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March 14, 1996

OPINION / Brenda Manning

A time for faculty to learn Have you noticed the little message on the UNIX log-in screen — "The busiest time for this group of modems is 9:00 p.m. to midnight?" No kidding! The lag in connect time seems to take ever so slightly longer every week as more Pitt faculty, staff and students discover the fascinations, complications and potentials of the Internet.

Pitt is not alone. Results of the sixth annual Campus Computing Survey (Kenneth C. Green, Claremont Graduate School) show that in 1995 the proportion of faculty with direct personal access to computers grew to over 50 percent. The proportion of freshmen who came into college with some computing experience increased to over 50 percent. Over 15 percent of U.S. faculty now use information technology in teaching — but 75 percent of all undergraduate education still consists of traditional teaching methods: lecture, in-class discussion, etc.

Green and Steve Gilbert, director of Technology Projects for the American Association of Higher Education, suggest that 1995 was the year in which educational uses of information technology passed from the "innovators and early adopters" stages into the "mainstream" stage. As a result, they suggest that e-mail and the World Wide Web are bringing computing into instruction the way that word processing brought computing into personal use for students and faculty in the 80s.

These "mainstream" technology adopters typically enter the world of computer-related technologies by: adapting existing course materials to computer-driven projection devices, learning from a colleague how to use a specific application of information technology to teach a specific topic in a specific course better than possible otherwise, "almost casually" introducing e- mail into a course as a slight enhancement to student-teacher communication. Faculty report that even this simple use of e-mail increases the participation from categories of students often underrepresented in class discussions (women, minorities, speakers of English as a second language, shy people).

What's the price? Faculty who use e-mail to supplement communication report "significant increases" in workloads … along with "expressions of pleasure and pride" about the changes in learning that follow. For faculty, as well as students, there is a complex learning curve with new technologies. Successful adaptation of an information resource technology is never an "add on": technologies have a way of stretching things, generating new processes and questions. And "a" technology can't be adopted in absence of an instructional context — disciplinary content, learner and teacher characteristics, environment, and technology are interdependent. E-mail may work as an enlivening, exciting tool for one instructional task but be perceived as "make work" for another task.

This is a time for Pitt faculty to be learners. When it comes to adopting/adapting educational information technology, it's not about "doing more with less"; it's about doing MORE with MORE. For faculty this will mean more ingenuity, more collaboration with institutional support staff (computer, instructional development, and media support services), more departmental initiatives to integrate technologies in teaching, more learning about connections between technologies, course design and teaching/learning strategies, more attention to student learning (as opposed to teacher teaching), and more sharing of successful strategies with colleagues. Higher education institutions don't have the resources anymore — if they ever did — to provide today's "mainstream" technology adopters the level of support services the "innovators" and "early adopters" enjoyed in the 1980s. Today's faculty will have to be canny, interdependent, resourceful and strategic to squeeze the best teaching/learning solutions out of e-mail, World Wide Web, CD-ROM, distance education, presentation software, and so on.

A good place to learn more about "low-tech" as well as "high-tech" methods to enhance teaching and learning is Pitt's Second Annual Teaching Excellence Conference, "Teaching with Technology," to be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, March 29, at the UPMC Conference Center, 11th floor Scaife Hall. The conference is by and for the Pitt community and is sponsored by the University Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education. Pitt faculty and staff will present, in workshops, demonstrations, panels, and individual sessions, their proven ideas and techniques for teaching with technology. Representatives from the PC Center, CIS, Cathedral Publishing, the University Library System, The Book Center, and CIDDE will answer questions and provide information about their services. Attend for the whole day or just for an hour! For more information and registration materials for the conference, call 624-6592.

Brenda Manning is a faculty development specialist, Center for Instructional Development & Distance Education.

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