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Learning technologies are now a ubiquitous force in the higher education sector however we continue to pursue more inventive ways to use them for teaching and learning. Many teaching academics that seek to be innovative do not have access to a supportive technology innovation zone. The aim of this study was to investigate the articulated staff development needs of academics involved in a faculty based technology innovation project and create the conditions that would cultivate innovation. The study sought to find out how academics perceived they might best be assisted through their technology innovation process so that participants' needs were incorporated into planning. A questionnaire was used to elicit background information about the academics' experience, skills and self diagnosed skill deficits in this context. Participants were also requested to provide information about how they thought they would best acquire the skills given their time and other resource constraints. A modified Delphi Technique was utilised to achieve some consensus on what academics required to support technology innovation. Complemented by an enabling and empowering team based approach, the academics were provided with an innovation zone to achieve significant goals for the project.
Supporting an technology innovation in such a complex environment is an enormously difficult task. Many academic teachers experience barriers and disincentives which may include: time constraints, lack of resources (human, monetary, access to specialist expertise), lack of expertise in educational theory and concepts, lack of knowledge of what is technologically possible, and lack of valuing teaching and learning. This paper uses a Faculty based case study to explore one academic staff development approach that has made some headway toward creating a zone where technology innovation is supported. At the core of this approach are the concepts of situated staff development, multi-disciplinary teams and empowerment. As the project is now drawing to a close, the outcomes that the strategies supported are becoming evident. Academic engagement with the project has been high with relatively few people withdrawing. The study highlights the benefits of consulting with academics on their perceived needs and creating conditions that foster innovation and change. The extent of academic participation also suggests that starting with an educational and curriculum perspective connects academics better with the technology and engenders quality educational outcomes.
Recommendations from these researchers indicate that utilising a variety of local staff development approaches that are more available to academics in the course of their work can have a significant effect. Boud (1999) argues 'that academic identity is formed and most powerfully influenced' (p.3) in a localised context. If academics have access to the support and expertise to enable them to achieve their curriculum goals there is likely to be the opportunity for a meaningful and lasting staff development experience. In line with this thinking, Bates (2000, p. 100-107) advocates the designation of locally available trained peers and technical and educational design support to groups of academic staff. He advises that a broad range of embedded strategies that support technology based teaching and learning need to be available on a just in time basis and integrated with a project approach. Laurillard (2002, p.226-227) concurs on the matter of timeliness, and stresses the importance of linkages to course planning and design, and that academics needs and concerns must be addressed. She also espouses that access to examples of good practice, involvement in multi-skilled development teams, discussion and sharing of experience and evaluations, and research of learning technologies with peers are highly valuable. To create an innovation zone that empowered and supported staff for this project it was important to first establish the perceived needs of the academic staff involved and respond to these.
The responses of the first ten participants were further explored through the use of a Modified Delphi Technique. This technique involves a process that invites individuals to submit opinions about a topic without a face to face meeting (usually via email). It offers a way of gathering, categorising, reviewing and revisiting the views of a group of individuals who never have to be co-located in the same geographical location. This effectively serves to exclude the influence of any group dynamic from participant responses while still benefiting from cross fertilisation of ideas across the group. It is an excellent alternative to face to face meetings and one that provides a mechanism for individuals to share and debate their opinions (Gibbs, Graves, & Bernas, 2001). This method was chosen to address the time and logistical challenges of assembling the selected group of academics in the same geographical location at the same time. As the participant group also comprised of a range of academic levels (from associate lecturers to professors) this method also afforded all academics regardless of position, knowledge or skill, an opportunity to contribute their views unreservedly and with anonymity.
Following the example of Campbell, McMeniman and Baikaloff (1992) initial responses were pooled into a structured instrument and then respondents were asked to rate all the ideas. The Modified Delphi Technique usually has a number of 'rounds' to achieve consensus. Two rounds were implemented which is arguably suitable for a study of this scale. In Round 2 participating individuals were asked to consider statements that were derived from the group data and to rate them in importance on a scale of one to four. The second group of ten participants submitted their initial questionnaire after the Modified Delphi event. Due to the time constraints on the researcher another round was not initiated for this group. The information and themes from the second groups' questionnaire data are included in non-Delphi data and were found to support many of the findings from the Delphi method and represent a wider sample of 20.
