Technology supported learning environments are becoming more commonplace in universities. Unfortunately, many students are not experiencing the benefits of technology-enhanced learning as professors are only beginning to make use of the available technologies in their teaching. The greatest challenge facing faculty is to become both knowledgeable about and proficient with a wide variety of technologies as well as with the possibilities of these technologies for both enhancing students’ learning. Here is where faculty professional development opportunities become very important. However, not all professional development experiences are equally as beneficial for faculty. In a survey of post secondary educators across Canada regarding faculty use of technology, Cuneo, Campbell and Harnish (2002) found that when in need of computing assistance the majority of faculty rely on their personal networks and their access to manuals. Almost half (40%) of those surveyed claimed that they would turn to colleagues and friends in their own departments and outside their department for help. Very few (20%) saw any benefit in one-shot workshops. Schad (2003) also found little benefit from one size fits all workshops. Cuneo et al. (2002) suggested that, "Colleges and universities might be wiser to invest in manuals and online help documentation and personal computing staff support rather than workshops and conferences, in order to assist their faculty with computing problems" (p. 3).
As shown in the Cuneo et al. Study (2002), most faculty professional development at the post secondary level tends to be of an ad hoc nature. It usually involves an interested individual who sees a personal need for a particular technology use and who seeks out someone more skilled with computers for help. To date, there have been few attempts to formalize these mentoring experiences. Judy Roberts and Associates (1999) recognized the dearth of professional development opportunities in ICT for university faculty. They stated that, “It is essential that faculty present models of teaching in which technology plays a role but it is difficult for them to do so if they do not have models of ICT practice readily available” (p. 8). Albion and Gibson (1998) recommended that one way to provide such models for faculty is through individual faculty sharing innovative teaching methods. This sharing of innovations can encourage others as "examples of effective practice with technologies may assist teachers to acquire the insights which will enable them to adapt their own practice" (Albion & Gibson, 1998, p. 1). All of these researchers noted that there needs to be more sharing of these examples of faculty professional development experiences regarding the integration of computer technologies. In this article I share my experiences as an Education faculty member and interested technology user designing a professional development tool to encourage faculty to use technology in their undergraduate teaching.
The Teaching with Technology in the Faculty of Education (TTFE) website [http://www.quasar.ualberta.ca/ttfe] was created by an interdisciplinary team of professional development experts and technology specialists. The website features the sharing of faculty stories with technology in order to encourage colleagues to think about how best to integrate technology into their teaching of their undergraduate courses. The author is hoping that some of the lessons learned throughout this process may be relevant to others in similar situations.
The Faculty of Education featured in this paper is one of the largest teacher preparation programs in Canada. The Faculty Technology Council at this institution has taken steps to encourage the use of computer technologies in the learning experiences of preservice teachers by creating a Faculty Technology Plan and by identifying the places where the provincially mandated Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Outcomes Program of Study from the Ministry of Learning (Alberta Learning, 2000) are currently being addressed in teacher education courses. The next challenge is to encourage all instructors in the program to use technology in their teaching. Many noteworthy attempts are being made by individual faculty to enhance their courses with the use of technology; however, there had been no provision made for sharing those ideas across the faculty. While one-on-one modeling and sharing can be an effective professional development experience, there has been little done to try to formalize these narratives and exemplars in a centralized fashion.
The goal of this project was to create a common space where technology integration ideas could be featured and instructors could be engaged in actively seeking out ways to teach in new technology enhanced environments. The main objective was to provide a professional development website that would be relevant, meaningful and supportive for all users, ranging from early adopters looking for new ideas to relative non-users. The resultant website would house a suite of online tools and resources that can be used by all Faculty of Education instructors including sessionals, graduate student teaching assistants and tenured faculty members for technology-related professional development.
The development of this website was enhanced by a review of the existing research literature on designing web-based experiences for adult learners. The work of Susan Imel (1994, 2001) was particularly informative as she provided some features that create an effective adult learning environment. These features included: a) providing a nonjudgmental and nonthreatening atmosphere in which the learner feels both safe and challenged; b) supporting collaborative networking, c) providing for active and flexible learning, d) focusing on relevancy, and e) emphasizing learning "with technology playing a supporting role" (Imel, 2001, p. 1). Each of these features was given serious consideration in the design of the TTFE site.
