InTRO Report

Surveying the digital education landscape at the University of Oregon and comparable institutions in AY 2014-15

The UO Environment: Faculty Perspectives


InTRO’s direct access to faculty in its first year of operations has largely been limited to those individuals who have utilized our referral services. (For information about the scope of our referrals, as well as our observations of service gaps and other issues affecting the faculty experience, please visit the InTRO Referrals page.)

While a more comprehensive faculty needs assessment ought to be conducted in the future, we did get an early peek at a recent survey of UO faculty opinions about technology. The University of Oregon participated in the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) 2015 Survey on Faculty and Information Technology for the first time this past spring; faculty participation was coordinated by staff in Information Services. A summary and analysis of national and local data from ECAR will be provided in a report later in 2015, but raw data (average responses for UO, national public institutions, and all US institutions) for each of the survey questions has been made available.

A number of questions provided insight into attitudes about instructional technology related issues, particularly with regards to classroom technology, the LMS, teaching innovation, technology for student performance support, and technology support for faculty. While the detailed summary analysis available later this year will undoubtedly provide useful evidence for the larger context of instructional technology development at UO, a few selected results may also prove enlightening.

Selected ECAR Survey Responses

Question 3.7a

Rank up to three factors that would motivate you to integrate more or better technology into your teaching practices or curriculum.

The desire for clear evidence of student benefit – the top response from faculty when asked about their motivation for integrating technology into their teaching – indicates a need for reliable data to inform UO faculty and staff about best practices in teaching, learning, and technology. The debate in AY 2014-15 within and between the Undergraduate Council, Graduate Council, Committee on Courses and the University Senate concerning bilateral (instructor-student) engagement policy as well as an online instruction policy reinforces a need for useful evidence that can be called on to determine UO’s best options. Numerous other higher education institutions and professional organizations are working to address the need for data through the development and utilization of learning analytic initiatives. University of Michigan’s Digital Education and Innovation program is strongly connected to a faculty task force on learner analytics, while one major focus of the Unizin consortium is to build a learning analytics data pool for its members. While UO faculty may be reluctant to integrate technology into their teaching,  they may be more open to innovation than is often presupposed if analytics based information is brought to the debate.

The high response for release time – often tied to financial incentives at our peer institutions, but with a lower response at UO than nationally in the ECAR survey – speaks to a desire to integrate technology effectively; a process that inevitably requires time and attention. Some schools and colleges are already addressing this issue on an ad hoc basis; the Lundquist College of Business, for example, recently gave a small group of faculty release time in order to allow them to investigate the best possible options for increasing online course delivery.

The desire for greater confidence in technology as a motivator for integrating technology into teaching should be considered in combination with wanting knowledge of relevant educational technology and availability of expert instructional design, IT staff and TA help. The challenge of integrating new instructional technology tools or unfamiliar hardware is an issue that is often exacerbated by our current BYOD requirement (i.e., to bring a laptop or equivalent device) for most classroom technology use as well as the distributed support network for in-room and online applications. Improving access to user-friendly information and tutorials while increasing the consistency of customer service university-wide could make this factor less pressing.

Question 2.11

When you need technology support or assistance for school-related activities, what do you typically do?

It should not be surprising to see that UO’s independent faculty are used to a DIY ethos, figuring out technology issues or searching online for information on their own before contacting others for help. These responses are inline with faculty attitudes nationally, as is turning to help desk support only after these options are attempted. Noting these responses, as well as the strong preference to seek out peers for assistance, UO could continue to build out more self-help resources, coordinating expertise from all campus service providers to provide pathways to technology success in informed, engaged, and accessible processes for faculty. Many of our Inspired Examples (Innovative Models for Continued Faculty Support, St. Mary’s Digital Driver’s License Program, UO’s A&AA Flipped Class Workshop, UO’s Active Learning Working Group, VCU ALT Lab) emphasize the value of faculty-to-faculty engagement and faculty community building around technology; If given the resources, our faculty would likely find peer learning empowering.

Question 2.13 (part 13)

My institution generally supports faculty technology needs.

This chart demonstrates a trend of concern. While 37% of UO faculty respondents either agree or strongly agree with the statement that UO supports faculty technology needs, that is not a majority–and it is a significantly smaller number than reported by all public research institutions (46.9%) or by all U.S. institutions (52%). Furthermore, a significantly higher number of UO faculty chose to remain neutral on this subject (38.9%) than at all public research institutions (23.9%) or all U.S institutions (20.9%).

What does this suggest to us? That a fair number of our faculty are still getting their needs met, at least on a basic level, but that confidence in the university’s technology infrastructure and staffing can be improved. To us, this means efficient investment in technology and stronger coordination across campus for the support of both academic research and teaching with technology.

Observations: Faculty Support

Online Policy

UO policies for online education, currently in flux, are inconsistent; a standardized administrative perspective and strategic goals have been essential for quality progress at Our Peer institutions. There are many different models for the support of online courses and programs among these peers.

If UO faculty with little or no experience teaching online wish to begin offering quality courses in that modality, their support options are currently too limited. Units distributed across campus provide limited training, instructional design support, and/or technology access for high-quality online course creation. The limitations come from a variety of issues: jurisdictional limitations, a lack of strategic understanding of online teaching concepts, and a lack of resources. If UO chooses to expand its online offerings, instructional design support and training for online teaching should be coordinated and resourced (people, equipment, space, and policy).

Potential options for online course support at UO were presented by Academic Extension leadership earlier this year (see Academic Extension – Proposed Models for Online Education). Best-practice online policy must be created and implemented with strong quality standards inline with standards for non-online courses.

Improving Internal Communication

There continues to be a disparity between service providers’ actual resources and faculty needs, expectations, or interpretations of services needed. The development of shared vocabulary would ease communication among all parties. Often, language used by faculty making service requests does not always reflect true technology needs. Customer service falters when time is not available to translate faculty requests. Through such miscommunication, faculty may be told that a service is not available or be referred to other service providers incorrectly, increasing frustration and potential resistance to instructional technology integration.

Active Learning

Development, training and design for Active Learning is occurring in silos across campus, limiting the significant impact of these concepts at UO. Coordination of campus design efforts, assignment of resources, and faculty development with outreach to the broadest community of faculty and staff stakeholders would create increasing value. Such efforts could include:

  • continued, stable funding for the Working Group on Active Learning and Teaching combined with broader publicity to the campus
  • increasing focus on multiple types of active learning spaces such as innovative large lecture halls, undergraduate science labs, studio and performance spaces, seminars rooms, mock court and mock negotiation spaces, in addition to the ‘Steelcase’-type rooms
  • incorporating Universal Classroom Design processes in campus planning
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