institutions may also want to mandate the use of an LMS. Although institutions have begun to address these questions, few consistent standards or recommendations have yet to emerge. This is a critical need.

To overcome concerns about academic quality, institutions will need to demonstrate the ways that IT improves the quality of courses that integrate IT. This effort must parallel institutional attention to accreditation standards, the development of learning outcomes, assessments and benchmarks, and course design and redesign efforts. Non-users and institutional decisionmakers must be educated about the pedagogically-sound ways that courses can implement and integrate IT (Seminoff & Wepner, 1997). One strategy is to set up centers focused on learning and teaching like the Learning, Teaching, and Innovative Technologies Center at Middle Tennessee State University or the Technology Assisted Curriculum Center at the University of Utah. These Centers provide faculty with resources, training, and expertise on the use of IT. They strive to move faculty toward thinking about sound pedagogical IT integration by helping “faculty members gain a better understanding oftechnology and incorporate it into their lesson plans . . . [to] meet their education objectives . . . ” (Villano, 2006, p. 32).

Another strategy is to incorporate peer reviews of courses using IT, not only to help to improve the quality of those courses, but also to clarify the criteria that constitute best practices (Bombardieri, 2006). When they receive peer reviews, new IT users are provided with developmental guidance and feedback. By conducting such reviews, experienced users improve their pedagogical expertise. Thus, developing a peer review process is an excellent way to improve academic quality for users with different levels of experience. All of these strategies (as well as the ones we have listed in previous sections) can foster an institution’s education about and exposure to IT. As this process increases in frequency, concerns over academic quality should be ameliorated.

As we mentioned earlier in this chapter, even if incentives and compensation are available to help faculty learn about and integrate IT, time and effort demands must still be addressed. Increasing the size of these “carrots” might encourage some faculty members to become new IT users (Seminoff & Wepner, 1997). However, efforts must also be directed to increasing the perceived value and necessity of incorporating IT into teaching. Not only must faculty members be convinced, but department chairs, deans, and chief academic officers must also be brought on board.

As long as faculty members get little or no “credit” for re-assessing their pedagogy through course design and redesign efforts that incorporate new instructional technologies, they will continue to be resistant to changing their tried-and-true teaching methods (Beggs, 2000). Thus, another way to increase the perceived value of IT is for institutions to increase the credit given to IT users by promotion and tenure committees (Bombar-dieri, 2006; Hagner & Schneebeck, 2001; Seminoff & Wepner, 1997; Young, 2002). Young (2002) points to the seldom heard phrase, “‘Teach well or perish’”! 57). Unless more value is placed on these endeavors, some faculty may feel it is more advantageous to wait until they have been tenured to learn about and to incorporate the new instructional technologies. The efforts to ensure greater academic quality discussed earlier can help T/P committees to develop appropriate guidelines that reflect best practices. Hagner and Schneebeck (2001) recommend that clear articulation ofthe parameters for scholarship and activity in the area of IT, which can lead to T/P, be presented to faculty in writing. Failure to articulate those parameters will keep non-users from transitioning to prospective IT users and prospective users from transitioning to new users.

Finally, to ease concerns over job security in regards to the impact of technology-related issues, open dialogues between faculty and administration offer a good beginning. Faculty need a forum, be it special sessions of a faculty senate or an even more open venue, where they can voice their concerns. They need to be made to feel their input matters, and administrators need the opportunity to address and ease those concerns. Open discussions about this and all other barriers is a key element to promote IT integration (Hagner & Schneebeck, 2001) and to improve the socialization process. Negotiating to a level of comfort for both groups would do much for the future of higher education and its move towards increasing IT integration to promote student learning—after all, improving student learning is common ground for both groups.

conclusion

Increasing faculty integration of IT in higher education has proven to be a complicated and difficult process. Faculty members encounter numerous barriers that negatively affect their evaluation of IT and adversely affect their commitment to implementing new technologies. They frequently need to change roles within the teaching domain (often without clear direction, encouragement, or acknowledgement), adding to the difficulties for prospective or new users of IT. The pace of IT improvements and innovations means that even experienced IT users cannot rest. Barriers aside, there are many ways that higher education faculty members and institutions can increase their commitment to and integration of IT. Despite the challenges, clear progress has been and will continue to be made.

key terms

Advanced Instructional Technologies: Cutting-edge technologies that have not been widely used in educational settings.

Basic Instructional Technologies: Technologies such as email and web pages that are considered standard tools of IT.

Instructional Technology: Applications of technology aimed at instructional objectives.

Learning Management System (LMS) Platform: Applications that collect the most frequently used IT tools into a combined application that can be integrated into a University’s enterprise systems.

Net Generation: Persons born in the 1980′s or later; members of the Net Generation have never known life without the Internet.

New Academy: “acknowledges the changes manifested in the Net Generation; uses the power of technology to enable deeper learning; demonstrates the interplay of interaction of culture and technology; and changes the nature of interaction among members” (Barone, 2005, p. 14.1).

Student-Centered Instruction (Constructivism): Current approach to education based on active engagement with content.

Teacher-Centered Instruction: Traditional approach to education based on information dissemination, and passive learning.

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