The integration and application of instructional technologies (IT) in higher education is a complex issue. The advocates for IT cite the many benefits of its implementation and use in education. However, a range of barriers inhibits and prevents increased technology use by professors in higher education. Factors that are relevant include the following:
- Benefits of technology use in instruction
- Barriers that inhibit technology integration in higher education
- Strategies for increasing technology use in higher education
Benefits of Technology in Instruction
Research provides a multitude of information supporting the use of technology in education at all levels. The four most cited benefits of technology use include:
- increased student learning,
- improved organizational strategies by instructors,
- enhanced teaching resources; and
- increased communication.
The first area of enhancement provided by technology integration involves student learning. Teaching with technology has a positive impact on students’ ability to learn. One way of understanding why learning with technology has such a positive outcome is to review Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1984) and the use of PowerPoint in the classroom.
PowerPoint is multimedia presentation software that enables users to add graphics, sounds, animations, videos, colors, text, and transitions. Thus a PowerPoint presentation including the various multimedia elements can address the needs of various learning styles. Of course, attention to curriculum design and implementation is an essential component in creating an effective PowerPoint presentation.
Gardner maintains that intelligence comes in many forms, including l inguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal and intra-personal intelligence. The graphics, images, colors, and animations used in a PowerPoint presentation can complement the needs of spatial and linguistic learners. Sound and music can enhance instructional lessons for musical learners. Incorporating the concepts in a linear logical manner addresses the needs of the logical-mathematical and spatial learner. The area of interpersonal intelligence comes into play when the instructor permits students to converse and discuss concepts covered during the presentation. As noted, PowerPoint is more than a presentation tool. If used correctly the software presentations can create an improved opportunity for students to learn.
The second area that instructional technology can improve on is a teacher’s ability to organize instruction, with the purpose of presenting it to students in a comprehensible manner. To do so, an instructor needs to have organizational skills. Certain sites like Blackboard, WebCT, or eCollege can increase one’s organizational abilities through the use of a Learning Management System. Prior to teaching a course with an online component or a Website, it is essential that instructors build and organize the teaching site. This involves creating electronic documents (Word, PowerPoint, videos, etc.) that can be uploaded to the site for students to use throughout the semester. This task needs to be accomplished prior to teaching the course. For example, view the PDF document “Ten Easy Steps to Designing Your Online Course".
Another tool that assists organization is a personal digital assistant, or PDA. A compact and portable PDA can provide a multitude of resources to teachers, providing access to Email, Internet resources, a calendar, a list of appointments, and even, in some models, a phone. The use of technology in education can lead to an increase in an instructor’s ability to organize and plan for their courses.
Additionally, instructional technologies in the classroom can enhance the learning resources available to instructors. Think for a moment about how you learned about history in elementary school. The textbook included numerous photos, drawings, and detailed maps. Perhaps your grade school teacher had a few posters used to illustrate concepts. Typically, the unit of instruction included a film or video that was shown at the end or beginning. These resources needed to be borrowed and then returned for others to use. With the Internet there are dynamic, immediate and virtually endless resources available. History lessons can come alive. An instructor teaching about China, for example, can obtain images from that country using Travel Photo. Multimedia elements instantly enhance resources and improve teaching materials, heightening student interest levels.
Barriers to Technology Integration
The benefits associated with technology implementation are vast. When teachers learn technology and integrate these resources their students benefit. However, there are barriers that inhibit technology integration, including funding, technology competence, limited resources, learning curve and time needed to learn, lack of mentoring and role models, and support from administrators. The two most critical areas of concern include limited resources and technology competency.
A significant barrier to integration is not just the teachers’ technology competencies but the fact that many remain unaware of technology’s potential. Experts agree that if teachers knew the potential of technology integration, then they would readily use technology.
Research shows that in order for instructors to use technology effectively they require appropriate training and confidence in their ability to teach with technologies. If they are lacking in confidence or training they will not use technology as an instructional tool. For example, a group of sixteen educators shared their reasons for attending a new technology workshop. Among their answers were, “My students keep asking for this,” and “My students have asked me to view their grades online, and I don’t know how,” and “I am a new faculty member. I need to get better at it. I will use it to teach my students.”
The faculty surveyed overwhelmingly desired to learn technology in order to meet the needs of their students. The pressure they felt from their students motivated them to learn and practice new instructional technologies. These responses support current research in faculty development and the use of instructional technologies in the classroom.
Another barrier that exists in learning new technologies is time. Learning to use a software program takes time, as does learning how to integrate that software into the curriculum. Good examples are essential here, for if a teacher has never seen the instructional technologies being modeled in a lesson, then he or she is less apt to attempt to use the resources. Using technology requires taking a risk. This risk factor may be considerably high for new and untenured educators who are still proving themselves to the academy. They prefer to take the safe road and teach the way they were taught. This includes the standard overheads and use of the white board to write notes and lecture.
Strategies for Increasing Technology Use
Unfortunately, there is no fool-proof method of breaking down the barriers that exist in technology integration. However, it is possible to address some of the major concerns and minimize the negative feelings about teaching with technology. Five of the major areas that are addressed include a) increased support from administrators, b) peer collaboration, c) faculty development and support, d) access to tools and hardware, e) building of faculty motivational factors.
The first area is the issue of support from administrators. How can administrators show their support? There are a few obvious method. For example supervisors can learn how to use the technologies and model their proficiencies during faculty meetings.
Another area that increases the use of technology is peer collaboration. The power of peers is still a major factor in implementing new software, teaching strategies, and ideas. This factor can be encouraged and cultivated quite easily in the academic environment by simply providing an arena where faculty can congregate, converse, eat, and share their teaching methods with one another. I mention eating because this seems like the most obvious approach and non-threatening method of gathering faculty members. There is nothing quite like the human touch, being able to connect with others and share ideas.
Experts agree there is a dire need to support adequate faculty development. There needs to be a sufficient number of workshops to adequately supply training opportunities for faculty. Offering one or two training workshops per week is not enough; there should be a minimum of six workshops offered per week, the days and times should vary, and workshops should be repeated throughout the month. Additionally, time should be allocated for an Open Lab where the faculty can simply drop in, on an as needed basis, to receive one-on-one support from technology consultants.
Access to training coincides with access to the latest hardware and software in education. The school should license the software so that teachers may download and use it both in school and in their homes. Faculty should not be required to purchase the software or hardware using their own funds. The purpose of technology is to enhance their ability to teach, and thereby increase opportunities for students to learn.
The area of faculty motivation is a difficult one to address. Since motivation is an intrinsic value, it will vary depending on the individual motivational factors of each person. Therefore, it is imperative to survey teachers and ask specifically, “What motivates you to learn and use new technologies?” The answers to this question will assist with building on the motivations factors revealed. Once it is apparent how you can motivate faculty, then implement the appropriate strategies to create an environment that fosters the use of technology in a non-threatening and nurturing manner.
In conclusion integrating and applying technologies is a complicated issue. We have to make known the benefits associated with technology use. We have to address the barriers that exist and thus increase the use of technology. There exists a wide range of information regarding technology integration on the Internet, via television and media, in textbooks and from researchers worldwide. The table below will assist you with beginning your search about the use, misuse and benefits of instructional technologies in education.
Internet Resources Pertaining to Instructional Technologies
This site includes substantial information about technology integration and links to Internet sites. The site was designed and maintained by a technology consultant in K-12.
The mission statement reads “transforming education through information technologies” need I say more. You can find a substantial amount of information that is research based and current.