May 04 2023

How Instructional Technology Is Impacting Higher Education

Universities are training instructional technologists to work in an evolving field — and using these lessons to improve teaching and learning.

The way we teach has undergone a massive shift in the past three years.

When the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated trends toward remote instruction, asynchronous learning and more, classrooms were inundated with new technologies that were intended to help. The sudden push forced higher education institutions sometimes reticent instructors to adopt these tools to facilitate teaching and learning whether they were in the classroom or not.

As everyone in higher education now knows, we’re not going back to pre-pandemic days. Technology is as vital to teaching as textbooks once were. Pedagogies already have evolved to wrap tech into instruction, ushering in the rapid growth of digital learning offices at colleges and universities.

Then there is the field of instructional technology. It’s a concept that’s been around for decades and considers everything from calculators to virtual reality tech tools that can and should help instructors in every subject and in almost every setting. Instructional technology represents a philosophy of teaching the teachers how to transmit their expertise to students.

“During the pandemic, instructional technology became a huge thing,” says Ray Pastore, a professor of instructional technology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “If a college didn’t have it, they suddenly realized, ‘Hey, we better learn how to do this, because we need someone to teach us how to teach online.’”

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What Is Instructional Technology?

“When someone says instructional technology, I think of a whole field,” Pastore says. “It’s a field that involves models, theories, processes, people working in it and a whole literature base around that.”

Through his work as a faculty member in UNC Wilmington’s instructional technology program, Pastore prepares tomorrow’s instructional technologists to enter what he says is a growing field, as evidenced by an uptick in enrollment in his program. His alumni may end up being called instructional technologists or take on another title. Still, nearly every organization — from big businesses to healthcare, the military, and K–12 and higher education — now needs someone in charge of explaining how to better train employees using tech tools.

In an effort to better explain what instructional technology is about, Pastore — who frequently posts videos about the field on his popular YouTube channel — delves into rocket science.

“The whole reason this field was started is that during World War II, the government realized our rocket scientists aren’t good at teaching rocket science. And they aren’t good at putting courses together on rocket science. And they don’t really have the time to put together courses on rocket science,” he says. “So, how can we get a middle person to do this?”

That middle person is an instructional technologist. Instructional technologists provide a bridge between experts and pupils, something that’s especially important in higher education, where many faculty members come into their positions with no background in education. They are experts in their fields, many of them doing cutting-edge research and almost all with valuable real-world experience, but translating that knowledge is not always easy.

Whether that means helping design courses, navigate a learning management system or review best practices for conducting lessons via collaboration software, instructional technologists are there to be a resource.

READ MORE: Learn five important skills to help faculty members improve their digital literacy.

How Does Instructional Technology Impact the Classroom?

When a faculty member meets with an instructional technologist, they will likely work through the ADDIE model of instructional design. The acronym represents five phases of putting a course together: analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation.

This work can include traditional course design and curriculum analysis, but from an instructional technology perspective, there also must be a focus on incorporating technology wherever it could be beneficial. Today’s HyFlex, hybrid and fully remote classrooms and instructional studios are loaded with hardware and software to give faculty members plenty of options. Instructional technologists can help narrow those options down and explain why one piece of technology may work better than another, or why one teaching method may be preferable to other options for a particular lesson.

Ray Pastore
When someone says instructional technology, I think of a whole field. It’s a field that involves models, theories, processes, people working in it and a whole literature base around that.”

Ray Pastore Professor of Instructional Technology, University of North Carolina Wilmington

“You find out what the best method is to present this, and a lot of times that’s using technology,” Pastore says. “Then, it’s what’s the best technology to use, and what are the best strategies to get people to learn? Is that gaming? Is that direct instruction? Is that different kind of videos? What kind of technologies are my participants used to, and what’s available to them? There are so many things that go into it.”

Pastore adds that everyone can use an assist from instructional technologists when designing courses, even him. He has the instructional design team at UNC Wilmington review his courses after he puts them together.

“I’d rather have them review my courses than anyone else, like another professor, because they’re experts in that. They’re consistently doing all kinds of stuff. It’s an ongoing process,” he says.

How Is Instructional Technology Changing?

The field of instructional technology is rooted in philosophy, such as the ADDIE model, more than in technology itself, Pastore says, because technology changes so quickly.

“The technology I learned when I got my master’s in instructional tech is gone. The technology that I’m teaching my students right now is going to be gone,” he says. “It’s why the base and knowledge of the field that doesn’t change is so important. What’s going to change is the tech, especially with ChatGPT and AI. It’s going to change significantly.”

That said, Pastore notes a few pieces of software that instructional technologists should be well versed in. The list starts with learning management systems and course design software, including Adobe Captivate and offerings from Articulate. He says instructional designers can also benefit from a bit of image editing experience and training in basic programming skills.

There is also the potential for artificial intelligence tools to work their way into instructional design, including ones that could generate their own courses without human input. Of course, someone will need to teach instructors how to use that AI, and someone will need to hold those trainings. That someone is probably trained in instructional technology.

UP NEXT: How Michelle Pacansky-Brock humanizes asynchronous learning.

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