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March 14, 1996

OPINION / Ken Sochats

Faculty shun technology Why don't more faculty use technology in teaching? Technophobia is the answer. Or, it's the popular or politically correct answer. As one who has never been accused of being politically correct, and usually not even correct, I would like to suggest several other potential answers based upon my experience and interaction with colleagues throughout the University.

In fact, what follows are the top 10 reasons (borrowing from David Letterman) why I think faculty don't use technology. Like David, I have (hopefully) added some humor to each of these reasons. My intent is not to offend anyone too deeply but to point out that this is a complex issue and we all have some blame to share. Also, I would like to point out that the University has recently made great strides in some of these areas. The reasons are ordered in what I believe to be the increasing magnitude of importance.

No. 10: Faculty apathy and provincialism. Some faculty are not willing to invest the time or effort it takes to use information technology in their teaching. At the same time, some consciously or unconsciously stand in the way of those who are willing.

No. 9: Infrastructure. Very few of our classrooms have the capability of supporting technology in teaching. Those that do have been retrofitted and generally are of an inappropriate size, shape or layout and lack the necessary lighting control. It seems that our classroom designers were either theatre or warehouse architects.

No. 8: Technical skills. Too few faculty members have access to and are properly trained to use technology.

No. 7: Technological awareness and expectations. The new technologies enable new paradigms of teaching and disable some of the current teaching methodologies. Some people approach the introduction of technology with a substitution mentality (e.g., e-mail is a substitute for office hours or an electronic bulletin board is equivalent to a lecture). The newer technologies bear a high cost. What we need to understand is which technologies are effective and efficient in which teaching situation.

No. 6: Support. The basic assumption of the support services is one of "Ask and ye shall (maybe) receive." Getting service is a function of finding out if a service exists, whether you can request the service, who provides the service, how much it costs, where the service is provided as well as getting there. Some services should be automatic. When a new faculty member is hired, he or she should automatically get a computing account. Some services are not oriented to a teaching calendar or schedule. Services should find and adapt to faculty.

No. 5: Budget(ing). Budgeting for teaching technology seems to be done according to the Fertilizer Model: Use a little and spread it around. Funding must be increased and funds need to be focused on projects that will advance institutional objectives for teaching. We need to avoid the temptation of rewarding marginal proposals in order to spread the wealth. Right now, the development and offering of a course with high-tech content and presentation is time-consuming and expensive. There are few existing resource materials that can be assembled into a course. Each new high-tech course must be hand-crafted.

No. 4: Goals. I did a small survey of my faculty colleagues from which I concluded that there are not well-defined goals, objectives and strategies for developing and introducing technology into teaching. Or, if there are, they have not been communicated to those of us who are expected to implement them.

No. 3: The Bureaucracy. A while back I had a class where I wanted to use a VHS VCR and monitor. After several phone calls, forms, budget numbers, approvals, confirmations, etc. I got my VCR. One week later I got a survey asking how the VCR performed and if it showed up on time. One colleague gave up in frustration half way through this process. My telephone and a little plastic card have empowered me to do a lot of things in a lot of organizations — but not here at Pitt.

No. 2: It's the Wrong Question. Time spent actually teaching in the classroom is a minor part of the total time required by a course. A three-credit course involves three hours of lecture per week and a minimum of three times as much in planning, preparation, grading and other course related activities. The imbalance increases as class sizes grow. The application of technologies applied to these areas has the potential to create many more benefits than classroom-based technologies.

No. 1: The Reward System. Teaching is not recognized as a significant determining factor in raises, promotions or tenure. This is either a universal truth or the most widely held faculty paranoid delusion.

The good news is that none of these reasons is powerful enough to stop the introduction of teaching technology. We are caught in the middle of the technological revolution. Each year our incoming students are becoming more and more technologically adept and equipped. They are going to expect the use of technology in the classroom, in the fields that they study and in their lives as students. On our output side, employers are expecting the students that they recruit to be technologically savvy. We must be the bridge that transports our students to the land of the high-tech organization.

Ken Sochats is an assistant professor in the Department of Information Science and Telecommunications, School of Information Science. He will be the keynote speaker at Pitt's second annual Teaching Excellence Conference on March 29. This year's conference will focus on "Teaching With Technology."

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