Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Typing in Boxes: Some reflections on Faculty Development

Last week, exactly a week ago in fact, a faculty member from the education department and I led a workshop on Blackboard. Only, we tried not to talk about Blackboard very much. What we tried to talk about was teaching. Actually, we tried to get the faculty in the room to talk about teaching. And, shockingly, we were pretty successful. We spent the first 1/2 hour asking questions about their goals, about what they thought Blackboard could do to meet their goals, and what they wanted to get out of the workshop. We asked them what their experiences with Blackboard had been so far--had it indeed been used to achieve the goals they just mentioned? The discussion flowed pretty well and we kept away, for the most part, from the nitty gritty technical details.

In the main chunk of the workshop, the "students" were supposed to work on their fall courses, try out a few things and ask questions of us, both technical and pedagogical. This part got a little bogged down with people wanting to import their old courses and not knowing how, but it wasn't too bad. We had some interesting one on one conversations about using discussion boards vs. blogs, the best way to collect and grade papers electronically and how to do peer review.

Then we came back to talk about how working in Blackboard for the last hour had gone, what issues were still outstanding, and more broadly, what they felt they got from the workshop. At one point during this last section, a faculty member (and this had actually been mentioned by several people there) said she didn't like the idea of students typing in little boxes and so she would rather have them type into Word and then cut and paste because typing in Word was a more formal process and so they'd do better work. I responded by saying that it was possible that 5 years from now we'd all be typing in boxes and so we needed to teach students to treat those little boxes as formal spaces when necessary.

I had made the point at the beginning of the workshop that the technology you use can shape the nature of the class, and (following Barbara Ganley), faculty should use the same technology they ask their students to use, so that they fully understand what they're asking they're students to do. I also suggested that students are not always ready to use technology in the ways faculty are asking them to and so, faculty need to model and teach and make their expectations clear. By the end, most of them got that. And there were several interesting points that they seemed to get through this process.

I think I got as much out of the workshop as they did. I'm used to, in my own teaching, and with the faculty I work with most frequently, being on the leading edge of technology. I have assumed that there are others that want to be on the leading edge but haven't made the time to get there yet. That assumption, I believe now, was wrong. A large number of faculty don't even know where the leading edge is. They haven't even heard of blogs or wikis. They don't know that Google has a word processor and spreadsheet program. They use their cell phones (if they have one) strictly for phone calls. They don't IM or Twitter or even know what those words mean except perhaps as a distant concept they've read about. Del.icio.us is an adjective. Realizing this was somewhat shocking, I'll admit. It's a bit disappointing. But I'm not completely discouraged. It just means I have a lot of work to do. And I think the way this workshop unfolded helped them begin to see the potential value of some of those leading edge tools, and that's the first step to getting them to use some of them in class.

We have two more of these workshops to conduct this summer. I'm very much looking forward to them and learning from them. I haven't yet figured out how to get people from where they are now to at least within shouting distance of the leading edge, but I'm working on it. Suggestions welcome.