Campus Strategies

One of the dangers of hosting an event like Faculty Summer Institute is that the home team is not sufficiently removed from its day-to-day responsibilities. Therefore at the campus strategy meetings the UIUC team was short-handed, with the result that this campus implementation report is representative of only a small part of our campus, the Foreign Languages Building. Those of us in the Foreign Languages do not consider this a problem, of course, and we are delighted to have the floor to ourselves. Still if the other members of the UIUC team want to expand in other directions, I hope they will add their voice.

Of the issues discussed by various groups relating to the implementation of campus strategy, the thorniest for our campus is one of faculty motivation. At a research university, how can we create an environment where faculty whose research interests are not focused on instructional issues, and for whose disciplines the use of computers for research applications is still in its infancy, want to use advanced technologies for instructional purposes?

Given the very strong focus on research for promotion and tenure as well as merit increases on this campus, only those who have a research focus on instructional method can afford to spend time exploring the use of these technologies in our instructional program. In the language departments this restricts such efforts to a small fraction of our staff - the 20% or so of the language department faculty who are working on Second Language Acquisition or Teacher Education. The other 80% - specialists in linguistics, literature and culture - engage in this work at their own peril.

It is unlikely that this situation will change any time soon. How then can we motivate these others to participate in this educational revolution? How can we create a culture where experimentation with technologies is exciting for our faculty?

Fortunately for our students, a few dedicated faculty members within our departments are experimenting with the use of advanced technologies. Unfortunately they often then come up against other roadblocks, these relating to the structure of campus programs intended to help faculty get started.

By the criteria listed in the Requests for Proposals for projects in educational technology it is clear that the campus interest in the use of information technologies for teaching is driven by a desire to cut costs rather than by a desire to improve instruction - not that improvement in instruction is frowned upon, it’s just not the focus. The use of advanced technologies in instruction would have much greater appeal to the faculty if improvement in learning were the first goal, and the cost savings were presented as a secondary goal. All of us care about the improvement of our instructional efforts, and there is little evidence that these technologies save money and only anecdotal evidence that they improve instruction. By focusing on improvement of instruction, and funding research to determine the instructional benefits, the university’s programs to encourage the use of advanced technologies will better gain the confidence of the faculty.

The economic motivation presents itself in the RFPs by making a primary criterion the number of students affected. The number of students issue is a particular problem for us in the foreign languages. Our large numbers are in elementary and intermediate language courses, but, as mentioned above, language learning is the research and instructional focus of a small percentage of our faculty. Therefore the numbers requirements virtually eliminate the 80% of our faculty who are focused on literary, linguistic and cultural studies from having a strong case for support under current guidelines.

A second factor that limits faculty participation in using advanced technologies for their teaching is that computers remain a secondary tool for research in the humanities. A significant motivation to attract faculty to the use of computer applications, particularly at a research-oriented university, is to show them the benefits for their research that advanced technologies bring. Once hooked on the research advantages, the faculty can more easily be drawn to the instructional opportunities.

There are important ways that computers can be used in humanities research, but the opportunities to explore those are limited, once again, by the economic rather than the educational vision of the institution. In competitions for internal funds, all monies allocated are seen as ‘seed money’. RFPs for computing support for research require a listing of future support from external agencies. In mainstream humanities research in foreign literatures and cultures, if you require likelihood of external support, you might as well require that the principal investigators win the PowerBall. More extensive internal funding of research projects that involve information technologies is required if we are to create a technologically sophisticated core within humanistic disciplines.

The Advanced Information Technologies Group at UIUC was making inroads through imaginative funding of research projects, including several in the foreign language departments, and informative workshops and seminars for humanities faculty. However it has suffered for years from unstable financing and inadequate administrative support. If we are to change the culture of the humanities with relation to advanced technologies, the AITG must have a long-term, stable commitment from the university.

So the recommendations of our campus implementation team - admittedly limited to the Foreign Languages Building - are:

Our group has already had a follow-up meeting, and more are planned over the course of the summer. We hope to use our core to help draw more of our colleagues into this type of activity. We have many ideas for our own courses, and, thanks to the summer institute, a sharper understanding of specific means to accomplish our goals. With action on the bulleted items listed above, there is hope that we can expand our group and create a culture for the use of advanced technologies among our colleagues.

That’s the view from the Foreign Languages Building!