Fear of education technology often prevents faculty from trying tools that might help their students learn better. But at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, IT staff are helping faculty overcome their fears through workshops and examples set by faculty who adopt technology early.
Over the past eight or nine years, academic technology staff have been hosting campus workshops on different technology tools. But this year is the first time that they've planned workshops out for the whole year. By doing detailed planning for the whole year, the Academic Technologies Department hopes to sustain the workshops and keep the momentum going, said Jim Jorstad, director of Information Technology Services-Academic Technologies at the university.
Recent workshops have included topics such as teaching with Twitter, podcasting in a library setting, and flipping the classroom to help students do better in math before they get to college. They've also done workshops on working with TurnItIn, developing collaborative spaces and engaging students with iClickers.
With these efforts, university IT staff hope to show faculty some technology tools that can make a difference in their classrooms and ultimately spread throughout their departments.
"One of our jobs is to allay the fears of faculty members because so much gets thrown at them," Jorstad said.
While not everyone comes to the technology workshops, those who do end up trying different technology tools in their classrooms, which sets an example for other faculty in their department to follow.
Brad Seebach, an associate professor in biology at the university, has enjoyed technology throughout his life. Two and a half years ago, he came to one of the workshops on Mediasite after seeing the hardware for it show up in different classrooms.
By recording his lectures through Mediasite, students in his human anatomy and physiology classes can review parts of the lecture they didn't understand and watch them if they miss class.
"They can see that I trust them with a raw recording of my lecture, and I'm willing to put myself out there, so they're oftentimes more willing to share with me," Seebach said.
At first, he was worried that attendance would drop because he posted lectures later the same day. But his attendance rate hasn't changed from the approximately 90 percent rate he had before. That's partly because he includes group discussion about big questions in his class and requires each group to turn in a written response. Activities like this encourage students to come so they can participate.
By attending the workshop, he became more comfortable with what the system could do. Faculty who are open to innovation in the classroom will attend the workshops, while those who are comfortable with the way they're doing things won't, Seebach said.
As one of the first adopters of Mediasite in the Biology Department, he's worked out the bugs and talked about its benefits quite a bit.
"The initial opinion that I got from most of my colleagues with regard to use of Mediasite was, 'Why would I want to record all of my lectures?' Seebach recalled. 'That's a way that somebody's going to replace me.' They're oftentimes driven more by fear of what the change might mean that's unpredictable than they are by the thought of what the gain might be."
Nearly three years later, about half of the 20 faculty in the department are recording their lectures. And as students experience classes with faculty who are recording, they're asking their professors to start using it.
When someone introduces new technology, it can take years for that technology to become pervasive in classrooms, partially because of financial reasons, but also because it takes time to change people's opinions. But eventually, the technology will become embedded in most classes, just like academia has seen with PowerPoint, Seebach said.
"If you introduce things slowly, then people will come around to it, and they'll start to see what the advantages are versus the disadvantages and the fears."