Oct 03 2019

Q&A: Meggan Levitt on Creating a Faculty Culture of Technology Adoption

The University of California, Davis leader reveals how IT can help build campus communities that foster the effective use of educational technology.

Meggan Levitt, the assistant vice provost and associate CIO for academic applications at the University of California, Davis believes that creating learning communities for faculty to discuss and explore classroom technology is key to adoption

EdTech spoke with Levitt on how to implement such efforts. 

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EDTECH: What trends are you seeing with classroom technology adoption?

LEVITT: We are seeing a lot of classroom technology adoption in the early undergraduate space. It’s solving issues of engagement in large classes. 

There is still room for figuring out its application in higher-level courses and thinking through how we work technology into lab environments — not research labs, but students who have to take a lab as part of a course. There is still room for adoption, but it qualifies as a mature space. There’s a lot happening on campuses. 

EDTECH: What are the main challenges facing colleges and universities as it relates to adopting and effectively using classroom technology?

LEVITT: From a student perspective, it’s the wireless infrastructure. Students bring more than one device, so you have sheer bandwidth issues.

Faculty increasingly want to do more active-learning activities and use technology. But if you have a large class of 300 students getting on the same handful of access points, that is an inhibitor. So, you have to think about the actual infrastructure to allow active learning. 

As it relates to issues of inequity, who is bringing devices to campus? Some students have devices and some don’t. 

Not only that, if faculty members use a particular tool in class like an online discussion board that students have to engage with a vendor separately, then it needs to be identified as course material for students to be able to use financial aid to pay for it.

EDTECH: How can higher education address these challenges? How can you ensure that classroom technology investments pay off?

LEVITT: We are not in the ROI world in education. We install something, and it hangs out there for quite a long time. A better way to evaluate it is to ask, “How do I ensure it is meeting expectations?” 

We constantly check in with faculty, doing classroom surveys, figuring out what is working and getting faculty input on new builds, because we will do another build in the future and we want to see what is working. We are in the business of education, so we are constantly learning from the process.

You also have to think about building in processes that inform the faculty. For example, with the wireless issue, it’s fabulous if they want to use clicker technology. 

But explain the limitations so they know they shouldn’t use it for high-stakes testing. Use it for quizzing, engagement and making sure people come prepared for class. But don’t assign 30 percent of students’ grades to it because there are going to be some failures.

There could be some technical failure with somebody’s device. If you don’t want to deal with every minor issue, you can just drop the lowest quiz score for the semester. There are strategies for dealing with the limitations. 

EDTECH: What is the best way to offer faculty training?

LEVITT: The reality is faculty learns from faculty. You find your faculty champions, and they will go out and sell it for you. They will go back to their departments and say their students love it. They will write that in the evaluation and the word gets out. 

In my unit and in our academic technology service, we have a faculty forum every month where faculty come and discuss how they are using technology. That’s the faculty-listening-to-faculty piece that is so important. 

If you build a coalition of the willing that can share with those who are interested, that’s where you get the growth. They will start connecting with each other. As IT professionals, we should catalyze the connections and not force ourselves on them as the experts. Help them learn from each other.

So, it’s building learning communities on campus, but also working with our Center of Educational Effectiveness. When I was at the University of California, Berkeley we called it the Center for Teaching and Learning. 

This is a common resource at universities. Specialists help faculty with pedagogy and help them learn how to teach and use analytics. As we reach certain populations, are students performing in certain academic paths? It helps leadership make decisions around effective teaching on campus. 

From an IT perspective, you have to partner with these centers. Some of these units are actively in technology departments. 

Some are outside. Through one-on-one consultations, they show faculty what tools are available and get them interested in new ways of teaching. Every faculty member approaches it differently based on their discipline, but having that consultation piece is important.

EDTECH: Anything else that can increase adoption?

LEVITT: Technology integration through standards also helps. The learning management system was once this big behemoth that you built. Now with standards like the IMS Global Learning Consortium’s LTI protocol, the LMS is an organizing force that you can integrate other tools onto. It’s more of an ecosystem now. 

Giving faculty a choice in which tools they use is key for their adoption. They pick the tools that come from the publishers or disciplines they trust, so it’s really a way IT people can build an ecosystem of tools. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out these seven tips to construct your own active learning classroom.

EDTECH: What classroom technologies are expected by students today?

LEVITT: We have a lot of presentation technology: screens and projectors. We also have lecture capture. Cameras are controlled remotely by students who record lectures that will automatically appear in their LMS. Students can go back and review things they missed in class. This is especially important for students who use English as a second language. We’ve seen enormous usage.We also have high adoption of the LMS, with quizzing, assignments and discussions happening on it, along with a lot of content delivery. It’s being used to communicate

Megan Levitt
If you build a coalition of the willing that can share with those who are interested, that’s where you get the growth."

Megan Levitt Assistant Vice Provost and Associate CIO for Academic Applications, University of California

with students and probably one of the systems that students never tune out. They tend to tune out email and other stuff, but the LMS is still a captive way to reach your students. 

EDTECH: What cutting-edge technologies are being implemented by more forward-thinking schools or professors?

LEVITT: There are individual pockets of innovation happening all over campus. This is certainly the case at Berkeley. Our students are often our best source of innovation. 

They are coding and developing apps. There’s an emerging tool called Gradescope developed at UC Berkeley by a Berkeley graduate. It’s a tool that’s gained a lot of popularity in the STEM field and allows for grading formulas and integration with LMSes. 

I see my job as leader being to keep a close eye on the innovation and to ask, at some point, “Is it something we have to support on an enterprise level?” 

EDTECH: Classroom technology places an additional burden on IT staff and help desks. How should higher education address this issue?

LEVITT: Many software vendors offer 24/7 support. At UC Davis, we have a help desk, but it runs on university hours, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

To maximize efficiency, you want the service desk focused on Tier 1 issues, and if it gets complicated, they can escalate it to the application vendors

You can make arrangements so faculty can connect to vendors directly. We also have three faculty support professionals that faculty can have an appointment with if they want to work through issues.

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