Economics Professor Starts Designing Tools for Faculty That Meet Their Needs

While billions of dollars pour into campus enterprise technology and services for students, few people look at the teacher's job. And few people create tools for teachers that they need.

by / November 21, 2011 0

While vendors make plenty of technology platforms and services that serve students, most of them don't meet professors' needs, according to the experience of Jim Luke, an economics professor from Lansing College.

They require a major time investment and make professors' jobs harder, he said.

"Just in 10 years the amount of time and work it takes to be a good teacher has just really skyrocketed, and a good bit of it is because of the software and the systems. They are not friendly and easy to use."

While billions of dollars pour into campus enterprise technology and services for students, few people look at the teacher's job. And few people create tools for teachers that they need.

For these reasons, Luke decided to start a nonprofit called Malartu Inc. While projects exist in the early stages, he hopes that the tools he envisions will help professors be more productive and effective.


The ProfNet

Based on his faculty focus groups, a professional social network for faculty tops the list of desired tools. Tentatively called The ProfNet, this network would contain features similar to LinkedIn and Facebook. But faculty would access other features specific to their profession that they wouldn't necessarily want to access on those sites.

Those features include the following: 

  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Teaching portfolios
  • Syllabus builder
  • Storage for past syllabi
  • A place in their profile for professors to list the subject they teach
  • Virtual conversations
  • Links and reviews of educational resources

By listing the subject they teach in their profile, professors who teach the same subject could connect and share resources. And that would help when professors have to take over a course that they haven't taught before on short notice. Both Luke and his wife had to do this over the past few years.

His wife teaches gerontology in Michigan, which only has a few university programs in that subject. With a tool like the social network, she could have instantly connected to a group of professors anywhere in the country who taught the same course. She could have seen their syllabi, chat with them online and ask questions.

"We need to have sharing across institutions, among professors," Luke said. "We've been siloed and working in isolation far too long."

Luke is in the process of recruiting developers and searching for funding so that this open-source project can start.

Curriculum Intelligence

Another project is in the early planning stage and addresses one of the biggest faculty challenges: figuring out whether what you're doing works.

Often, professors only see data on how students do in one course in one particular semester. Sometimes they get demographic breakdowns of how different types of students do.

At the college and university level, institutions push assessment. Lansing Community College where Luke works does a good job of putting data analysis in faculty hands, he said. By analyzing the data, he helps his school and department figure out which courses don't do well in terms of student success.

But he would really like to know how his students do on a more granular level. For example, a key component of macroeconomics involves the money creation process. He wants to figure out a way to track how students do based on questions or problems that relate to money creation.

Currently, the raw data exists in places like learning management systems. But professors can't compare classes across semesters easily or see how students do without pulling the data out of the management system and manually analyzing it in an Excel spreadsheet.

"Technologically, this falls into one of the things where you can do it, but I can walk to Los Angeles from Detroit," Luke said. "I would never want to do it because I don't have the time." 

With a Curriculum Intelligence project, he hopes to create a tool that will give professors this information without spending tons of time on it.

While his college knows about the project and could be involved in a pilot, Luke is doing these projects on his own with some other professors. If you want to learn more or get involved, you can email him.

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.