How do colleges and universities support faculty in using technology?
Badly, it turns out, according to one critical measure. A look back at decades of campus computing strategy finds that the majority of American campuses neither recognize nor reward professors who integrate tech in their teaching and research.
That sounds harsh, but it’s based on solid research. It comes from a new EDUCAUSE Review article by Kenneth Green, looking back at years of work carried out by his Campus Computing Project. The whole article is essential reading for anyone thinking about tech and higher education, but I’d like to zero in on one finding in particular.
Over the past two decades Green asked surveyed campus leaders if they had an official way of responding to professors’ technology work.
Specially, does an institution have “a Formal Program to Recognize and Reward the Use of information Technology as Part of the Routine Faculty Review and Promotion Process”.
The answers appear in this table, identified by individual years and institutional type:
This may be the single most important chart for educational technology professionals in 2015.
- Good news, everyone! Formal recognition and reward programs have grown by 32.7% since 1997… to 16.4% of institutions. That’s fewer than one sixth of campuses. And in 2015.
- That number grew through 2011, but actually declined by 2014. I’m trying to wrap my head around this. Did a number of schools actually abandon such programs? Was this the result of academic retrenchment following the Great Recession? Did the increasing number of adjuncts convince departments, divisions, and colleges to set the topic aside?
- Community colleges seem more seriously engaged than other strata of higher ed. Now nearly one quarter of them have such policies, putting CCs in the lead.
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Private BA/MA institutions grew interested, then backed off with the recession, it seems. In contrast, private research universities are actually a little below where they were in 1997.
This matters so much because such recognition ties into the hiring, tenure, and promotion process – i.e., a faculty member’s essential stages of institutional interaction, anchors of a professor’s career. That the majority – heck, the supermajority – of campuses do not have such a mechanism speaks volumes.
It tells us about the ways universities and colleges commit to technology. Tech seems to be for operational and instrumental purposes, but isn’t important for a professor’s work. Technology is for staff, not faculty performing their primary functions. Technology is only a utility, not a force transforming an institution’s core purpose.
It tells us why it’s hard to get professors to explore and use technology. The idea that not being rewarded for tenure etc. has been around for a while, but I haven’t seen it so thoroughly realized as by Green’s research.
I still hedge my observations with a bit of skepticism. For example, I can’t tell if these policies (the few that exist) address adjunct hiring and rehiring. Maybe survey respondents considered the question to apply only to tenure-track faculty. That would be good to find out.
Another caveat: Green’s question only addresses formal recognition. Informal recognition may well be widespread. It would be good to determine.
In the meantime, we can look ahead to the next decade. Maybe one quarter of American campuses will have recognition and reward policies in place by 2025.