Most (17) had some experience of using technology in their teaching. The predominate uses of technology were software and CD programs (17), electronic communication (synchronous and asynchronous) (13) and web based activities and assessment (11). Less than half of the participants (9) had any experience of being involved in the development of technology based materials or activities.
Expressed needs of participants as individuals
The categories that emerged from the question 9 and 10 data are summarised in Table 2 and 3. Table 2 suggests that most participants felt that for technology innovation their two major areas of need were training in the current online system (WebCT), either broadly or for specific tasks, and for training in various development packages. Two participants desired knowledge of educational concepts and what was technically possible. In terms of how these skills could be acquired (Table 3), there was a high demand for workshops and moderate demand for experiential learning and help from experts or peers.
|Teaching qualification||None||PG Cert||PG Dip||PhD/EdD|
|Proficiency using computers||0||0||2.5||11.5||6|
|Proficiency in using technology in teaching practice||0||5||5||9||1|
|Ability to use technology in your teaching practice||0||2||9||9|
|Students' ability to use technology||0||1||6.5||12.5|
|Technology used in teaching practice||3||17||13||11|
|Technology developed individually or collaboratively||11||6||1||6|
Whereas the level of demand for workshops was converse to the views espoused in the literature reviewed earlier in the paper (e.g. Bates, 2000; Boud, 1999; Laurillard, 2002), an evaluation of the project currently in progress has thus far indicated that workshops were not highly utilised by this group or other project participants. While this will be further examined in a future paper; it may be the case that academics did not attend due to the kinds of reasons mentioned in the literature. Alternatively the supportive and innovative zone created to enable project participants met many of their articulated needs thereby making the workshop attendance unnecessary.
In Delphi Round 1, the major categories that emerged from the data were: help; training; resources; and knowledge (See Table 4). While these are different categories to those that emerged from the individual data, they fundamentally express the same kinds of needs. Statements were developed to represent the ideas suggested under each category so that they could be rated on a scale of importance (1 to 4). The first 10 people involved in the study were asked to respond to the statements via email. Seven of the original ten respondents replied. Unfortunately the 3 who were representative of the least technologically skilled of the participants did not reply. It is worthy of note that 2 of these 3 academics did not complete a technology enhancement project, and the remaining academic, whilst having completed a minimal WebCT site, did so with limited enthusiasm.
|1. Training (broadly)||Required proficiency in using WebCT or developing websites||9|
|2. Training |
|Required skills to achieve specific aims e.g. To develop computer based testing, to facilitate discussions||3|
|3. Training |
|Required skills in using various development software (such as HTML editors, graphics and authoring packages)||6|
|4. Knowledge |
|Required knowledge of educational theory and concepts; and what educational approaches are effective and innovative||3|
|5. Knowledge |
|Required knowledge of what is technically possible and how to integrate technology innovations into practice||3|
|6. Experience||Required experience in actually using and/or developing the technology||2|
|7. Time||More time (2) or better time management skills (1)||3|
|Category||Mode of acquisition||Respondents|
|1. Workshops||Access to hands on courses||13|
|2. Experience||Ability to practice in current work context||7|
|3. Expertise||Access to experts such as, educational designers and multimedia experts||6|
|4. Research||Access to literature and research studies||3|
|5. Support||Access to help mechanisms or experienced peer||2|
|6. Resources||Access to print materials and guidelines||2|
|7. Time||More time allocated in workload||3|
|8. Other||Grad Cert (1) Action research (1)||2|
|Help||Included requests for assistance with design and integration, support by phone and in person, and peer and expert help|
|Training||Included requests for specific workshops with hands on experience|
|Resources||Included requests for learning guides, access to examples, and time allocation within workload|
|Included requests for an understanding or awareness of educational concepts and the effective use of technology in teaching|
|Other||Included ideas that seemed to fall outside the emergent categories like recognition and flexibility for lecturer to alter materials|
The results summarised in Tables 5 to 9 below are those that represent the groups' strongest areas of consensus according to Delphi Round 2. The rating scale used to rate the propositions was: 1=unimportant; 2=somewhat important; 3=important; 4=imperative.
