Feb 17 2015

Faculty and IT Partnerships That Work

Stop complaining that IT and faculty don’t work well together and start adopting these best practices for successful collaboration.

We read time and time again how IT and faculty can't seem to see eye to eye when it comes to meeting the students' and instructors' ever-changing technology needs.

The disconnect apparently is so prevalent that it should come as no surprise that an EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issue in 2015 concerns optimizing the use of technology in teaching and learning.

Alas, there is no panacea when it comes to bridging the gap between faculty and IT, nor is it an issue that IT teams can tackle in a vacuum. It truly takes a village to address this considerable challenge — multiple individuals, departments and divisions working together to promote a consistent message of technology adoption, use and innovation. By partnering with others across campus and beyond to better support faculty using technology for teaching, learning and scholarship, the IT team at St. Norbert College takes just such an approach. Here are a few of the more successful strategies we've discovered.

Build partnerships on and off campus

As is the case with many IT organizations, St. Norbert's academic technology department does not have enough staff to provide ongoing faculty technology training and tech support. When embarking on our partnership, we also faced a legacy credibility issue and a deep-rooted history of mistrust between faculty and IT. By forming internal and external partnerships, we are overcoming such issues.

On campus, we formed partnerships with the library, the faculty development office and an academic affairs task force, the Digital Learning Initiative (DLI), to hold joint, open office hours; create incentives; offer workshops; and promote successes.

Off campus, we sought out like-minded institutions within our geographic region and formed an alliance to advance technology-enabled teaching and learning under the premise that, together, we could accomplish things that any one institution alone could not. The alliance recently won a grant that supports faculty, library and IT team development of a blended and hybrid learning project across four colleges.

Promote faculty-led initiatives

On many campuses, faculty input into academic technology often begins and ends with naming faculty members to IT governance committees or task forces. We do that at St. Norbert as well, but another effective strategy is asking faculty to lead their colleagues in academic technology application and use. Our faculty-led DLI task force is currently working to define the role of technology in instruction and promote its effective use across campus.

Working with the DLI, we have created a new digital fellow role and offer course release or a stipend for the position. The digital fellow is a faculty member who serves as a leader, exemplar and agent of change for his or her faculty colleagues, promoting a sense of community, collaboration and cultural change when it comes to technology.

This year, our digital fellow created a working group for other faculty members to explore ways to transform teaching with technology. Faculty participants are expected to meet regularly throughout the semester and design or redesign a future course to incorporate innovative, technology-enabled pedagogies. Using the program as a model, we worked with another faculty member who was interested in flipping her course and forming a peer-led working group focused on the flipped classroom.

In both of these instances, our academic technology team operates behind the scenes, providing faculty leads with whatever support they need to run their groups and collaborating with participants to provide technology, training and other instructional support.

Provide incentives and rewards

Incentives are proving instrumental in encouraging our faculty to try new technologies and associated pedagogical practices. The participants in the faculty-led working group each receive a very small stipend for their participation. A course redesign grant — one of several created through a DLI, IT, faculty development and academic affairs team partnership — offers faculty a stipend to redesign a course with the goal of enhancing student achievement and learning outcomes through the incorporation of technology.

Rethink your training programs

Many institutions develop extensive tech training programs but struggle to entice faculty to attend. St. Norbert is no different. We used to offer dozens of monthly workshops, only to see one to three attendees. Working with our academic technology advisory group, we've started to rethink and redesign these programs.

Training now starts at new faculty orientation, where we host a joint session with the library. Between orientation and the start of classes we offer daily drop-in labs that provide one-on-one support on any technology for new and returning faculty.

Upon the advice of our advisory committee, we also host training sessions in academic buildings — where faculty offices are located — making it more convenient for them to receive assistance. We proactively invite specific faculty members to targeted trainings; for example, anyone who is assigned to room 123 for the semester can receive dedicated training on specific equipment there.

Course redesign grant recipients can take part in a dedicated, two-day workshop to learn about technologies and pedagogies relevant to their proposals. We are making a concerted effort to shift to more intensive, focused and longer programs as well as online training videos, rather than offering a plethora of one-hour workshops.

Last summer we hosted our first Transformative Teaching and Technology conference, a one-day event that featured St. Norbert faculty using technology in innovative ways to transform the teaching and learning experience.

As we grow in our ability to improve technology training, we continue to find new ways to work closely with faculty to offer direct instruction and support for them — and their students — in the classroom. It's important for all institutions to work to ensure faculty are empowered to not only use instructional technology, but also assist their students during class.

Andy Roberts/Glow Images

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