Teaching With Emerging Technologies

Michelle Pacansky-Brock says digital learning is reshaping the higher ed landscape, and suggests five things instructors need to succeed. 

July 19, 2017

As online and blended learning reshape the landscape of teaching and learning in higher education, the need increases to encourage and support faculty in moving from delivering passive, teacher-centered experiences to designing active, student-centered learning.

Our new social era is rich with simple, free to low-cost emerging technologies that are increasing experimentation and discovery in the scholarship of teaching and learning. While the literature about Web 2.0 tools impacting teaching and learning is increasing, there is a lack of knowledge about how the adoption of these technologies is impacting the support needs of higher education faculty. This knowledge is essential to develop new, sustainable faculty support solutions.

Driven by my own experiences as a full-time and part-time faculty member and early adopter of VoiceThread -- a Web 2.0 tool that fosters asynchronous voice, video and text conversations around media -- I designed my dissertation research study to investigate how the use of Web 2.0 tools is impacting the support needs of higher education faculty. I performed this action research study in collaboration with the VoiceThread organization with the purpose of improving the support needs of their higher education users.

The study’s sample included 50 higher education faculty members, comprised of a mix of part-time and full-time faculty from two-year and four-year institutions in the United States with a VoiceThread account (free, an individual higher ed account or a site license). The interview and reflection data revealed unique support needs of faculty who teach with emerging technologies, a growing demographic. These include:

  • Just-in-time resources. Faculty support programs comprised of face-to-face workshops and consultations will not meet the needs of faculty. The issues underlying this finding are related to the significant changes in the demographics of faculty. Today, most classes are taught by part-time faculty, and many of these individuals also have full-time jobs and teach at multiple institutions. Online resources that can be accessed from anywhere at any time from multiple devices are essential to supporting innovations in teaching and learning.
  • Nonlinear PD experiences. Faculty who adopt new technologies desire nonlinear professional development experiences to support the integration of technology into their classes. Faculty noted that accessing an ebook to learn new strategies to teach with VoiceThread was “less risky” than spending the time in a workshop, as the ebook provided nonlinear pathways, allowing a faculty member to engage with the topics that align best with their needs.
  • Community. The adoption of emerging technologies by faculty is resulting in pockets of innovation on campus. As a result, faculty who integrate emerging technologies into their teaching feel isolated from their peers. Professional learning networks designed to connect faculty and promote sharing of practices and ideas will be key to supporting faculty. Social technologies like Twitter, Hangouts on Air and Google+ Communities will continue to play important roles in connecting faculty innovators across campuses.
  • Funding for accounts. The freemium model employed by most ed-tech companies provides faculty with a low barrier to entrance and encourages experimentation. However, as the adoption cycle for Web 2.0 tools matures, many faculty are finding themselves paying out of pocket for the premium version(s) of their tool(s) of choice. We will need to consider new funding approaches for supporting faculty within these pockets of innovation.
  • LMS integration. Learning management systems (LMSs) remain the most pervasively used technology in higher education. Learning technologies interoperability (LTI) is an industry standard that provides a simple way for web-based technologies to integrate with major LMSs, offering streamlined teaching experiences that may eliminate the need for students to create accounts and provide the ability to grade the activity inside the LMS.
    Faculty see LTI integration as an opportunity to save them time and promote more adoption across campus. However, faculty have the perception that administration want to see strong adoption rates prior to considering an LMS integration. This tension is evidence that faculty use of web-based tools is reshaping the teaching and learning landscape.

Faculty support must be understood as a dynamic process that needs to adapt to the changing needs of instructors. Colleges, universities and ed-tech companies exist within a new ed-tech ecosystem. Organizations within this ecosystem have a shared interest in supporting faculty who teach with emerging technologies.


Michelle Pacansky-Brock is innovations lead and the host of the humanizED podcast for Teaching & Learning Innovations at California State University Channel Islands. Her areas of expertise are online teaching, course design and faculty development. Connect with her on Twitter @brocansky.

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