Bridges to Excellence: Collaborative Approaches to Academic Technology

Key Takeaways

  • IT departments need to develop a relationship of open communication and trust with faculty to achieve the level of collaboration needed for successful integration of academic technology on campus.
  • New models and organizational approaches to integrating academic technology suggest approaches to building communication bridges that can facilitate the process.
  • A discussion session at EDUCAUSE Connect San Diego collected suggestions to address the challenges to successful integration, as explained here.

Sarah Bryans-Bongey, Assistant Professor of Educational Technology, and Sam McCool, Instructional Technology Manager, Nevada State College, Henderson; Crista Copp, Director of Academic Technology, Loyola Marymount University; and Jill Leafstedt, Director of Teaching and Learning Innovation and Associate Professor of Education, California State University, Channel Islands

Successfully integrating effective technologies in teaching and learning poses challenges to most IT departments. A vital component is the relationship with faculty, which requires open communication, trust, and a culture of collaboration between IT and faculty. Without that collaboration, academic technology can't support the core mission of the higher education institution because faculty will hesitate to use the recommended tools and platforms.

In a session at EDUCAUSE Connect San Diego in late January 2015, approximately 30 IT professionals explored various models and approaches to building communication bridges that lead to greater integration of academic technology on campus. The group delved into new models and organizational approaches implemented at California State University, Channel Islands, Loyola Marymount University, and Nevada State College, that are redefining traditional roles and generating successful solutions to the need for communication and collaboration between IT staff and faculty.

The three models explored included:

  1. a center for teaching excellence;
  2. a model in which IT and Academic Technologies provided dedicated support to each school/department of the college; and
  3. a model in which IT and Academic Technologies was incorporated within Academic Affairs.

In the third model the institution included several people with dual, 12-month faculty contracts and an additional responsibility: integrating academic technology across all schools and departments.

Strengths of the center for teaching excellence model include the fact that such a center can become a one-stop shop for a wide range of needs. The traditional model in which IT posted satellite professionals in each school seems to work well in its ability to ensure support for all schools across a larger campus. The model involving academic technology faculty serving dual roles in support of technology integration across all schools is relatively new but has already yielded some promising partnerships and collaborations. Bobbi Makani-Lim, one participant in our EDUCAUSE Connect group, commented on the fact that this model (involving several people with dual, 12-month faculty contracts) placed Information Technologies under the provost's office: "Is this a good strategy, to move IT from Ops to Academic Affairs? It's worth looking into."

All three models place a strong emphasis on highly qualified and credentialed academic technology professionals. As one attendee noted, "Academics don't always want to listen to the technology folks."

Building Bridges: Lessons Learned and Shared

Participants and contributors to this discussion included approximately 30 professionals from a wide range of higher education institutions, including small and large private, public, and community colleges and universities. Although all participants did not share their names, those who did identify themselves were IT directors, CIOs, representatives from Academic Affairs, e-learning managers, college faculty, and instructional designers. The session discussion considered the following questions:

  • How does your organizational structure augment or inhibit collaboration and partnerships?
  • What are some specific outcomes (collaborative or exclusionary) that resulted from current or experimental organizational efforts and/or as a result of physical location change?
  • Does your institution have an explicit or implicit divide driven by faculty/staff designations/distinctions?
  • Do you have an idea of a unit or service within your school or college with which you can collaborate in the way we've been describing?

In pursuing the dialogue about organizational and organic approaches to technology integration and collaboration, the group covered two of the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues:

  • Evolving staffing models
  • Optimizing technology in teaching and learning

EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues

Participants provided many comments, questions, and suggestions relating to the challenges and solutions. Table 1 summarizes the issues raised and suggested solutions.

Table 1. Challenges and possible solutions to academic technology integration

Challenges

Suggestions

We need a better understanding of what is being implemented and where.With this information, faculty and IT can improve communication and collaboration in using technology.

Create inventories.

Conduct surveys.

IT include faculty in the selection process.

Faculty consult with IT in the selection process.

Closely integrate IT staff and faculty.

