Epiphany Workshop, Jan. 9-12
Weve all just spent
several days enjoying some excellent sessions and
fascinating speakers. This gathering has convinced me
once again of how dedicated ES professionals are to
changing and improving the learning/teaching environments
for teachers and students. We now get to go back to our
local campuses and begin to implement all the excellent
teaching and learning practices weve collected
here. In so doing we will have to deal with the practical
realities of our home institutions. Thats quite a
task but one we can all deal with as long as we keep our
own and others expectations in line with local
contexts. My purpose here is to illustrate how complex
these local practical contexts can become and to
illustrate how we might work productively within them.
Let me begin to illustrate some of the dilemmas we face
in the project of improving technology-rich teaching and
learning environments. My remarks are based on a survey I
conducted in the winter of 1995 of 55 post-secondary
institutions around the country and the 191 people who
participated in that survey.
One teacher taking part
in this study described some of her experiences teaching
composition courses in technology-rich facilities. (OH1)
Money and adequate
facilities as well as campus wide support are
problems. They want us to do it [teach using
communication technologies], just do it without
costing any money or having campus wide planning of
technology and funding. Information technology [the
administrative unit] which is responsible for the
other labs on campus will not give technical support
to the writing center nor to the teaching of English
with computer enhancement. It is difficult to
schedule or use lab facilities to even provide
minimal training to whole classes of students in the
use of technology on the net or on the campus
teacher/administrator from a large west-coast university
might as well be following me around my institution:
I walk the halls
of my department very carefully these days, often at
odd hours, trying to avoid the desperate hordes of
people who clutch my arm and ask:
"How can I
hurry--will you show me how to get that attachment? I
have to have the paper done by Friday and I've never
seen an attachment before."
difference between the college network and the
you get us laser printers? What do you mean, YOU
don't even get a laser printer? You had to buy that
minute? How do I hook up a modem from home?"
These are comments made
by experienced teachers, most, like you, who value the
use of technology in the teaching of communication
skills. On a scale of technological enthusiasm these two
respondents classified themselves as very enthusiastic.
Their two testimonials can be used to remind us of just
how complex local conditions can make even successful
efforts to incorporated communication technologies into
our instruction. (OH3) Today, Ill present a three
step process that I hope will help us move closer to
managing productively with local social, institutional,
and technical conditions. The first involves setting
goals. The second step involves connecting with
colleagues and exploring the changing human and technical
infrastructures at work behind teachers efforts to
TWT. The final step has to do with implementation. I get
at that step by describing MTUs attempts to create
what Ill call a "culture of support" for
Establishing the Goals for and Benefits of TWT
The first step
toward working productively within local contexts is
taking the time to establish goals for technology use.
There are four different kinds of goals I am talking
about here: techno-centric, educational, TR facility
goals, and departmental goals. My contention, after
examining the survey results of some 87 teachers
experiences in technology-rich facilities is that we do
our best work when we set goals in all four areas.
(BTW, I dont
often talk about using technology without at the same
time, talking about the facilities in which they are
housed. I would be glad to talk about why Im think
this is important later. )
Techno-centric goals are those focused on the
technologies themselves and understanding their
importance. They include such items as our ability to:
- improve basic
- make technology
accessible to as many students and faculty as
- stay current with an
expanding range of new technologies;
- provide (technical)
working-world skills for students; and
students technical facility on multiple
Next, educational goals are those that we want to
accomplish within these facilities. Among them are items
like the following:
- critical thinking
- a students
sense of audience and the writing process
- the fluency or
amount of writing/communicating taking place in
- lifelong learning
skills, both in the sense of collaborating on
writing projects and collaborating synchronously
or asynchronously in discussions with local
audiences and audiences world wide;
- our understanding of
the influences that communication technologies
have on our working and writing processes so that
we graduate thoughtful users (and consumers) of
communication technology; and
- our sense of the
aesthetic or humorous uses of these technologies.
