Faculty-Technology Symbiosis

The fear and promise of innovative instructional technologies is that they will replace me and I’ll be out of a job. Should I adopt these technologies in my classes, drag my feet, or deliberately sabotage the effort? I’ve done all three. With one class I plunged headfirst into the deep end, without knowing how to swim! My goal was and remains to replace most of what I do in this class with innovative instructional technologies. I believe these technologies will promote the same learning outcomes as my traditional class format, probably better. But I’ll warn you now, the upfront costs of time, fear, and energy are high. I’ll describe, briefly, where I hope to end up. I’m already well on my way, but need to overcome some resource and institutional barriers to finish:

– Content: The core material is covered by e-books, online learning modules, and mini-Youtube lectures. A detailed digital study guide exists for taking notes. Self-paced tests are online. Students finish the material at their own pace to receive 35% of the class grade.

– Application: Students are assigned or develop problems that require use of class content for solution. They form teams, dig into the problem and the content, and go well beyond the material I give them because they are motivated and interested. They solve the problem. We may repeat this process several times during the semester depending on time available.

– Interaction: Student teams present their solutions to other teams solving the same or similar problems. They get feedback and learn from one another. Everyone in class reviews at least one other solution, offering a constructive critique and engages in a spirited on-line debate with rebuttals and feedback via blogs and chatrooms. For a while I even used Twitter!

– Communication: Students either develop a website or You-tube video communicating their problem and solution in concise and accessible form. They back up this presentation with a more detailed analysis in the form of research papers and the like.

– Lecture: I assign teams small amounts of class content and ask them to creatively communicate it to their peers via a short You-tube video. Some of these videos do better with the material than what I can do during lecture. Increasingly I show videos rather than lecture.

What kind of teaching responsibilities might I have in the future? I see myself more as a guide and a mentor rather than an instructor. I see myself working in small interdisciplinary teams of faculty with shared interests and expertise in problems. Perhaps we know something about water or poverty or politics or communication or nanomaterial or an historical event. We work with student teams assigned problems that overlap somewhat with these interests. We offer them ideas, literature reviews, methods, insights and conjecture. Students take this advice, or ignore it, and consult with other teams as well as do their own research. They come back to us, present their strategies or perhaps their solutions. We offer more advice, encouragement, caution, and bth formative and summative assessment, including a final grade.

We must continue to attract the highest quality undergraduates to VT and justify the tuition (and shrinking public revenue) that pays our bills. We must distinguish ourselves from competitors that claim to offer higher education for less cost. By 2020, VT will have restructured and refocused in response to increasing labor costs, reduced state funding, greater scrutiny on tuition, measurable and published targets for learning outcomes, advances in digital learning technologies, competition from distant learning degree platforms, changes in tenure, and pressure for equitable and efficient faculty salary structure.

We will find ways to augment faculty more effectively with technology. I figure I must learn to swim or get out of the water. Dive in!

–Bruce Hull

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