Even More Fishing

More thoughts on the proper role of technology staff in supporting the teaching of faculty and the appropriate sharing of their respective responsibilities. In particular, this post is a response to Gardner’s comment and Laura’s more recent post.

Gardner observes that a tech support center should not be:

a drop-off shop for faculty who wanted someone else to do all the techie stuff and hand them a turn-key finished product. For me, all faculty need to be empowered to do simple stuff with images and sound, no less than with text, and for a lot of faculty that’s going to mean some learning.

I agree that faculty need to be empowered. But the way you do that is to work with them to develop their facility and expertise with the tools.

Gardner then argues,

As Chris Dede noted in his keynote at ELI, faculty who have not had compelling creative experiences themselves with the technology will not be able simply to bolt technology or tech products into their “business as usual.

That’s an overstatement, I think. On at least several occasions, I’ve seen a particular technology demonstrated by someone else and thought I might be able to apply it in one of my courses. I wouldn’t characterize that as having been a compelling creative experience for me, more like just an inkling of a possibility. At the same time, I wouldn’t have been able to successfully set up and use the technology without the help of our IT staff who kindly “bolted” the new technology onto my course to let me explore it.

Laura raises a really important issue:

All I ask is for some mutual respect. I will respect the faculty member’s knowledge of their content area and I hope they will respect my expertise in technology and its application to teaching. I sometimes think this equation gets messed up. I am expected to have respect for the faculty member because they have a Ph.D. and tenure while I do not receive the same respect in return.

I’m not sure how important Ph.D. and tenure are to the issue. I think a far bigger issue is content vs. pedagogy. I think many faculty see pedagogy as secondary in teaching. After all, we were trained in the content, but few of us in our graduate work were trained in pedagogy or instructional design. I think it’s fair to say that university faculty tend to associate pedagogy with something done by primary and secondary school teachers. It’s simply not something that academics do. If I am correct in this assessment, then technology staff labor under a handicap by definition, since their expertise is something my culture dismisses. Regretfully.

In my view, the solution is for IT folk to find ways to convince teaching faculty that they have something substantive to contribute to the teaching enterprise, not just in principle but in specific courses. What is it that faculty need to improve their courses? Want your students to hear diverse points of view on a topic? Ask them to read blogs. Want your students to get more practice writing (and thinking) in a non-formal environment? Ask them to write a blog. I can come into your class and show your students how to do both. Okay, that’s not too profound, but it’s a start. Once a faculty member begins to trust his IT support people, the possibilities begin to open.

One ambitious way to approach this might be for IT staff to offer themselves as part of an instructional team. Right now, I think our Department of Teaching and Learning Technologies does an excellent job as consultants to faculty. But the next step is for them to be accepted as equal partners in an instructional team, which is not the same thing. (Note also, that I’m not arguing that this is for every course or every teacher, just one option.) In a real sense, a consultant is a hired gun, who does his or her work and then leaves. A team member may not. Rather, he or she bears some continuing responsibility for whether the initiative succeeds or fails. But they also get an “owner’s share” of the credit. Getting to this point would require a huge cultural change.

What would an IT specialist bring to a course on a continuing basis? I could posit an answer but I’ll leave that to others. In the current culture, it’s difficult enough to team-teach a class, that is, to share a course with a departmental or other teaching colleague who comes from the same culture. See, for example, Tim Burke’s comment. What I’m suggesting here goes far beyond that in terms of a paradigm shift. I agree with Laura. The way to achieve this may be to go about it one sympathetic teacher at a time, striving for a critical mass large enough for the faculty at large to take notice. That’s my approach.

Somehow we need to hook faculty on technology (or more precisely, one or more specific tech tools), but then very clearly spell out the expectations for working with them to master it.
Faculty have every right, I think, to expect the IT folks to teach them how to use the technology. But the IT folks similarly should expect faculty to learn how to use it. Perhaps what is necessary is some public discussion or explicit statement of mutual expectations. One concern is that this could be perceived by faculty as another hurdle towards IT usage. But if the value-added of IT support can be successfully sold, I think this can be a net positive.

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5 Responses to Even More Fishing

  1. Laura says:

    I’m so glad this conversation is continuing and your insight here is extremely valuable to me. I think you’re spot on about the pedagogy issue. In fact, a former faculty member emailed me in response to my post and suggested the same thing, saying that as long as research is the area that receives the most rewards, teaching (and those who support it) will get short shrift. I have talked to people about trying to start a team approach to technology integration in large part due to your experience in the fall. I think I just have to keep the conversation going.

  2. Steve says:

    But the issue is more than just research versus teaching, I think. It’s about the role of content expertise versus pedagogy in teaching. Both are important, but I argue in the post that academics tend to put relatively less emphasis on the latter. This point is made clear in the literature on the scholarship of teaching and learning (see, for example Mary Taylor Huber and Pat Hutchings, 2005), which argues that academics should put the same care and thought into their teaching as they put into their scholarship.

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