By the way, from my own
observations of sites and facilities, these are not
objectives that should apply only to students. It
is essential that faculty and technicians have a combined
expertise in all these areas as well.
TR Facility Goals
There were also useful goals for the facilities
themselves that will help efforts to TWT.
We need to provide:
consulting, tutoring, or coaching for both
students AND teachers;
- a range of
"publishing" opportunities and
environments for communicating with
"live" audiences; and
- sites for social
action: opportunities for students to manage and
maintain communication technologies.
There were also goals that focused on the
departmental use of TR facilities as well. That is, they
enable us to:
- conduct research
into innovative technologies;
- attract young,
through these facilities and the sharing of TR
- provide a site for
synergy and community development for current
degree programs (composition, literature,
technical communication, ESL, and graduate
rhetoric/composition programs, among others).
Each of these sets of
goals are useful not only to sharpen our own
educational direction but also to help colleagues new to
the use to computers and to educate administrators
who can help make technology happen. The process of
identifying such goals can also help us convince
technicians to work with us in our efforts and
convince university and departmental committees to
value the work innovative teacher/scholars working in
these facilities as they come up for promotion or tenure.
I want during the
break-out session to spend time with some of you
developing a more substantial list of techno-centric,
educational, and institutional goals.
From what Ive seen
at this conference you will return and be successful at
implementing technology-rich curricula and helping others
to do the same. At that point Id say that
were ready to take the second step: that is,
learning about the human and physical infrastructures
that surround TWT efforts and sharing what we learn with
students, technicians, and administrators.
Step 2: Learning about the Human and
Physical Infrastructures Surrounding TWT
alarming, self-defeating dynamic reflected in the
comments made by students, technicians, administrators,
and teachers in the survey went something like this:
Students often said that
they felt as if they knew more about technology than
their instructors who they considered ill prepared to
teach with technology.
Both administrators and
technical staff also saw teachers as incompetent
technology users, unwilling to learn new systems well
(even when supplied with training sessions), unconcerned
with instruction in new technological environments if
they were on the tenure-track or had previously been
tenured, and generally unmotivated.
When describing their own
challenges, teachers, pointed to the lack of professional
incentives; minimal technical support, a lack of
systematic, specialized training; increasing workloads;
static pay schedules, and a lack of access to convenient
equipment and space for project work and training. This
last issue seemed particularly important for adjunct and
part-time instructors who were often responsible for many
or most sections of composition or technical
communication courses at an institution but were the
least likely group to have adequate access to technology
and technical support.
Caught in this dynamic,
neither students, teachers, nor administrators were
prepared to think critically or productively about the
complex social elements surrounding TWT. Instead they
were content to point fingers of blame at others without
examining the working contexts that these others faced.
These stakeholders often
seemed to be ignoring the important influence of
infrastructure and institutional dynamics that lay behind
a commitment or lack of commitment to teaching well with
technology. Thinking critically about infrastructure and
institutional dynamics cannot, of course, be best
accomplished overnight or even by an individual teacher.
Rather, under ideal circumstances, this kind of complex
study requires building a team of committed, supportive
colleagues. The concerns of the teachers I surveyed
suggest a heuristic that could be used to focus the
efforts of such a team.
Concern #1: Technology
How much training is available to teachers
interested in using educational technology?
- Are training
That is, are they
simply showing teachers how to use a technology and
not exploring why, when and how they might want to
What percentage of
training is acontextual?
Are training sessions
tied to educational goals so that teachers can see
the class-use value of a technology?
- Is the training tied
to actual projects of interest to teachers:
professional, instructional, personal projects?
- Are there supported
times in the training process where teachers can
plan on working in one medium or another on those
personally motivating projects? By
"supported times" I mean, are there
knowledgeable support people aroundpaid
technicians, student consultants, other practiced
teacherswho can answer questions in
context, in the context of learning while
- Do training sessions
look at the rhetorical value of one media over
- Is the training
itself accessible; does it come during normal
professional development times or is it tacked on
to already demanding teaching/professional loads?
