Technology … it’s not just for science departments anymore – implementing technology at collegesJune 23, 2007 |
by Ronald Roach
As a graduate student at Ohio State University in the early 1990s, Dr. Leslie Fenwick had grown accustomed to having access to computers and to using her own campus-issued computer. “They were part of the landscape. Computers were just part of the university setting,” Fenwick said.
But when she joined the faculty at Clark Atlanta University (CAU) in Atlanta, Georgia four years ago, Fenwick, an assistant professor in CAU’s School of Education, was left to fend for herself as far as computers were concerned.
Though surprised that CAU lacked the resources to provide her the equipment she deems critical to her position as a college professor, Fenwick resorted to using a computer she already owned. She finally received a computer for her office this summer when another faculty member in the CAU school of education, Dr. James Young, purchased several computers through a grant he had obtained. Fenwick’s boss, Dr. Trevor Turner, dean of the CAU education school, said it’s common for faculty members, such as Dr. Fenwick, to use their own personal computers to perform their duties as college teachers. He estimates that fewer than ten of thirty-five faculty members in his department have a computer in their offices. Dr. Turner added that the school of education has not had the funding to provide its faculty members individual computers, but the department has maintained a student computer laboratory that is open to faculty members.
“It’s a resource problem. We’re still very much a poor HBCU,” Turner said.
Though committed to equipping itself with the latest information technology, institutions such as Clark Atlanta University have traditionally faced tremendous disadvantages in making technology a widely available resource for faculty members and students. Among faculty, the experience of working in colleges and universities with meager resources has led to grassroots efforts by teachers using grants and personal resources to purchase equipment.
According to Fenwick, faculty members who are interested in acquiring technology for their classrooms often seek grants and support from organizations outside of their schools. But the practice of individual faculty members obtaining technology from sources outside their respective colleges and universities has often led to a haphazard collection of computers and multi-media equipment, say a number of faculty and administrative officials. To alleviate the problem, Fenwick suggests that faculty members and administrative officials form committees to develop consensus around technology plans.
Playing Catch-Up With Public Schools
A fervent advocate of using information technology in the office and classroom, Fenwick says the lack of funding in colleges and universities represents the greatest threat to integrating computers into administration and teaching. “One of the concerns I have is our ability to prepare prospective teachers for grades K through 12,” she laments. “Computers are widely used in school systems, and our students, who are becoming teachers and administrators in those systems, should have the training to use technology in their future jobs.”
Turner says the Clark Atlanta University administration is currently adding computer equipment to his department for its faculty members. He says that faculty not having computers and other information technology hurts his department’s ability to train teachers who are getting jobs in public school districts heavily equipped with technology. “We’re playing catch up with the public schools. It’s a necessity that we get computers because we’re prepping future teachers,” Turner said.
Dr. Jacquelyn Madry-Taylor, director of education programs/services at the United Negro College Fund, believes that among the UNCF member schools there is strong faculty interest in computers and other information technology as a resource for teaching and learning. And she also believes that the biggest obstacle for the private historically Black schools is funding, rather than a lack of interest among faculty, noting: “That’s pretty standard for a lot of institutions. There’s never been an overabundance of technology in our member schools.”
Madry-Taylor said UNCF provides faculty development support for information technology at its forty-one member institutions. She administers a competitive grant program that enables faculty members at individual colleges and universities to receive funding for retraining — including technology-based retraining. Grant applications are reviewed by a panel independent of UNCF. Madry-Taylor estimated that at least half the retraining grants it provides to faculty members goes out to support technology-based instruction.
“Our grants are open to those who have applied for retraining. Technology has been a big area for retraining. The grants are for faculty in all disciplines,” she explained, noting that UNCF is getting support for the program from companies such as the Prudential Foundation and AT&T.
Hampton Technology Mall
At colleges and universities that can afford technology, however, faculty members have played an important role in shaping technology policies and initiatives for their schools and have integrated technology into their teaching and administrative tasks.
An initiative spearhead by Hampton University President William Harvey has led to the construction of Hampton’s Academic Technology Mall that was opened earlier this year. The multi-million-dollar facility houses a faculty development computer laboratory, a student computer laboratory, and an electronic classroom center. “It was very well received by the faculty here,” said Dr. Mary Ellis, the mall’s director.
Ellis, who is also chair of Hampton’s Department of Computer Science, said the mall was developed to serve both students and faculty. Faculty members can arrange to have individualized computer training at the mall or can they develop multi-media courseware for their classes.
The mall is expected to boost information technology use by the school’s teachers in the humanities and social sciences, according to Ellis. “We’re trying to bridge the gap. Faculty are aware that they’re going to have to use the technology. But in the past, much of the technology has gone over to the science departments,” Ellis explained.
Dr. Clayton Bates, associate dean of graduate education and research programs at the Howard University School of Engineering, says that faculty members in science and computer departments have traditionally been most aggressive in bringing information technology to their schools. He also notes that individual schools and departments have traditionally implemented their own technology plans: “Everyone is trying use technology to suit their own purposes. Each department has its own needs.”
According to Bates, certain schools and departments on a campus are better qualified to adapt a particular technology for its students and faculty members — eventually making it available for the entire university. He cited the example of a General Motors donation of videoconferencing equipment to a Howard engineering department that is expected to benefit the entire university.
North Carolina’s Mandate
Dr. John Kelly, associate dean of graduate and research programs at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina, said the faculty experience at his school is representative of an institution whose technology policies have resulted from mandates by the University of North Carolina system and the school’s administration.
“The state of North Carolina is very aggressive in technology. They established back in the early ’80s a distance learning network among all the universities,” said Kelly, adding that the state’s network infrastructure for videoconferencing and computers continued to grow, and was eventually linked to the state’s public school K-12 system.
According to Kelly, North Carolina A&T began requiring an annual $35 technology fee from students that went to the support of computer labs, advanced telecommunications networks on campus, and other high-tech equipment. The school has also benefited from the financial and equipment support from major corporations, such as AT&T and Digital Equipment Corporation.
Another factor driving faculty acceptance of information technology has been a requirement by the state of North Carolina that college students demonstrate a measure of computer literacy. “To make sure our students meet their requirements, their teachers have to be computer literate,” Kelly said.
Kelly also confided that the university is expected to computerize all its administrative operations and communications with faculty by the year 2000. “We expect to have a paperless operation by then,” he said.
The HBCU Faculty Network
Dr. Stephen L. Rozman, co-director of the HBCU Faculty Network, said colleges and universities typically benefit more from information technology when there is clear leadership coordinated between a school’s administration and its faculty. “When technology is not part of an overall school’s strategic plan, then the process slows down in getting it integrated,” explained Rozman. “In private colleges, the technology process relates heavily to academic leadership by the administration.”
Rozman, who is dean of the social science department at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, said his organization’s annual symposium in October will feature presentations by HBCU Faculty Network members to educate other network members about state-of-the-art applications of instructional technology. The HBCU Faculty Network is an alliance of faculty members at historically Black colleges and universities who are dedicated to the sharing of innovative teaching methods.
Among the presenters at the symposium will be Dr. Susan Spillman, associate professor of French at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Through support from Xavier’s Center for Intercultural Studies and the school’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching,
Spillman learned to develop multi-media software programs. Since 1992, she has completed programs which include the interactive instruction of French literature texts. Spillman credits the Xavier University administration for its broad support of information technology. She said the school has pursued university-wide objectives, which includes support for multi-media courseware.
“The technology has made it possible for me to deliver interactive instruction with no increases in personnel,” Spillman states. “It has also made it possible for me provide instruction without me having to be present. It’s broadened the scope of my teaching.”
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