z Wayne Brent teaches courses on emerging technologies and social computing and is senior consultant to the Office of Instruction and Assessment at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He recently earned a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.

Supporting Today's Educators with Technology

IT can play a leading role in rolling out the smart classroom.

The role of information technology in higher education is evolving. It is not just about providing infrastructure services, access to technology, backups and security. Today, IT departments at colleges need to support faculty's instructional design efforts and help them look for creative ways to engage learners and assess learning outcomes.

Technology is a tool that can both facilitate learning and track the data necessary for assessment and reflective teaching. IT needs to be aware of and ready for the impact that tech-based education has on instructional IT services, specifically providing capacity, flexibility, access, development resources and support.

IT is about providing capacity for instruction. Capacity is the ability to empower faculty to design and facilitate instruction to effectively meet their needs. Capacity supports flexible learning environments.

Access to the latest classroom technology is important so faculty can share resources and interact with their students. Faculty members need additional server space, applications and labs where they can try out ideas, create resources and experiment with new and emerging technologies. IT can support these efforts with help and training that reduces the time needed to learn and create resources.

Engage the Students

In addition to providing technology and support to faculty, IT must also ensure access for students. Computer labs equipped with scanners, cameras, video equipment and connectivity for notebooks and mobile devices are important tools that students use to create and deliver examples of what they have learned. Students need multiple opportunities to shoot, edit, analyze, critique and share their academic creations.

Many students are visual learners. This is more pronounced in today's students, who grew up with music videos and interactive games and video on the Internet. The best way to teach these students is to engage them visually. Have them create a video or develop a website as part of their regular homework, and you'll see interest and participation grow.

While most faculty members can run standard office applications, browse the web and access e-mail, less common are those who know how to integrate synchronous technologies such as polling, online chat and discussion boards into their courses. Among faculty who have such knowledge, most still need coaching.

Some professors fear that they will lose control of their classrooms – that with ubiquitous wireless access, students will be distracted, checking their e-mail or Facebook accounts instead of paying attention to the lesson. Some professors have been known to ask the IT staff to disable wireless access during their classes to encourage students to focus on lectures and classroom activities and to prevent cheating.

One way to curtail such an extreme response is to identify faculty members who see the benefits of incorporating technology in their teaching. Seek out teachers who've had success with technology and ask them to share their experiences, whether in face-to-face group discussions or on blogs or social media websites. Professors may be less apt to object to students bringing notebooks to their classes if their peers can show them examples of where it has actually improved the educational experience or saved valuable time and resources.
Colleges can support cross-campus communities and faculty mentoring. These communities may consist of faculty; instructional and assessment support; central and decentralized technology and infrastructure support; student services; and the library.

As more technology is integrated into college classrooms, there will always be some faculty members who resist change. What makes sense for now is to have the professors who embrace technology mentor other faculty members and use web-based tools so faculty can learn about new technology on their own time. Most faculty will change their approach as current practice and institutions demand. To empower the faculty, it is IT's job to deliver an environment that supports their needs.

May 24 2010

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