John Harwood, senior director of the Center for Education Technology Services
First, it might be helpful to look more broadly at how faculty and teaching assistants are using technology in teaching. Each year since 1990, the Faculty Advisory Committee on Academic Computing has commissioned a survey of faculty and students. We seek to understand how technology is being used, and we share the results of the survey broadly. Our most current survey (November 2000) disclosed that about 54% of the respondents have a course Web site and provide course materials on the Web. About 25% post grades, students' papers, and past exams on the Web. Finally, about 25% use some form of electronic conferencing--CourseTalk, First Class, or threaded news groups. About one-third of the respondents are willing to accept a Web site as a substitute for a traditional classroom paper. Almost 75% of the respondents expect their students to know how to retrieve information via the Web (including using the library and computer/electronic resources). Just under one-third of the respondents expect their students to know how to develop presentations using presentation software such as PowerPoint. Fewer than 25% expect their students to know how to create Web pages, how to use electronic conferencing, how to do statistical or numerical analyses, how to create databases, how to use simulation software, and how to use computer graphics.
What do we learn from these results? The good news is that Penn State has moved beyond the "early adopter phase" where only a few persons experiment with technology. We are definitely in the midst of a major change in how faculty and students communicate, interact with each other and course materials, do traditional functions like taking quizzes or submitting papers, and so on. Even better news is that the tools for teaching are improving rapidly. But if Penn State wanted to make even more rapid changes, what should it do? Last summer Rod Erickson, the provost and executive vice president, asked me to chair the e-Education Council. This Council was charged with developing a plan for helping Penn State make more rapid progress in integrating technology into the educational experience of our students. We believe that our "vision statement" can be summarized in one sentence: "We envision a University in which educational technology and pedagogical scholarship enrich teaching and learning for every student and faculty member." But vision statements are far easier to state than to implement. How do we propose to achieve the numerous objectives that the e-Education Council has articulated for Penn State?
Any efforts to make large-scale changes will need to recognize the scale of teaching and learning at Penn State. This semester we are offering almost 7,000 sections in resident education alone. Whatever initiatives that Penn State pursues will need to recognize the incredible diversity of its faculty. We should recall that the idea for the World Wide Web was first articulated by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, and his intention was to make it easier to share files among researchers. The first browser didn't appear until a few years later. While the Web is now part of the cultural background of our first-year students, it is far from familiar to many of our faculty. A central recommendation of the e-Education Council is that we need to create a new environment for learning based on a set of commonly shared principles, tools, and processes that support these goals. The "common learning environment" can be described in quite non-technological language:
(1) it encourages and supports faculty who want to integrate on-line elements into their courses;
(2) it facilitates an effective student experience with e-learning; and
(3) it supports the increased sharing of course materials among traditional campuses and the World Campus.
Having a "common learning environment" will make it much easier for faculty at all locations to have access to the same set of tools and resources. In the long run, most people learn best from others in their own units--having many colleagues using the same kind of word processing package, for instance, enables them to support each other. The same principle applies to the Web-enhancement of courses. While most faculty will not ever think of teaching in the World Campus, most faculty would like to see the process of creating course materials become far easier. Faculty do not want to spend their time doing repetitive tasks (e.g., grading student quizzes) if the tasks can be done effectively with technology. If textbook publishers or faculty at Michigan or Northwestern have resources that our faculty wish to use, we need to make it easy for them to identify and integrate those resources. Quite simply, none of us can afford to go the distance by ourselves. Look for an announcement later this spring about our progress toward a "common learning environment."
What else is Penn State doing to achieve these goals? First, we will continue to offer a vigorous range of seminars (both "live" and Web-based tutorials) that deal with pedagogical and technological issues. (For information on current activities, please see the Education Technology Services Training Group's page: http://cac.psu.edu/training; for information on Web-based tutorials, see http://wbt.cac.psu.edu). Second, we will continue to recognize outstanding faculty and student accomplishments in integrating technology and teaching. The Ninth Annual Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium (http://cac.psu.edu/training/TLT/) will present more than twenty exemplary faculty projects. Our first annual undergraduate Web fair (www.psu.edu/webfair) recognized outstanding individual and team projects that used the Web to discover and communicate knowledge. Finally, we will continue to experiment with other kinds of support for faculty and teaching assistants. This year we have done a pilot program with the Schreyer Honors College to help provide undergraduate learning assistance to faculty who have requested it (http://cac.psu.edu/tla/). We are also developing a "Teaching with Technology Certificate" for teaching assistants. This competency-based program is being piloted this semester and if it is successful, we will offer it more widely next fall.
The Web took Penn State by surprise in the early 1990's, and in the past decade we have made what Bill Graves calls "many random acts of progress." In the next decade we hope to exploit more systematically its power to help faculty and students do the most important work of the University: education. Notice that this wonderful word already has an "e" as its first letter, so we do not need the hyphen that we find in "e-business." I know that textbook publishers are not the only ones who are finding that their world--their markets, their customers, their media, their authors--is being changed almost beyond recognition by the presence of new technologies. The students who enroll at this university in 2011 will find a very different environment for learning.