The Epiphany Project
Challenges Faculty Face in Creating a Culture of
Support for Teaching with Technology

On the last morning of the Institute, Dickie Selfe facilitated a session entitled "Making Progress Within Local Contexts." Because Institute participants felt a need to do interactive reflection and planning work before going home, Dickie shortened his talk to make room for a writing-to-learn exercise and small group dialogue. He graciously provided us with a full set of his original session notes.

The last step in Epiphany's four-part STEPS model is "dissemination," sharing what you've learned with others. In her introduction to Selfe's session, Judy Williamson observed, "Even though you may feel like you're more confused than ever, like you don't know where to begin, you probably also have this overwhelming (perhaps even burdensome) sense that you've got to go back and share." The answers to this challenge are best found in a process of collaborative reflection, brainstorming, and support. Selfe's session was designed to help participants work in small groups to express concerns, explore possibilities, and identify the most promising avenues for local action.

Summary of Selfe's Institute Presentation

Selfe began by polling audience members to identify what kinds of institutions and academic appointments they represented:

Tenure Track Faculty 51%
Professional Staff / Instructor 40%
Adjunct, Part-Time, or Graduate Student 09%

He noted that these figures are somewhat unusual. In his other experiences with technology-related educational presentations, fewer tenured tenure track faculty are in attendance, while a greater percentage of graduate students are usually attracted to gatherings that explore teaching with technology. Selfe postulated that Epiphany's Institute participant statistics may reflect the fact that the event (held in early January) selected for motivated faculty -- the "early adopters." Early adopters are people who learn primarily on their own initiative, have a pre-existing fascination with the potential of technology, or who are working "without a safety net." This is in contrast with faculty who have more "mainstream" and "reluctant" attitudes toward digital pedagogies. Knowing your constituents and their respective attitudes toward technology is crucial, because it makes a big difference in how you plan and what constitutes the best course of action at your institution.

If we are to be successful at implementing technology in our classrooms and/or convincing other people to do the same, we need to keep in mind that there's an attendant set of responsibilities:

  • Avoid a self-defeating dynamic that leads to burn-out. We need to survive over a number of years, both personally and professionally. If you stay involved, you will become successful, because there's a lot of intelligence and motivation in the TWT community.
  • Work together to think about expanding our assessment beyond technology-rich instruction to include an examination of the institutional infrastructure that supports that teaching. Unless you do both jobs at one point or another, you will find yourself at a loss. In order to be prepared to meet the challenges ahead, we need to think in broad terms.
  • Recruit and maintain a community of colleagues. Do this both locally and at a distance. While the national-level support of TWT colleagues is important, don't overlook resources and potential allies on your home campus. The job is too big for any one person to do alone and faculty in other departments will be more supportive if they don't feel that you're setting up a separate fiefdom.

Selfe then outlined three challenges for faculty who play a catalytic role on their local campuses in the area of teaching with technology:

  1. Establishing the goals for and benefits of TWT (i.e., spend time with your community of technology-friendly colleagues to develop a clear plan of attack that articulates technological, educational, facility, and departmental goals).;
  2. Learning about the human and physical infrastructure surrounding TWT. In a survey Selfe conducted in 1995, students, technicians, and administrators described faculty as generally unwilling to learn about technology. Faculty responding to the same survey said that they received minimal technical support and no professional incentives for learning how to use technology in their classrooms. These survey results describe a dynamic in which people point fingers at one another -- what we need to be about is discovering ways to avoid that debilitating dynamic. One way is to develop conversational relationships in which we come to understand the constraints of one another and use this insight to transform the culture of blame into a culture of support.; and
  3. Implementing those approaches possible within local constraints.

Selfe then laid out a five-part heuristic based in the concerns/perspectives of teachers:

  1. How much training is available to teachers interested in using educational technology?
  2. How much preparation time is made available for teachers who are essentially revising curricula?
  3. What sort of technical assistance do teachers receive?
  4. What levels of convenient access to technology do various kinds of teachers have at this institution? ... GTAs? ... Adjuncts? ... Tenure-track?
  5. Are teachers involved in the decision making that goes on in the TR facilities in which they are asked to teach?

This is the kind of ongoing, reflective self (and institutional) assessment that we need to conduct to survive. We need to ride the wave of enthusiasm that we feel coming off of gatherings like the Epiphany Institute, but we also need to build support and draw other faculty into the process.

Selfe then asked those in attendance to take part in a writing-to-learn activity. Participants wrote for about ten minutes, responding to the question and discussing their responses with the people sitting next to them. After participants then divided into small groups, reporting on conversations, brainstorming, and laying out preliminary action plans to implement after returning home.

What is the most important challenge that you face in your efforts to create a culture of support for teaching with technology?

Selfe gathered the responses to this writing prompt, which he collated and posted on several computer-related lists. Joe Essid has created a Web-based overview of the responses. To read selected participant writings, visit the links below:

Read 1st Set of Participant Challenge Writings

Read 2nd Set of Participant Challenge Writings

Read 3rd Set of Participant Challenge Writings

Read 4th Set of Participant Challenge Writings

Read 5th Set of Participant Challenge Writings

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