Overcome reservations about innovation with hands-on tech-enriched learning

Advice from UB Tech® 2019 on using peer influence to engage faculty and encourage creative teaching practices

While innovation is a common higher ed buzzword, the concept still challenges many colleges and universities. And when it comes to apps and other digital tools, encouraging university faculty to deviate from traditional teaching methods on their own proves difficult.

“We had faculty who had a lot of ideas and a lot of things they wanted to do in their classes, but they didn’t know how to accomplish those things and were looking for solutions,” said Julin Sharp, director of digital education at Marist College in New York during her presentation on “Testing the Waters: Building Faculty Engagement for Innovation” at UB Tech® 2019 in Orlando.

Instructors were apprehensive and couldn’t scale that mountain alone, she found. Her department also struggled to engage and motivate faculty to experiment with digital tools and related pedagogies such as hybrid and online learning.

That’s when Sharp dispatched edtech and digital instruction specialists to help faculty redesign courses. A digital education team also worked individually with instructors over the span of a semester. They helped professors infuse video, audio and animation—creative forms of media and apps—as part of a strategy to create more dynamic learning environments.

Peer-to-peer tech learning

Sharp asked professors to teach their peers about familiar technologies or digital resources during faculty showcases—which made such events more interactive and less siloed. Staff can share, learn and network with members across departments and discover new ways to enrich student learning experiences. The benefits go both ways, Sharp said.

Besides engaging other faculty, a professor participating in a faculty showcase helps for tenure review. “They must do a certain number of presentations before colleagues, which helps their career trajectory,” she said.

The showcases and collaborative discussion graduate to hands-on learning. Faculty members get a chance to work with one another as well as edtech and instructional specialists on building content using various tools. They conduct technology trials and receive real-time feedback in the university’s Digital Education Lab, which is open throughout the academic year. It includes four round tables with laptops, a projector, and a green screen with camera and studio lights.

Testing the waters

Multiday workshops, which build on these open lab times, are held during the summer when faculty are less preoccupied and more inclined to “jump into something really new,” Sharp said. “We do a two-day workshop and let faculty try innovative technologies in the comfort of our lab without the risk of failure. We allow them to test things out.”

Results are surprising—and innovative, she adds.

Once, a social and behavioral science instructor was looking for a solution to help students choose an appropriate internship placement. She considered having former students share their stories but didn’t know the best way to accomplish the idea outside of holding a traditional, in-person internship fair.  The right solution, however, emerged while she was attending a digital education workshop, Sharp said.

The professor discovered a video recording app and used it to capture students talking about their internship placements and college experiences. She uploaded and stored the videos in a learning management system, where students could access and watch them.

This scenario, Sharp said, proves that awareness and hands-on opportunities to learn about new digital tools pays off. “The videos were a great way to have an internship fair without having to bring everyone to campus,” Sharp said. “It also ended up being a marketing tool for the department.”

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