Instructional technology departments are helping faculty use multimedia technologies to overcome educational challenges.
The instructional technology staff at Tallahassee Community College in Florida has moved beyond just providing audiovisual equipment for classrooms.
Today, staff members assist and train faculty in creating Web sites, Microsoft PowerPoint presentations and other multimedia presentations for their classes. They offer workshops on designing and teaching online courses, and are installing desktop computers, projectors, VCRs and DVD players in every classroom on campus. The staff also offers immediate help desk support should equipment go awry mid-lecture.
“It’s important to take a multisensory approach to engage students,” says Chad Call, director for instructional technology at Tallahassee Community College. “You see a huge difference in student learning.”
Instructional technology departments are playing an increasingly larger role on community college campuses as faculty seek to spice up their lectures with multimedia technology and as online classes become more popular, requiring instructors to teach in a new medium in which online forums replace in-class discussions.
Community colleges can bolster their efforts to improve student transfer rates to four-year universities by using educational technology, says Amit Schitai, director of distance learning and instructional technology at Long Beach City College in California. The goal of instructional technology is to find multimedia solutions to instructional challenges encountered in class, he adds.
“Ninety percent of our students need basic skills in math, reading and information literacy, and our transfer rate to four-year colleges is very low,” Schitai notes. “That’s where technology can really make a difference.”
Custom interactive coursework available on CD or on the Web helps students comprehend course material. Distance learning also gives working adults, single parents and people with disabilities the flexibility to take courses from home and at their own pace, Schitai says.
Over the years, instructional technology leaders have developed numerous techniques on the best ways to train and support faculty, foster good relationships with faculty, and evaluate and decide which new technologies to make available.
Building Trust and Credibility
At Tallahassee Community College, two-thirds of the nearly 530 full-time and adjunct faculty members use technology in their classrooms. To increase participation, it’s critical to build trust with instructors by staying in regular contact and offering frequent workshops and one-on-one training sessions, says Call.
“Visibility is important,” he says. “If they know who we are and know that our staff will ensure that the technology will work and that we will help them use it, then they will be more willing to try new things.”
An important best practice is to have staff members who are experts in their field and are patient and supportive, Call adds. That, in turn, builds credibility with faculty. “They need to create a warm, welcoming environment and make faculty feel comfortable and not embarrassed to ask for help,” he explains.
To market instructional technology services and boost participation, Russ Adkins, associate vice president of instructional technology at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Broward Community College, recommends publishing newsletters that highlight successful instructional technology projects and announce upcoming training workshops.
“The primary thing we market is the faculty doing cool stuff,” Adkins says.
“The newsletters reinforce everything we’re doing from the perspective of the end user. Instead of talking about what we do, we talk about the consequences of what we do.”
The department recently launched a blog, which keeps the faculty informed about department news, the latest technologies, upcoming conferences and other timely announcements.
Instructional technology departments must offer small hands-on workshops, where faculty learn to create a product, such as Web pages or PowerPoint presentations, at the end of a two-to-three-hour training session, Schitai says.
When Schitai arrived at Long Beach City College 11 years ago, he offered workshops that were typically attended by 20 or more faculty members. But when he surveyed the participants, some were having trouble integrating what they learned into lessons they could use in their classrooms.
Today, he limits enrollment to eight faculty members to provide a more student-centered, product-oriented workshop. Now, he says, when instructors leave the workshops, they’re able to implement instructional technology in their classes.
Faculty members who say they don’t have time to devote to learning and using instructional technology are a major stumbling block. To overcome that barrier, instructional technology departments should offer to collaborate or do the technical work for them. For example, at Long Beach City College, faculty can drop off photos, audio and video. Schitai’s media production team will scan in the photos, digitize and edit the audio and video, and team up with faculty to build instructional Web activities — for no fee.
Instructional technology departments also can draw faculty members to workshops by scheduling the sessions in the mid-to-late afternoon, adds Broward’s Adkins, since most instructors teach in the morning and early afternoon.
Broward Community College has five full-time instructional technology staffers who specialize in instructional design, e-learning and mobile technologies, such as Tablet PCs and personal digital assistants. They regularly teach workshops on creating podcasts, PowerPoint presentations and Web sites. They also train faculty on using distance learning management software and on designing online courses, including tasks such as adding reading materials, video clips and online forums for group discussions.