Table 5 indicates strong group agreement for a range of assistance to enable technology innovation and integration. At least 5 to 7 of the respondents ranked access to technical modes of assistance and educational principles of design and integration as important to imperative. The group appeared quite divided about the importance of peer and expert assistance and whether they would require help in subsequent stages of innovation. It is worth noting that the person who rated one on one help as 'unimportant' had also rated their own proficiency for integrating technology into their teaching practice as 'excellent' and was consistently the most experienced participant in this study in the use of technology.
Under the category 'training' there was only a limited number of specific items on which participants achieved their highest consensus (Table 6). Although the group data did not make mention of WebCT training in particular, it did come through as the strongest training area requested in the individual data from question 9 (Table 2).
|Nature of help required||Un-|
|One to one||1||0||4||2|
|Instructional design principles||0||0||4||3|
|Integration of technology||0||0||4||3|
|Expert help with technology development||0||3||1||3|
|Good technical help||0||0||3||4|
|Nature of training required||Un-|
Most participants agreed that knowledge of educational design approaches and how technologies can be utilised for educational purposes were important to imperative (Table 7). This was not reflected in the requirements expressed for individuals in Table 2, where it was mentioned by only 3 of the 20 individuals. This may have been because the questionnaire respondents were more focused on technology itself, rather than the integration of technology with their teaching practice. As mentioned earlier in the paper, a benefit of the Delphi Technique is that individuals can access and consider ideas put forward by others in the group.
|Nature of educational knowledge required||Un-|
|Educational design approaches||0||0||3||4|
|Educational applications for technology||0||1||1||5|
The majority of participants signalled that access to peer and off the shelf resources were desirable (Table 8). Time for technology innovation and money to search and collate resources were also ranked as important to imperative. Such a demand for resources was not reflected in the individually expressed statements about how individuals expected to acquire their skills in Table 3. The search and collation of support resources was not mentioned previously. Time, however was articulated in both Table 2 and 3.
|Nature of resources required||Un-|
|Resource bank of technologies e.g. Off the shelf, learning objects etc||0||1||3||3|
|Time for technology innovation tasks||0||0||1||6|
|Money for search and collation of support resources||0||1||2||4|
There was also agreement by the majority of participants that they required flexibility to alter materials easily and recognition for their efforts in technology innovation (Table 9).
|Nature of other requirements||Un-|
|Flexibility to easily alter materials||0||1||0||6|
|Recognition for technology innovation||0||1||3||3|
The types of needs articulated by participants are not surprising. Shannon and Doube (2004, p.15) outline the following issues as being well documented factors that influence levels of technology innovation: access to staff development and training; lack of time; lack of knowledge and skills; lack of adequate recognition; concern about the value of technology and quality of learning, inadequate support and recognition from senior management.
The data from questions nine and ten and the Modified Delphi Technique appear to suggest that academic teachers' expressed ASD needs may be tied to the ways in which they envisage how they will use technology to innovate. The academics involved in the study indicated that they perceived technical knowledge and training as being important to being able to create technology innovations. The technology they envisaged ranged from MS PowerPoint to highly complex authoring packages. As most academics considered that they did not have the time to learn specific multimedia applications, and the project had funds for development, it was more strategic to utilise multimedia specialists for complex development work. At the same time, it was important that the academics were adequately trained to use and, if possible, alter their technology initiatives.
Although the need for educational knowledge did not come through strongly in the individual data (Table 2), most participants in the Delphi Round 2 corroborated that such knowledge is quite crucial (Table 7). The author of this paper is professionally committed to the idea that educational knowledge should play a vital role in the choice, design and use of technology. The author subscribes to the philosophy that technology is only a tool and that the rationale for its use should be educationally based and in support of student learning in relation to the curriculum objectives. For the staff development strategies to meet the articulated needs of the academics and sit well with the author's professional beliefs, both needed to be taken into consideration.
