With mobile and wearable technology increasing in popularity, higher education leaders are working with faculty to figure out which technology helps them improve the teaching and learning experience.
It's especially important to help develop faculty who fall in the middle between pioneers and luddites on the innovation adoption curve, said Malcolm Brown, director of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. By adopting a learner-centered approach to faculty development, universities can think of faculty as life-long learners and string together courses to make a curriculum for their professional education.
Mobile and wearable technology presents a unique opportunity to engage students and try out devices with smaller form factors. And it also poses a warning: Be entrepreneurial and innovative without being reckless or losing sight of institutional objectives including teaching and learning.
"It's kind of finding a balance point between, say, strategic steadiness and being experimental and perhaps not being afraid to fail by testing out some of the latest gadgets," Brown said.
As the senior director of the Teaching and Learning Technologies group at Pennsylvania State University, Jennifer Sparrow encourages faculty to identify what they want students to know and be able to do by the end of the course. Then they can mix and match their teaching talents and learning goals with a potential technology tool.
By beginning with the learning goal, faculty members can really analyze what they're doing, what they would like to improve and what pieces of technology have the potential to help them.
"Every conversation starts with what's good teaching and learning, and how can we help you get there," Sparrow said.
Penn State takes a three-pronged approach to preparing faculty for new learning technology efforts:
1. Bring new technology to campus for them to experiment with as soon as possible.
2. Pull together instructional designers, programmers and others to think about how technology could allow them to do something differently in classrooms and research.
3. Develop long-term relationships with faculty to understand their challenges and creatively problem-solve with the help of technology.
"Sometimes part of the challenge is just getting it [technology] in the hands of faculty so they can dream big," Sparrow said.
Through a Faculty Fellows program, the university awards grants to four or five faculty members who are interested in piloting emerging technology. While the university's been doing a good job of holistically looking at supporting teaching and learning with these pilots, the Teaching & Learning Technologies group would now like to figure out how to make a broader impact in the Penn State community.
This year, they're working with fellows who are exploring wearable technology, 3-D printing and digital badges, among other things. For example, Rayne A. Sperling, an associate professor of educational psychology, is piloting eight Apple Watches this fall in a large class to see whether it will help students self-regulate their learning. That basically means that students can monitor their learning progress and use specific strategies to learn independently.
In the pilot, the students will receive messages on the watch asking how they're studying, who they're studying with and where they're studying.
"One of the neat parts about using wearables in this way is that they don't create this obstruction between the learner and whatever they're learning in the same way that a phone or a tablet or even a laptop does," said Kyle Bowen, director of Education Technology Services at Pennsylvania State University.
Researchers will gather their responses and present the data back to the students in a visual format so they can reflect on their practices. And then they'll be able to see whether reflecting on the visual representation of their activities is more effective than student blogging or other reflective learning approaches.
In these learning technology pilots, it's important to help faculty understand what they're trying to improve about the learning experience, how to assess the impact of any changes, and how that lines up with the intended course outcomes. On top of that, the team needs to talk at the beginning about opportunities to scale the technology if it's successful.
Ultimately effective faculty development with wearables comes down to keeping learning at the center, supporting faculty with a team of skilled collaborators and wisely experimenting with different emerging technology to see if it helps students learn.