To augment his staff, Adkins has created a faculty mentoring program, where 20 tech-smart faculty members each advise two instructors for a year. At the end of the school year, the mentees complete an instructional technology initiative.
At Long Beach, instructional technology staffers create interactive coursework to help students better understand material. For example, Schitai and the nursing faculty developed an interactive coursework program that includes a video of a patient being interviewed with questions from a two-page nursing care form. The program shows a copy of the form where students fill in the answers. The CD program helps students practice real-life scenarios in the classroom.
Faculty members should integrate interactive courseware programs into their curriculum, Schitai adds, because, if the programs are optional, they will not have as significant an impact on students.
Training the Trainers
To provide good service, instructional technology departments need to keep their staff well-trained and up to date with the latest technologies, says Call, who has 14 full-time and 10 part-time staffers at Tallahassee and an approximate $1 million annual budget from the administration for instructional technology expenditures.
Call encourages his staff to attend conferences and cross-trains them, so they can fill in for each other if one needs to attend a training session. For example, the technician who handles help desk phone calls sometimes goes with the engineer when he installs technology in the classrooms. That way, the technician can fill in if the engineer is at a conference.
With other specialties, such as multimedia, part-time staffers who are well-versed in video editing, Web design and graphics software can fill in for full-time staff. Cross-training also ensures that the instructional technology department can operate efficiently when staffers are sick or on vacation.
Another best practice is to provide immediate help desk support to faculty members if the technology is not working properly. At Tallahassee, the goal is to have a help desk staffer in the classroom within five minutes to fix a problem, Call says.
The college is beginning to install control panels that remotely manage all classroom technology devices, such as computers and projectors. That way, help desk staffers can remotely troubleshoot the systems over the campus network.
Community colleges should not be on the bleeding edge of technology, Call advises. Rather, they should make sure technology is proven before making a big purchase. “I like to be an innovator, but we need to be careful to adopt technologies that are practical,” he says.
Call stays abreast of the latest technologies by reading journals, attending conferences, and being open to suggestions from staff and faculty members. As a result of a suggestion from a part-time instructional technology staffer last year, the department now teaches the faculty how to podcast. And the school is piloting audience response systems because of a faculty member’s suggestion.
“Things can come up midyear, and if I can afford it, I’ll get one and see if it works,” Call says. “It’s great to get faculty involved in evaluating and piloting technology.”
Call holds a staff meeting in the summer to discuss future plans. He also meets regularly with a college technology committee — made up of faculty, staff and the campus IT department — to discuss one- and five-year goals that include plans to upgrade classroom equipment.
Of course, funding is part of any planning efforts. Schitai says Long Beach City College pays for staffing and basic resources, but the instructional technology department relies heavily on outside grants to fund tech projects. He recommends that community colleges apply for grants to augment their instructional technology budget.
Schitai has succeeded in all his grant proposals because he applies for grants that benefit educational institutions nationwide. “My secret is always to make my grants available free to anyone who wants them,” he says.
Schitai created an interactive online training course on how to accommodate students with disabilities. The course, used by his school’s Disabled Students Programs and Services office and customizable by other community colleges, was paid for in part by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.
Overall, the key to creating a successful instructional technology department is to focus on students and their learning needs.
“Always keep students your priority,” Schitai says. “You can’t let technology or vendors dictate what’s good for your students. Be in touch with faculty and the challenges they encounter, find out what students really need and then find the technology to fit those needs. If you focus on that, it’s hard to fail.”
Wylie Wong is a veteran technology writer based in Phoenix.
Best Practices Checklist
Here’s how an instructional technology staff can help faculty be tech-savvy:
• Publish informative newsletters and blogs to foster faculty participation.
• Offer the staff group workshops and one-on-one training.
• Survey faculty members or hold meetings on how to improve training and other offerings.
• Because most faculty teach in the morning and early afternoon, schedule workshops in the mid-to-late afternoon.
• Create a Web site that provides faculty with a one-stop resource on workshop schedules, training materials and contact information for instructional technology staff.
• Apply for grants to fund your technology projects.