Oliver and Herrington's (2002) work was also instructive. They argued that "forms of learning design most appropriate to higher education are those based on constructivist learning principles" (Oliver & Herrington, 2002, p. 1501). They described a framework of three critical elements for online learning. These elements are "the learning tasks or the activities, problems, interactions used to engage the learners and upon which learning is based; the learning resources or the content, information and resources and the underpinning knowledge with which the learners interact and which needs to be accessible in a variety of ways and from a variety of perspectives; and, the learning supports or the schedules, scaffolds, structures, encouragements, motivations, assistances and connections used to support and guide learning" (Oliver & Herrington, 2002, p. 1501).
Scott (2003) added that learning needs to proceed in digestible chunks, needs to have flexible learning pathways and needs to link theory to practice. Race (1996) called for the inclusion of practical pointers, of materials that require active engagement and that are not meant to be just read; and the provision of introductory or background material rather than a lengthy treatise that busy academic staff do not have the time to read. Roberts et al. (1999) noted further that professional development opportunities should “reflect the realities of the participants’ situations” (p. v). They reiterated Fullan’s call for attention to collegial support systems in designing professional development opportunities in order to provide the emotional support that comes from working with colleagues. Stein (1998) addressed the need for scaffolds for new learners that vary in the type and intensity of guidance in order to assist the user in mastering the situation. Novak and Patterson (1998) called for a just-in -time approach to adult learning that uses communication technologies to add an extra dimension to the active learner environment. Mackenzie (1998) concurred that just-in-time support, assistance and encouragement when needed is the best way to win widespread use of new technologies.
This literature review provided some important considerations for designing an effective professional development model for our faculty. Of particular importance were the points raised about the need for a model for faculty professional development that is user friendly, flexible, interactive, succinct, relevant and practical.
Work on this project began in the late Fall of 2003 with a broad review of the international research literature on what is currently being done in terms of faculty PD and what is working best for changing practice and enhancing learning in the area of teacher education. Secondly, based on the advice of Roberts et al. (1999) and Imel (1994), who stressed the importance of obtaining a needs assessment "to get information about the amount and type of direction learners require" (p. 2), a formal needs assessment was conducted. In the early Winter of 2004, a focus group of instructors in the Faculty of Education, who were either currently not using technology in their teaching or were looking for new ways to use technology, met to talk about what they were doing in their courses to integrate technology and what their needs were in relation to technology integration. Several findings arising out of this needs assessment were used to determine what kind of PD experiences might be most useful for our faculty. These findings included the importance of collegial sharing, the need for continued faculty orientation regarding the possibilities for technology integration, and the concern about the amount of time that it often takes to learn to integrate technology.
The decision was made to design a website; one that is low risk, easily accessible and user friendly so the user can find something quickly to inform practice; that is supportive rather than directive; that allows for guided exploration of a repository of diverse models; that is open-ended rather than a one-way presentation of information; and, that is interactive rather than static so that the user has opportunities to comment and contribute. Through guided exploration, users are able to engage in exploring questions about a number of different technology enhanced learning environments. The site focuses primarily on tapping into the current expertise in our faculty. Featured on the site are vignettes of faculty members sharing their stories of technology integration. There is also be a built-in opportunity to engage with faculty members as peer coaches about pedagogical issues. Faculty can find teaching resources and examine ideas from other educational institutions as well.
The Teaching with Technology in the Faculty of Education (TTFE) website is based on an architectural metaphor. The homepage of the site features a picture of our faculty building that is intended to put the user immediately at ease. The user "enters" the faculty building by clicking on the elevator icon. Each of the remaining pages of the site is framed by the elevator image including a sidebar directory, floor selection buttons and a floor indicator on the top of each page. Once in the elevator, the user can select from six floors. The choice to go with this architectural metaphor was based on Imel's (2001) finding regarding the need for a nonthreatening, safe learning atmosphere. It was felt that having a familiar working environment would make this a less threatening, more user friendly experience especially for faculty just beginning to think about technology integration.
