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  March 27, 2000

Speaker: Teams Promote
Effective Use of Technology

Working as a team is the way to increase the effective use of technology in teaching and lighten the load on faculty, according to an expert on distance education.

"There has been a rapid expansion in the use of technology, but change is still marginal," says Tony Bates, director of distance education and technology, continuing studies, at the University of British Columbia.

Speaking to an audience of nearly 100 faculty and staff in the Konover Auditorium on March 14, he said the successful use of technology requires major changes in education and organizational culture.

The most common use of computer technology in teaching these days is for "add-ons," he said, classroom aids such as PowerPoint slides instead of a chalkboard. Yet these require a computer and a screen, and they add to the expense of teaching.

Just placing lecture notes on the Web is poor pedagogy, he added, and it imposes an extra burden on faculty: "If you don't replace anything, it takes more time."

Instead of the "Lone Ranger" model, where a faculty member teaches in isolation, using this or that piece of technology until the novelty wears off, Bates recommended developing project management teams to integrate technology into each course.

A team would include a faculty member, an instructional designer, a graphics designer, and a project manager to do the administration. He said such teams would improve the quality of instruction, spread knowledge - as the team members moved on to work on other projects with other faculty members - and would eventually be cheaper.

"The most expensive part is faculty time," he said. "If faculty spend a lot of time developing uses of technology, they are not doing research."

Bates, who has 30 years' experience using technology in education, including working for the Open University in Britain, said there are many ways technology can be used in education. These range from face-to-face learning with the teacher and the student in the same room and little or no technology, to distance education, where the teacher and the student are physically separated and rely on technology to communicate.

For most institutions, Bates advocates a mix of face-to-face learning and independent study, involving fewer lectures, discussions on line, and research on the web.

How technology is integrated into teaching must depend on the mission of the institution, he said, with specific teaching plans at the departmental level: "Technology has got to be a servant, not a master. It has to be for a purpose," he said. "We need to think what kind of learning skills we want to develop, as well as imparting content."

Bates cautioned that using technology won't save money. "You can't reduce teacher-student interaction beyond a certain point without a loss of quality," he said.

"It's economies of scope, not of scale, that you'll get with better use of technology," he added. "You're not saving money, but increasing output. Technology will probably transfer to more interaction with students or more research, rather than reduce costs."

Bates said it is essential to provide enough technical and media support. He noted that Virginia Tech, which he cited as a school that uses technology well, has a ratio of one technician to 20 faculty, and one instructional technology expert to 50 faculty.

"Faculty should be able to push a button and go, not have to worry about whether the technology is working," he said. "They need training on how to work in teams and how to use technology to teach differently, but they should not need to learn HTML markup."

Bates said using technology is a matter of choice. "You don't have to use it," he said, "but look at the risks of not doing so." Those risks include slow deterioration of teaching, lack of perceived relevance by students who feel they need technological skills for the workforce, and increased competition for students from other providers:

"Harvard, Berkeley and others will woo your students via distance learning, and students will vote not with their feet but with their mouse."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu