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Supporting Faculty Adoption of Emerging Technologies: Wanderlust or Creating a Campus Roadmap?

Supporting Faculty Adoption of Emerging Technologies: Wanderlust or Creating a Campus Roadmap?

  • Julie Little, EDUCAUSE, Moderator
  • Dolly Young, Associate Professor of Spanish, University of Tennessee,
  • Jean Ann Derco, Executive Director, Educational Technology, University of Tennessee
  • W. Gardner Campell, Professor of English, University of Mary Washington
  • James Groom, Instructional Technology Specialist, University of Mary Washington

Closing General Session
2008 Southeast Regional Conference
Jacksonville, FL
June 4, 2008

The phone rings. The caller begins with the familiar, "I've been thinking..." and the rest of the conversation centers on how to pilot an emerging instructional technology. Faculty who are early adopters of technology are experimenters and risk-takers; they broaden the landscape of effective teaching and learning with technology. Yes, they push the envelope, but they also offer partnership for identifying what's scalable and sustainable for broader use. The panelists for this presentation shared their campus perspectives on adopting emerging technologies from Web 2.0 to virtual worlds, their successes and challenges, and the partnerships they've formed.

Knock, Knock Who's there? Idea... Idea who? An Idea who's time has come!

Julie Little provided an introduction to frame the panel discussion.

Gardner Campbell led off the panel. He is an early adopter. He asked for innovations and new technologies so often that he said he was made an administrator so he'd understand what it's like to deal with early adopters.

He discussed his beginning tries with blogging using b2evolution blog technology. He was constantly in conversation with IT support and he still needed a better blogging tool so he tried WordPress MU (multi-user) Spring 2007 and did RSS for ELS Blogs for his course. Campbell stressed the need for IT support agility. A casual hallway conversation and Groom immediately installed it for him to try without any commitment. See

The use of the tool inspired Campbell to think differently about the final product. He said most term papers are actually pretty bad. So he used the blog for the first half and other students blogs as the second half. Students used each other as resources and also took each other seriously as colleagues and thirdly, they began to understand research/inquiry. They now saw library books and materials as sources for inquiry.

The project morphed into an opportunity for anyone in the department and then for the entire campus. It turned into a tremendous student publishing platform

What kind of innovation was this asked Campbell - just a hallway conversation that bubbled up, but no pressure throughout the process. He asked "How do we get to the ideas before they disappear?" We need quick response.

Jim Groom responded from his perspective as the IT support person. He tried playing with WordPress as a quick solution. Everything at UMW was on an external server and so they could play as in a sandbox. His job was to think about the space and unspoken contract that everyone blogged. Working with faculty can be very exciting and gives us the ability to imagine ways to work and communicate differently

Instructional Technology is for the moment we are in and also is changing radically

They started with only a few using the blog in the beginning and now up to 1300 blogs in a year. When you sign up for a blog site you have your own space and you control it. - so it has something like the flexibility of the full Internet. Students can have as many blogs as they want for all of their classes and use RSS. It's not like blackboard but rather user created and everything can be brought into a communal space where you can see a whole course's conversation. It provides a syndicated framework for thinking about teaching and learning. It is also a sign of trust between faculty and students.

Groom engaged with the students and became a partner and peer in the class. Over 15 weeks of participation to the degree that he was part of the learning process.

Class articles on Wikipedia were created - 3 were featured and more were labeled good articles. Each group took a Latin American novel and built the article from it.

He said great things can happen at essentially no cost. The Featured Article Team at Wikipedia came in and helped with training how to use it.

Learning happens on the open web. Communities are defined and the IT support person's role in it can be significant.

Jean Derco described the University of Tennessee a bit. They have 27K students and a total of 1915 FTE teaching staff.

Her unit does Blackboard/Centra administration, assists faculty on their projects and they provide faculty grants at no charge.
They have a student technology research assistant program called START.
Workshops, podcasting, events are held
They do research and evaluate emerging technology
They also do contract projects and external grant work

Derco said that faculty say they want:

  • I want to see more faculty presentations
  • I need to see things for my department
  • I want face-to-face

but then they don't come

They changed their focus to faculty who want to do things and participate.

She started working with Dolly Young in 1999 - on a grant for an online Spanish workbook. There have been many formal and informal efforts since that time. In 2008, there was a Project RITE grant (also a campus pilot) to look at synchronous learning options - 5 pilots and one was in 2nd life. Dolly Young and Doug Canfield "Angling for language acquisition with TACLE" was a look at leveraging Second Life. [more information is available at]

Young discussed the project. Just chatting informally with informed people is valuable to the language process. They wanted to know how technology can help with learning language. They needed opportunities for students to have language experience. They have 2 thousand Spanish students, so anything tech needs to scale for the large group.