The method by which staff development would be available to participants was a major consideration in the project. Although workshops were acceptable and popular as a method of acquiring skills and knowledge (Table 3), the discussion in the earlier part of this paper revealed some of the inherent problems with depending on such an approach. The types of help requested by Delphi Round 2 respondents (Table 5) indicate that, at least initially, one on one help was desirable and assistance with instructional design principles are of importance. Access to educational design principles, knowledge about educational applications of technology and examples of usage were also in demand (Table 7 and 8). Money for the search and collation of support resources, time concerns and the need for recognition were also flagged as important to the group (Table 8 and 9), and as such considered with the other items mentioned in this section to be incorporated into the strategies to support academics in their project work. In addition, the recommendations of Bates (2000, p. 100-107) that a wide range of project integrated approaches need to be available locally to support technology based teaching and Laurillard (2002, p.226-227) that there should be clear linkages to course planning and design, involvement in multi-skilled development teams, and discussion and sharing of experience and evaluations were also taken on board. With a complement of related staff development strategies, a situated staff development approach was considered appropriate to respond to many of the needs articulated by the academics.
One on one and group help, knowledge and training of an educational and technical nature was available in a situated staff development and project context throughout the initial conceptual stages of the project.
The process was initiated from an educational perspective through a series or 'working meetings' to improve and align the curriculum (at program and course level). Discussions and tasks revolved around clarifying learning objectives, alignment of objectives with assessment designs, identifying innovative teaching approaches for the context and finally creating and supporting the student learning experience. The use of technology itself was considered in the context of supporting student learning as expressed through the curriculum.
The use of multi-disciplinary teams meant that academics had access to knowledge and training that was targeted at their particular needs within their project. Further training to support the implementation of their innovation was identified in individual project proposals and consequently lecturers were directed to centrally held workshops, peer support, or they were provided with specialist training if required. The collaboration between the educational designer and academics, allowed for educational support in tandem with relevant literature, educational theory, and other support people on a 'just in time' basis. Additionally, academics were better able to articulate the educational rationale for their use of technology than had previously been experienced in the faculty. A localised in situ approach has been shown to be greatly valued by academics and supportive of their individual staff development aspirations (Ferman, 2002).
|Articulated Needs||How Addressed|
|Help - one on one, in initial stages, with instructional design principles, expert help
Technical knowledge and training, and ability to alter materials developed
Educational knowledge, theory and concepts
|Examples of peer work and possibilities of using technology
Search and collation of support resources
As the Project is now approaching the end of its final year, the project progress and outcomes associated with the staff development strategies outlined above are becoming evident.
Of the 20 participants involved in the initial evaluation 14 completed technology innovation projects, 3 did not complete beyond stage 1, and 3 left the university during participation. The scale of the project and its outcomes are indicated by the following:
It has been difficult to measure the impact of the project on student learning across the faculty as a concurrent significant curriculum review has affected both undergraduate and postgraduate coursework. Evaluations at a course level have generally been very favourable and where possible both negative and positive feedback is passed on to the multidisciplinary team. Time issues and lack of support and recognition from senior management within the faculty continue to be barriers.
An evaluation of the project's situated and other staff development initiatives is currently underway and feedback appears to be very positive so far. Evaluations of the collaboration with the educational designer have indicated that participants felt that their educational knowledge had expanded, particularly as a result of developing a coherent curriculum development approach as outlined in the process that initiated their participation. Although the initial articulated needs of the academics did not rate educational knowledge highly as a need, the faculty is now considering funding an ongoing educational position to continue the positive work this approach has engendered. The low attrition rate from the project also provides some evidence of how well academics engage with an enabling innovation zone. Project evaluation data will be reported in a further research paper.
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Ferman, T. (2002). Academic professional development practice: What lecturers find valuable. International Journal for Academic Development, 7(2), 146-158.
Gibbs, W., Graves, P. R. & Bernas, R. S. (2001). Evaluation Guidelines for Multimedia Courseware. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 34(1), 2-11.
Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking university teaching: A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies (2nd ed.). London: Routledge Falmer.
Shannon, S. & Doube, L. (2004). Valuing and using web supported teaching: A staff development role in closing the gaps. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(1), 114-136. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet20/shannon.html
|Please cite as: Steel, C. (2004). Establishing a zone where technology innovation is supported. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp.865-874). Perth, 5-8 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/steel.html|
© 2004 Caroline Steel
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