- Is the training
periodic so that teachers are not expected to
become self-sufficient in one session but are
encouraged to accumulate expertise over time?
Concern # 2:
How much preparation time is made available for teachers
who are essentially revising curricula?
- If technology
requires more time and more work,
how does this additional work get translated into
... professional development opportunities (time
to attend, fees, & travel money)?
... release time?
... course loads?
... professional credit for curricular
...tenure and promotion guidelines for service
work, innovative teaching, research into
effective teaching with technology?
Concern # 3: Technical
What sort of technical assistance do teachers
- Is technical
assistance available and in what form: other
instructors; local, paid personnel; central IT
personnel; knowledgeable student consultants?
- Is assistance
... as they learn technologies?
... as they plan for integrating local
technologies into theoretical and pedagogical
... as they use those technologies in TR
- Is support available
as they teach with the facility? By
"teaching with" Im referring to
those times when teachers are relying on the
technologies available at a site but may not be
meeting in the lab or classroom during class
time. Most distance learning makes use of systems
in this manner.
Concern # 4: Access
What levels of convenient access to technology do
various kinds of teachers have at this institution? GTAs?
- What percentage of
technology-rich courses do each of these groups
teach in the department?
- What sort of
monetary support for TR professional development
opportunities do each of these groups receive?
- What special
concerns will influence each of these
groups decisions to invest time (and often
money) in learning new technologies and
integrating them into their classes
... office space?
... time spent (weekly) at the institution?
... average length of employment?
... salary level?
... teaching loads?
... other jobs or family responsibilities?
Concern # 5: Influence
on Decision Making
Are teachers involved in the decision making that goes
on in the TR facilities in which they are asked to teach?
- Do teachers know and
have input into the goals of the facility, how
those goals are monitored or assessed, and how
decisions about purchases and hires are related
to those goals?
- Do they know and
consult with the person(s) who handles finances?
- Are they aware of
the sources of income for the facility, how much
that income is, and what the primary expenses
are, and what constraints finances place on
- Do they know about
the specifics of the budgetary process, and do
they have a part to play in that process?
- Can teachers see the
educational implications of budgetary decisions
beyond their impact on their individual classes?
Part of the decision
making that goes on in TR facilities happens outside the
- Do teachers know of
the institutional relationships that currently
exist between the facility that supports their
TWT work and who the major players are in those
- Do they have some
access to discussions between the stakeholders
who exert some influence on TR facilities?
- Are they encouraged
to imagine and develop new, productive
relationships with other teachers, between
Implementing those approaches possible within local
The only way I
can talk about this step is to describe how my own
institution, the Humanities department at MTU, went about
trying to create a culture of support for those working
in TR environments. I should note that over the last 15
years each step forward in our situation, as in most
schools, was accompanied by 1/2 steps backwards or by
complications that make additional progress difficult.
- Faculty machines and
upgrades connected to the net
- Faculty support
person (1/2 time)
- Student support
person (3/4) to run facility with a mind to TWT
- Run departmental
business over the net (with paper support for
those who wont otherwise participate--slow
- Department Chair
participates on departmental and student e-mail
- Travel $ for
academics and staff willing to upgrade technology
- Weekly meetings:
informal, self-determining, alternating between
hands-on and discussions of theory and classroom
practices, disseminate weekly meeting notes.
multiple-day workshops: Survey of faculty
=> topics for workshop => hands-on
demonstration => a lot of supported project
- Learning from
each other at a yearly, intense two-week
massive reading list and book reviews
+ daily discussion sessions
+ daily supported hands-on work with technology
+ goal and strategy development up front
+ course-work development and mini-teaches
+ SOCIAL EVENTS!
+ 24-hour access to technology
+ lots of optional mini-workshops from local,
visiting, and participants experts.