Maryville's Big Bet on Faculty Training

Administrators at the Missouri university realized that an initiative to give every student an iPad wouldn't pay off if professors didn't buy in. Its hefty investment in training has been rewarded with significant adoption and strong student results.
 

May 31, 2017
 
Maryville University
English professor Jesse Kavadlo working with a student using their iPads.

A number of universities and colleges provide their students iPads for use in the classroom as well as to complete assignments and projects. And many of those institutions give their faculty members tablets, too. But few provide instructors and staff with the kind of iPad training that Maryville University does.

Maryville, a private university near St. Louis, not only gives iPads to all 500-plus professors and some adjuncts and staff members, it offers intensive in-person instruction that has cost the institution hundreds of thousands of dollars since it began the program in 2015.

Maryville President Mark Lombardi said the training is necessary because iPad technology “is the future of higher education learning. By the middle of the next decade, all universities will be in this pedagogical framework and utilizing this approach. It is absolutely the most student-centered approach to learning.”

But like most instructional innovations in higher education, Maryville's was unlikely to have much effect if faculty members did not embrace it. And Lombardi realized that effective buy-in was unlikely if faculty members did not get time and space for training.

During the initial iPad implementation in 2015, Maryville quickly learned that training was critical. Some faculty members, said Jesse Kavadlo, an English professor and the director of Maryville’s Center for Teaching and Learning, were “familiar and comfortable with [the iPad but] others were unfamiliar and uncomfortable.… Before the [initial] semester started, it was very clear that this wasn’t something we could just give to faculty and they would automatically know how to use it and how to best use it to enhance the classroom.”

And after two years, a few professors still have not embraced the technology. “Some were excited about [using the iPad as a teaching aid] but a few were more reluctant,” Kavadlo said. “There was some natural push-back, but it was a small group. … Nobody retired over it. … Nobody up and quit.”

Yet while Maryville administrators have not required faculty members to use the iPads in their face-to-face classrooms, 94 percent of them do, including 44 percent who said in a university survey that they have incorporated the technology into all of their courses.           

Faculty members “are finding effective ways of enhancing what they’re doing with the technology, of finding new ways of doing things that they couldn’t have done before,” Kavadlo said. "There isn’t a single, obvious way to do this. … It’s really more of a mindset to do this.”

Ongoing Training

Maryville continues to offer instructors 90-minute training sessions every other week for a full semester to learn how to navigate their tablets, apply digital apps to teaching and learning, and create discipline-specific assignments that encourage or even require students to employ their iPads.

In addition, the university lengthened all faculty contracts by two weeks per academic year—at a cost of $476,000—for professional development, mostly surrounding the creative use of iPads in the classroom, according to Lombardi.

For a week in the spring and another in the fall since 2015, Maryville has sponsored on-campus, faculty-led conferences at which professors learn about apps, share their experiences with the iPad technology, swap best practices and create content for the next semester’s classes. Kavadlo likens the week to a hackathon, during which instructors collaborate and “rethink, assess, discover, build. That is a place where people would do some longer-term changes.”

“It’s important to see technology as a tool related to teaching and outcomes and what we do, and not just a piece of equipment,” he added.

The result, according to the university’s survey, is that instructors’ comfort level with the technology has soared from just about 10 percent before they got their free iPads to nearly 90 percent after two years.

That confidence, Kavadlo said, happened in a “somewhat natural and organic” way. “We tried to encourage experimentation and trying things [but] starting with substitution was really OK.”

At first, some faculty simply posted their syllabi on Canvas—the digital learning management system that Maryville rolled out alongside the iPads. Others, who traditionally wrote on a whiteboard during class, took notes instead on the iPad and posted them online so students could refer to them later. Some instructors had their students videotape peer-review sessions to make a record of the conversations.

Baby Steps

Administrators encouraged faculty members to start small. In the fall of 2015, the 40 faculty members in the iPad test group taught required freshman courses and participated in semester-long onboarding. Professors were asked to change at least one thing in one course—like an assignment or lecture—to incorporate the iPad.

In 2016, 2,477 full-time, face-to-face students got iPads and 351 faculty as well as some adjuncts and staff received them. The cost to the university: approximately $2 million, according to Lombardi.

The institution did not increase tuition to pay for the program, Harris said, because it was in a “good position” to make the investment, having enjoyed annual budgetary surpluses for the past decade.

Now, said Kavadlo, the goal is broader: “We want to make the technology something like the air that the faculty breathe, not an add-on and not an amendment.”

In fact, he said, “Technology was infused into just about we do with professional development, but we seldom refer to it as technology. It’s a given that when they come to professional development, that they would have their iPads with them.”

Students, on the other hand, learned the technology as they used it rather than attending iPad classes. The university formed support groups so technology-savvy students can coach their peers who need help getting up to speed.

In the meantime, the university has invested $4.5 million on greater bandwidth, faster internet speeds and ensuring students can get online in buildings and outdoors all over campus. Many classrooms are equipped with Wi-Fi-connected Apple TVs.

“In order for students to utilize this technology, we had to have the infrastructure,” said Lombardi, who noted that upgrades were in the university’s longer-range plans but were hurried once the details of Digital World took shape.

Big Results

Lombardi estimated that Maryville has reaped a 4-to-1 return on its investment in the technology, as retention of freshmen and sophomores has topped 88 percent, up from the mid-80s since the iPad program began, and total enrollment has increased in two years. In a survey, 52 percent of students said the program was “a major decision factor” when they chose to attend Maryville.

Plus, Lombardi said, “The investment in student learning and student outcomes is incalculable.”

Harris pointed to one instructor who taught two sections of the same course, but used the iPad in only one. Grades for students in the iPad-enhanced section were 9 percent higher, he said. Likewise, 81 percent of all students using iPads said in a survey the technology contributed “somewhat” or “a lot” to their learning experience.

Even more important, Lombardi said, is students' access to the iPads, regardless of their families' income. The technology also allows students to learn differently in the same space, he said. “If you’re an auditory learner, you might learn by listening to me giving a talk. But another might learn by visually watching something or by doing it. … It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching.”

 

 

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