Faculty have expectations that IT will support the full range of technology tools.

Communicate better and provide direction and leadership in technology adoption and support.

Proactively train staff to support adopted technologies.

Develop and use shared learning objects and training libraries.

Faculty have various levels of expertise and wide-ranging needs for support.

Strive for a multifaceted approach that includes both distributed and collaborative approaches, as well as access to centralized IT staff and services.

Academics don't always want to listen to the technology folks.

Nurture and support ed tech champions in each college.

Encourage presentations and trainings by academics themselves.

Put instructional technology under Academic Affairs — a practice worth looking into, as it has potential to bridge the gap.

From an online program director from Southern Utah Univ.State: Standards (such as Quality Matters) can serve as a common ground to bridge differences between faculty and instructional designers.

 

Some faculty hesitate to adopt technology, including tenure-track faculty teaching online courses.

Suggest and support research and publication of faculty efforts: What are you changing, why are you changing it, and how are you assessing that?

Provide concrete encouragement such as certification for faculty who complete training in LMS or online teaching.

Resources are often wasted based on a lack of communication. For example, one participant noted that even in institutions where IT licensing allows faculty to have access to technology for free, colleges buy their own "stuff."

Use strategic and organizational approaches to improve communication at the school and departmental level.

Shared roles and integrated services can help address the disconnect.

Shared roles: How do we make them work and ensure they are effective? One school cited problems with shared roles not working, and another shared how involving faculty in an IT-led transition was essential.

Establish clear expectations. Articulate these via job description and search as well as a memorandum of understanding or similar approach.

Invite those with dual roles to attend events and connect with employees in both departments.

Wilkes Community College implemented Moodle Mentors, in which faculty assisted other faculty with the transition to their new LMS. The outcome was positive and resulted in better faculty buy-in and a successful implementation.

 

Some teaching models do not address the value of incorporating academic technology. Without this vision, there may be little motivation or understanding as to why or how to incorporate technology in the teaching and learning process.

Encourage leaders and those who are successful in integrating technology to publish or share their successes.

Establish faculty presentations or brown bag meetings for other faculty.

Recommendations for Getting Started

At the conclusion of the discussion, the group had some advice for building the bridge for collaboration between IT staff and faculty:

  • Recognize that some established models might be expanded through cooperative discussions with Academic Affairs.
  • Continue to employ highly credentialed academic technology staff.
  • Encourage academic technology staff to take on teaching roles as a means of building empathy and credibility with the faculty they support.
  • Consider roles in which faculty serve dual purposes and have contractual responsibilities to Instructional Technologies, but establish this expectation at the outset of the faculty member's contract.
  • Encourage collaboration between and among academic technology staff and faculty in teaching, scholarship, and service.

These first steps, singly or in combination, should help your campus better integrate academic technology to support the core mission of teaching and learning. If you have additional ideas for accomplishing this important goal, we invite you to join us in continuing the conversation.

Acknowledgments

Although not all attendees provided their names, we would like to acknowledge the entire group for joining us and contributing to the discussion. Thanks go to the following named participants: Antonio Bangloy, Mt. San Antonio College; Cindy Dooling, Director of IT, Pima Community College; Cody Down, IT Director, Pacific Northwest University of health Sciences; Kathy Fernandes, Office of the Chancellor, CSU; Jamie Fleming, Beacon College; Eileen Heveron, Vice President, Academic Affairs and IT, TCS Education Systems; Melissa Hill and Michael Wingler, Wilkes Community College; Htay Hla, IT Director, University of Arizona College of Public Health; Cindy Jennings, University of South Carolina, Upstate; Michael Kolodziei; Janet Lenart, SON, University of Washington; Bobbi Makani-Lim, San Jose State University; Kyle Saverance, Vice President, Coker College; Martha Steinacker, Instructional Designer, Arizona State University; and Karl Steven, Southern Utah University. We also would like to acknowledge our session facilitator, Joe Shelley, assistant vice chancellor and CIO of UW Bothell Information Technologies.