On the main floor, users are able to learn more about why the use of computer technologies should be an integral part of teaching and learning. Here, there is an About This Site section that describes the purpose for the site. The Some Theory section provides a brief synthesis of constructivist learning theory. This learning theory is featured because numerous research studies on effective integration of computer technologies in schools points to uses that support constructivist learning principles as being most effective for enhancing student learning (Jonassen, Howland, Moore & Marra, 2003). As Cameron White (1995) stated, "A constructivist, process orientation to teacher education is essential if we are to encourage students to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills and to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate knowledge, skills and attitudes" (p. 290). The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Outcomes section contains an overview of the technologies featured in the provincial Ministry of Learning ICT outcomes and a direct link to the Alberta Learning ICT Program of Study (2003) document. There is also a video vignette of a ministry representative who talks about what these outcomes are and why they are important to the education of children in the province. Users can also view a site map and get navigational information about the site. This decision was made because we wanted users to hear about the importance of addressing technology outcomes in order to better prepare our future teachers from a professional organization perspective. Finally, there is an option here to provide feedback on the site using an online feedback form.
The content of each of the remaining five elevator floors has been organized around categories of use. As recommended by Avril Loveless (2002), these categories "reflect the ways in which people work with ICT for particular purposes. They focus on the reasons for using ICT, not on a list of specific applications, software or resources" (p. 13). Under each category users can examine three examples of ways to integrate technology related to the particular category of use.
Category of Use
Retrieving and Synthesizing Information
Virtual Field Trips
Communicating and Collaborating
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Designing Instructional Materials
Creating course websites
Assessing and Evaluating
Online Assessment Methods
Test item banks
While visiting each of these floors, users are able to access several specific technology-related activities. The Department Office includes information about the specified activity. For example, on the communicating and collaborating floor there is a section on discussion boards which ahs the following information under the Department Office:
Discussion boards are a useful communication tool because they allow for the extension of the traditional classroom learning space by encouraging interaction among students, and between students and the instructor beyond the regular classroom time and space constraints. Such interactions provide students with the opportunity to "speak" without face-to-face inhibiting factors. Online conversations can also prompt reflection and help students to think about their ideas and how best to articulate those ideas so that they are clear to others. They can encourage self-checking for understanding, clarification of inaccuracies in one's expressed ideas, rethinking and reframing of prior ideas and moving students from being receivers of knowledge to being constructors of knowledge. Having reflective time before responding can also allow for more analytical and strategic responses to a problem.
The Instructor Office has a video vignette of a faculty member who is currently using that activity in his/her teaching. The Lab provides a set of instructions about where to begin using such an activity in one's own teaching. These instructions are given in varying degrees of difficulty from beginner to advanced. The Lounge has a discussion area where users can ask questions about the activity. The Library gives the user access to a number of sites that provide further examples of the activity. The same pattern is followed for each of the remaining floors.
The Teaching with Technology in the Faculty of Education website was completed in the summer of 2004. This fall, all faculty members are being introduced to the site at a Faculty Council meeting and through the faculty listserv. The next step is to undertake a formal assessment of the site's usefulness as a professional development tool. Such a study of the effectiveness of the site as a catalyst for encouraging faculty to envision the possibilities for technology integration in their teaching is currently underway. Three types of data are being collected as a part of this study in order to determine the effectiveness of the TTFE website as a professional development tool. One tool that is currently being developed is an online feedback form to be inserted into the home page of the website. Self-selected users will be able to fill this form out anonymously. It will feature questions such as: How easy was it to find the information that you were looking for on the TTFE website, Did the site help you to think about ways to integrate technology into your teaching, What problems did you encounter using the site, What were your favourite parts of the site, How helpful were the vignettes of faculty members, etc. Another data source will include a follow-up session with the focus group that was initially involved as part of a needs assessment at the beginning design stages of the website in order to get their sense of whether the site addresses the suggestions that were made in the initial focus group as well as what the focus group thinks about the site. A third data source will involve interviewing two or three faculty members using a “talk aloud” strategy as they are engaging with the website. This evaluation will hopefully provide information on both the site's user friendliness as well as its effectiveness as a professional development tool. Changes will be made to the site based on this feedback.
As of yet, the contribution of the TTFE website to the technology integration efforts of our faculty is unknown; however, it is hoped that through the use of this website we might be able to move our faculty forward as our instructors acquire a better sense of what they could do to enhance the use of computer-based technologies in their teaching. Glenn (2002) asks what can be considered to be viable models for preparing faculty to infuse technology into teacher education programs. Whether this model will be one of the viable ones remains to be seen.
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