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.
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When campuses do recognize faculty using technology, that recognition rarely includes more than words and often overlooks extra time new tech can add to teaching load, Concrete incentives are thin on the ground.
My experience in two Canadian Universities have been quite different. At the first, tenured faculty were in the lead for using clicker and other technologies. It was also widely discussed at a Faculty level, so that all first year sciences courses adopted a clicker based pedagogy. This was excellent, as we got a huge discount because we needed several thousand clickers a year. An innovative IT department enabled us to integrate the clicker ID into the LMS. A major innovation was to make it possible for a student to deregister their clicker ID, sell the clicker second hand, and then the new owner could reregister it. There were no formal processes in the tenure system to identify use of technology. However the University Learning Centre was a strong proponent of these strategies and had many faculty regularly attended seminars and workshops. This lead to a strong teaching and learning culture and a willingness on the part of faculty to innovate.
At my most recent employer, there is much less evidence of innovative pedagogy. There isn’t even a common clicker type agreed, and no integration into the LMS. The Learning Centre is much less active in promoting new teaching and learning. The faculty in general have an extremely conservative (and old-fashioned) approach to teaching – chalk and talk are seen as all that is needed.
I am now a contract instructor (Adjunct Professor in US terminology). It is clear that we are considered second raters, and that accomplishments in teaching are rated far lower than achievements in research. In fact most faculty I have dealt with are amazed at the level of technology I use in my teaching. I use lecture capture, clickers with peer instruction in class, and quizzes and surveys using our LMS. Once again, there is no incentive to innovate, although there are prizes for teaching. Needless to say, the ones for faculty are ten times greater than ones for mere contract instructors.
My current university has a policy of globalization, in order to recruit overseas students, who pay three times the tuition. This means that prestige comes from research and a high place in international University league tables. In effect, current University policy puts all the incentives on research and very little on teaching, whether of the traditional or more technology based form.
My conclusions are that technology use is heavily dependent on both university strategy and on the institutional attitude to the scholarship of teaching and learning.
At Babson College we host a Technology “Boot Camp” in late August every year. This year saw over 110 faculty in attendance where they could choose from dozens of topics on new as well as tried-and-true technologies. The faculty here are very open to learning about and using technology in their teaching. There is no formal incentive for them but perhaps the student population drives them to stay current since they are all business entrepreneurship majors.
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