A paper for the Supporting Our Changing Institutions stream (or the Supporting the Instructional Program page) at SIGUCCS'97.
Peter Marshall <firstname.lastname@example.org> and
Colleen Bretzlaff <email@example.com>
Research and Instructional Support, Information Technology Services
The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada N6A 5B7
Telephone: 519-661-2151 Fax: 519-661-3486
"...there is nothing more difficult to take in hand,
more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success,
than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."
Niccolo Machiavelli (The Prince c.1505 Translated by W. K. Marriott)
Introducing technology into University teaching can be described by the classical diffusion model as described by Evertt Rogers in 1983. Only about 12% of a population are innovators and early adopters of a technology but by far the majority, typically 68%, constitute the mainstream or majority users. While we encourage and even participate in the work of the innovators and early adopters of technology it is in bridging the gap from these groups to the masses that we believe that we can make the most significant gains. The evangelism of multi-media early adopters repeatedly and rather convincingly has not been the right approach.
The University teaching environment is unique in that risk in teaching is often positively discouraged and it can even be an place where teaching is sometimes used as a punishment. To provide a low risk environment that encourages mainstream instructors to adopt technology we believe that we must
- have a robust technology infrastructure in place
- build buy-in through extensive consultation
- take non-radical, non-disruptive approaches to gradually and incrementally encourage instructors
- augment rather than replace existing methods
- first demonstrate applications that provide a substantial payback for students for very little cost to the instructor
- have a support organization with staff who have a basic knowledge of a wide-range of disciplines
The paper describes this environment and how we're "bridging the technology gap" at the University of Western Ontario with specific reference to one tool for practice exams that we see as providing foothold solidly in the ranks of the mainstream instructors. It has become a simple but compelling low-risk introduction to technology for many of our instructors.