They did 4 Second Life tasks integrated into the curriculum of six sections of intensive Spanish 111-112 (6 hour credit)

All Faculty are thinking about how to get students to think at a higher level. They hoped that these 4 tasks in Second Life would do that.

The tasks had to have a problem-solving element, be interactive, use collaboration, and a specific purpose.

Data collection
"Immediate perception of the task" questionnaires were used at the end of the semester to discover the students' perceptions of effectiveness of the technology in the learning experience. 22-40% were neutral about it. At least 50% had problems with the headphones or other technology issues such as problems hearing their avatars when talking, teleporting issues (too many students) and did not enjoy learning how to use Second Life.

But 50% said:

  • Task was interactive
  • Rather speak to student partner in class
  • Recognized how much they learned.
  • Enjoyed the first task best - students had to meet their avatar partner in a Second Life university location and set up an interview.

Level of proficiency in foreign language had to be considered.
But they were able to integrate Second Life into the curriculum

  • Students obtained the appropriate Second Life orientation.
  • A lot of time was spent designing avatars.
  • Mostly the students were either neutral or found the Second Life tasks somewhat fun.

The students did need to speak in the Second Life environment and in Spanish.


  • You must ensure the technology works - even the headphones!
  • Projections of the amount of time, effort and money needed to write, set-up, design, implement, and assess new technology applications should be realistic - it's as much the role of the researchers as the administrators

Derco mentioned that 50% were interested in using Second Life

Questions and Responses

Q What do you do for students who don't blog?
Campbell: They only get credit for doing the blogs - otherwise no credit.
There is no opting out.

Groom discussed authentication for the blogs. There are policies on archiving, no single sign on for WordPress. There is no personal information so there are no FERPA compliance issues. Each tool is separately managed by the student - simply a set of publication tools. They have to activate their account against their email address.

Their work takes on a life of its own. They can put it on the UMW system or another. He did say that spam is your nightmare on blogs.

Q Derco and Young were asked to further discuss the Second Life project.
50% said they didn't like it. But the other 50% didn't say that.
In the feedback the understanding was that most of the issues were technical.

They had to hold students accountable for the tasks so they had them print their virtual chat.

In these settings there is no "back of the classroom" where they can hide out. They must participate.

They like the fact that how much time they put in reflects their results.

Groom mentioned that it was good that the UMW students can take their work with them when they leave.

There is a conception of space issue rather than a technical issue - the community aspect is important.

Q How are we supporting the "innovation seeds" in our faculty?

Second Life involves a lot of skill. Having a package where everything is already built and you can count on having it without change would be very helpful. Building staff capacity to support the faculty is very important.

UMW - Come to each faculty member as "ready to have a conversation." Personal relationships can happen at UMW because the faculty is small. These informal conversations forge useful understanding of what needs to be done.

Q Do you have advice for promoting good scholarship within these new social networking tools?
Campbell responded that the growing variety of publications and events supports scholarly learning. We need to rethink what constitutes scholarship? It needs to count as inquiry and sharing.

Young asked: What is scholarship? More importantly for most faculty is teaching students to think. She asked "How can we get students to learn without feeling the pain?" 70% do not go beyond the 2nd year. Students need "games" and rewards. Are we to support something that is fun?

Often, the amount of investment doesn't match the payoff...from the Administrative standpoint there is always the question - do we need more technology or more faculty? It is wonderful to have easy to use techniques but not all is approached that way.

Derco said "Don't push faculty to use anything" They have Blackboard for those who want to use it though certain departments, like physics, tell the faculty "you must have a Blackboard site."

Campbell recommended the Trent Batson article on innovations in the Web 2.0 environment. Can We Trust Students to Learn in Web 2.0? []
We need a technology innovation unit not just a support unit. Some will always be tasked with operations but we must still have the innovation, technology or not. We need to do it together and always thinking about being innovative. Otherwise, what is higher education about?

Young depends a lot on research. She wants to know if there was a gain in learnig.

Groom talked about the notion of data and innovation saying we won't ever really know what is effective teaching and learning. Everything is changing radically and if we don't do it someone else will. Failure is okay - - it's a learning process...

Little noted the enthusiasm of the panelists for their work and encouraged the audience to continue this conversation with them after the conference.





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