Is It Just Me?

Earlier this month I attended a UNESCO Educational Leaders Forum sponsored by Microsoft. The forum’s theme was thinking through the challenges that lie in the future of higher education and to focus on the vision, barriers, and strategies to address these challenges as they develop.

The vision discussed by a number of panelists (see ) was that we should be using technology enhanced active learning strategies to improve student learning. One of the primary barriers to doing this was a traditional faculty and organizational culture that relies on the lecture method as the primary instructional strategy.

Current approaches to broaden the instructional repertoires of faculty members include faculty workshops, summer leave, and individual consultations, but these approaches work only for those relatively few early adopter faculty members who seek out opportunities to broaden their instructional methods. The major problem is how to affect organizational culture as a whole so that most professors will be receptive to adopting active learning methods and using IT tools to enhance the effectiveness of these methods in their classes.

Addressing the problem of faculty resistance to using IT tools in active learning instructional strategies, James Morrison on July 21, 2008 at 2:36pm

I know I shouldn’t be so hard on my own tribe, but the myopia of academia drives me a little crazy sometimes. This is a fine piece, and it generated some interesting discussions. Clearly these are people who care about teaching and who have a lot of good ideas about how to improve it. Yet it’s a discussion that seems to happen in an ivory tower vacuum.

To make the void visible you just have to consider this idea of a “teacher who resists new technology” that lies at the heart of the debate engendered by the essay. They certainly don’t mean online education faculty, for example. In my experience, too, most community colleges have long since incorporated the computer and the web into their classrooms.

If there’s resistance at Community Colleges, it’s probably due to a lack of funding or a concern with student’s lack of access. They are also not talking about graduate students, or the adjuncts who teach the majority of classes in many subject areas, especially in the first few years of a degree plan. Unless they have a union, they have to take what they get, more or less.

The so-called junior faculty in public universities are likely a mixed bag. Most are perfectly comfortable with these new technologies, but not all of them feel it is appropriate in the classroom. There’s a kind of “reverse chic” phenomena too; it’s the same thing that created College Republican fads several times over the last three decades. Just say no to something.

So what this term means, to a large extent, is tenured and often reactionary faculty. They have the power and status necessary to resist the introduction of new technology into the classroom. Maybe that’s good in some ways: slowing down the system might help ameliorate pedagogical consumerism. Teachers, like everyone else, tend to want every shinny new toy.

In my experience, though, the real problem isn’t with what these faculty do in their classroom. History will just past them by in time. The real problems is that they too often see themselves as romantic refuseniks, last hold outs against the coming robot Apocalypse. Honestly, that’s hardly an exaggeration. That makes discussions of change nearly impossible.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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