Portrait of a technology-using professor in 2016

Leading Lines podcast logoDerek Bruff just launched a podcast about teaching with technology, called Leading Lines (and if you don’t know Derek, you should.  He’s brilliant, thoughtful, and the world’s guru for teaching effectively with clickers).  Leading Lines is aimed at present-day teaching, with an eye on the future.

In Leading Lines’ second episode Derek interviews Corbette Doyle (faculty page; Twitter), a Vanderbilt University lecturer.  I’d like to focus on this episode for a blog post because I think Doyle is a grand example of a technology-using faculty member.   In conversation she starts off sounding like an early adopter, but eventually describes challenges and opportunities very much in the teaching mainstream.

Let’s get her early adopter identity out of the way.  Doyle mention buying a PC in the early 1980s, starting an early corporate intranet, and loving technology for how it improves work.  “I’m always exploring new technology,” she explains.  “I’m pretty adept at figuring it out.”  She complains about teenagers not being tech-savvy, reversing a more commonplace faculty attitude.

Some of the technologies she uses are those employed by only a minority of faculty.  Doyle makes screencast videos, for example, in part because of student appreciation.  She feeds these into a YouTube channel .  She also likes mobile, but not because of its affordances; instead, she finds that that’s where her students prefer to work.  “So many students are using their phones the majority of time.  That’s going to increase.”

Doyle is pro-open content, mostly to minimize student costs.  We know that it’s still only a small subset of faculty who follow this practice.

She loves reconfigurable learning spaces, especially for group work.  Is that early adopter practice in 2016, or has it become the mainstream?Corbette Doyle

At other times in the podcast lecturer Doyle sounds much closer to the mainstream.  She uses problem-based learning and group projects as a way of engaging students in active learning.  For example, in one class the first and last quarters are all problem-based projects.  She’s a constructivist, focused on students making learning through making meaning and exploration.

For technology, Doyle relies on clickers for polling.  Again, in 2016, that’s not bleeding edge but conventional.  The examples she gives are classic (by now) and reliable, such as quickly assessing student learning and especially using polls to stimulate small group discussion.

She also uses Google apps, including Forms for assessment, Docs for documents, Hangout for video discussion, and Google+ for encouraging students to share information and thoughts with each other, including for “what they’re learning outside of the class.”  G+ appeals to her as well for its visual nature (interesting) and being mobile friendly.  It’s her discussion forum.  (Many campuses have Google Apps.  Is Doyle an outlier?)

Overall, despite the many technologies she uses, Doyle is all about corralling complexity.  “It’s important to keep technology simple,” she insists, veering away from the early-adopter role.

Doyle finds two major technological problems today, starting with the challenge of assigning students to use multiple sites.  Students resent that – especially, as Bruff notes, when they are taking 3-4 other classes, which could lead to them having to access 8-25+ different sites and services.  This is one reason Doyle likes Google, as it’s a single location for so many services and so much content.

Doyle dislikes Blackboard, but is stuck with it.  “It is not attractive and is not user friendly.  It does not meet many of my needs.”  And yet that’s where she has to use certain content that she can’t find in open.  It’s also where she has to post grades.  Dealing with this LMS “is my struggle.”  But students like the ability to have everything in one Blackboard spot, “one stop shopping”.

Bruff and Doyle conclude by hoping for a single site that can contain everything they’d like to use in the classroom.  Sounds like a case for the next generation digital learning environment (NGDLE).

Overall, I found this Leading Lines podcast a very useful snapshot of a 2016 faculty member, one straddling the early adopter and mainstream roles.  And I look forward to subsequent episodes.

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4 Responses to Portrait of a technology-using professor in 2016

  1. Doyle sounds like a clone of me, which makes me wonder if the podcast is going to have something more innovative or even interesting to say. Doyle and I and other mainstream online teachers are constrained by the innate conservatism of students who don’t like “changes in their cages.”
    My current challenges to rwo basic online tenets of faith are:
    1. The usefulness of an online class that proceeds in lockstep. Why is that useful?
    2. Peer forums, group work–are those really as valuable to students as the literature USED to show?

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    • I think #1 is a historical carry-over, and will decrease in draw as other pedagogies grow in f2f education – i.e., CBE, project-based learning, personalization.

      #2: I’m not up on 2016 lit for that. Would love to know.

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  2. derekbruff says:

    Thanks for the kind words about the podcast, Bryan! I found your analysis of Corbette’s early adopter status really interesting. I’ve often referred to Corbette as a couple of standard deviations ahead of typical faculty use of technology. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, since it’s hard to get a sense of what “typical” is.

    For instance, I would agree with you that her use of screencasts and her adoption of open content is ahead of the curve. Those technologies aren’t commonly used by the faculty I interact with, here at Vanderbilt and elsewhere. But Google Apps? I’m with you–I’m not sure how commonly Google Apps are used by faculty. It’s fairly rare at Vanderbilt, but perhaps more common at other institutions.

    Corbette’s use of in-class polling technology is interesting. She was an early adopter of clickers and, later, of BYOD (bring your own device) systems like Poll Everywhere, which she currently uses. Clickers have been around in a robust way for a decade, but haven’t been adopted by more than maybe 5% of faculty. The move to BYOD has increased adoption of classroom response systems, but I suspect that adoption will plateau at 10% or slightly less. There continue to be lots and lots of faculty who either (a) equate class time with lecture time or (b) equate classroom technology with AV equipment. Those mindsets make it hard to consider classroom response systems as an option. I think Corbette’s use of in-class polling makes her exceptional, if no longer an “early” user of these technologies.

    Then there’s the flexible learning space topic. These spaces are fairly rare at Vanderbilt (although common in the school of ed where Corbette teaches), and they’re fairly rare at the other campuses I visit. Lecture halls with fixed seating are still very common all around. But that’s not really a faculty issue; it’s an institutional issue. An individual faculty member can’t adopt a flexible learning space, that has to be done at a department or school or institution level. And the institution typically won’t build out flexible learning spaces until there’s demand from faculty. So there’s a chicken-and-egg thing that doesn’t occur with technologies like clickers.

    Good stuff, Bryan. Thanks again!

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