The EdTech Learning Curve by Steve Cunningham

The school’s technology committee, of which I am a member, met again today. This particular committee is charged with developing recommendations on how we can improve our use of technology in the classroom and in research, and which specific technologies we should implement. These recommendations, if approved by the dean, become part of the school’s master plan and budgeting efforts.

The theme of today’s meeting became one of outreach, especially to our fellow faculty members within the school, many of whom have yet to embrace the technology that our students have come to expect. During a conversation about the recent changes made to some classrooms, several members noted that some faculty members had difficulties using the AV controllers in lecterns. Others were only using the most basic features of the Blackboard CMS, eschewing the more advanced Wikis, virtual classrooms, and the like. Worse yet were reports that some faculty believe that fiddling with the projector was simply not part of their job.

It occurred to me that I'd heard these things before, so I went back to a column I wrote back in December, 2009, which mentioned a research study prepared for the Government Division of computer vendor CDW by market research firm the O'Keeffe & Company. I found the 2011 version online, entitled "The 2011 CDW-G 21st-Century Campus Report," (downloadable and free with your email address). As with the previous report, the company surveyed students, faculty, administrators and IT staff regarding the value and use technology in the classroom.

According to the report, the one thing that hasn't changed is the perception that faculty still lack the necessary skill set to actually use the technology. This brings me back to the results of today's Tech Committee meeting and the issue of tech outreach to our own faculty. Clearly, more training and more training materials and sessions are required to raise the technology skill "floor" level of some faculty. The problem will be getting those who need these skills to regard training as important enough to take time for it. Moreover, those who feel that developing these skills is somehow unnecessary or perhaps even below them must be made to understand that this is not the case in 2011, and that specific understanding may be more important than the skill development itself.

I'm reminded of a sidewalk conversation I had recently with a distinguished member of the classical music faculty. This professor complained that when it was time to update his profile page with recent accomplishments, he asked the marketing department how to get it done. He was given a set of instructions that began with logging on to the server via ssh. Not only did he not understand the instructions, he wondered if that was even his *job*. After all, he bemoaned, "don't we have people to do this?" I politely explained that he was correct to the extent that the school should make it easier for faculty to update their bios. But in a Web 2.0 world in which users regularly author their own content online, the answer is not "having people" but learning to do it oneself. Experience shows that faculty will do that only when their need is pressing.

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