by Dennis Dicks
Professor of Educational Technology
By January 2002, Concordia intends to have every classroom with more than
50 seats connected wirelessly to our internal computer system and hence
to the Internet. Furthermore, the university will endeavour to make laptop
computers available to students at a modest annual cost (CTR, 27 May 2001).
These very substantial commitments suggest we have a central plan for
promoting the use of teaching technologies.
Meantime, a variety of Faculty-specific initiatives head us in that direction.
Some of these arise from a major grant from the McConnell Foundation (Transforming
Teaching and Learning at Concordia University, 1999).
Others draw upon funds provided by Quebec to subsidize programs which
promote new skills or knowledge in information technologies. They take
such visible form as videotaped lectures available on demand; multimedia
course materials using the Web; groupware or other delivery systems; learning
objects addressing specific teaching goals; common curriculum for
multisection courses; and so on.
Significantly, at least three Faculties have hired instructional
designers, staff specifically mandated to help faculty implement
teaching technology projects. IITS and the Centre for Teaching and Learning
Services also support faculty development in this area through workshops,
helpdesks, authorware services (e.g. WebCT) and formative evaluation of
I am most familiar with the work in the John Molson School of Business,
where over the past five years faculty have worked closely with the team
at the Centre for Instructional Technology to create four different laptop
university projects; to enrich dozens of courses with FirstClass
groupware; to deliver an entire program, the Global Aviation MBA, to students
in 10 countries; to launch another MBA program linking students in Montreal
and Toronto via videoconference; to support 20 or so teaching technology
projects initiated by faculty; and to host a major conference on educational
Broad strategy needed
An impressive array of activity across the universitybut is there
a broad strategy underlying this variety? Where are we headed with wirelessly
connected classrooms? Why will we encourage students to arrive with their
laptops? So they will have something more interesting to do than listen
to the prof?
A cautionary view of this trend emanates from a conference sponsored by
the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), with sessions
like Implications for Workload, Faculty Control of Content and Curriculum
(November 2-4, 2001). Past experience does indicate that we have to do
more than follow the herd to draw lasting benefit from technologys
Those who appear to have drawn such benefits from teaching technologies
have started with clear strategic goals founded on an academic mission,
and have moved towards those goals by forming collaborative consensus
among all the stakeholders: IT units, libraries, faculty, staff, students,
business partners, alumni, even parents.
Drawing on this wisdom, following a strategic plan, teaching technology
applications in the John Molson School have been designed to support its
strengths in specific niches not to move on-line holus bolus.
Success demands collaboration on a focused plan because of the scale of
investment required by teaching technologies and the pervasiveness of
their impacts. Teaching technologies cost lots and depreciate quickly.
They need staff to build and maintain them. They change the way faculty
communicate with students. They change the way students learn.
In sum, they force substantive change in the way the parts of the university
work together, in the allocation of human and material resources, in systems
governing faculty workload and incentives. If we do not understand and
address the concerns of all the stakeholders, experience shows resistance
To date, the organizations that have attained relative success in implementing
broad teaching technology strategies are small a few thousand students,
a few hundred faculty. Can large universities like ours work to a common
strategy? Is that an appropriate aspiration? These questions are the subject
of policy research in the Educational Technology program. I dont
know the answers. But I know we do have to ask.