Western Illinois University Report

1998 FSI Group


The 1998 FSI Group strongly believes that Western Illinois University has a number of important, interesting and valuable initiatives in progress with respect to the incorporation of technology into both on-campus and off-campus classes. We also strongly believe that much more can and should be done. In the report that follows, we outline some of the problems and concerns that we share, and we propose some actions that we hope will give solutions and provide improvements.

While many of us believe that the incorporation of technology can help improve our classes, we note that not every student's learning style nor every instructor's teaching style are compatible with every aspect of these new teaching methods. Further, it is not clear that these new technologies are appropriate for every class offered at Western. In short, careful thought must be given when changes of this magnitude are attempted.

We do believe that with appropriate training and support, many of the present classes at Western can benefit from some incorporation of technology into the classroom. Since these changes can range from simple web assignments or inclusion of Powerpoint slides to total web based instruction, it would appear that the new technologies do have much to offer many of our instructors and students.

At the recent FSI Conference in Champaign, Western was viewed as innovative and progressive by several other institutions. However, it was clear, as we met and worked with our colleagues, that much more can and should be done.

Training? Support! We strongly believe these are crucial elements, and we address them in the next sections.

Problems, Concerns, Challenges and Opportunities

SUPPORT AND TRAINING: Most of the members of the 1998 FSI Group believe that more support and training for the inclusion of learning technologies is CRITICAL if we, and others on the faculty, are to make substantial progress in the months and years ahead. There is some support available on campus at present. CAIT does give support for courses totally on-line or on CD-ROM. (It is unfortunate but true that many faculty don't even know CAIT exists or where it is.) COEHS and LA&S are providing some curriculum development assistance; Faculty Development has provided a number of workshops and has been able to provide some individual advice. We believe that more needs to be done not only with respect to technical details, but also in the area of curriculum and course design. We urge the Administration to make a definite commitment to the support and training of faculty. WE NOTE WITH PLEASURE THAT A NEW COMMITTEE HAS BEEN FORMED CONSISTING OF PERSONNEL FROM THE SCHOOL OF EXTENDED AND CONTINUING EDUCATION AUGMENTED BY FACULTY REPRESENTATIVES OF EACH OF THE COLLEGES TO DETERMINE METHODS OF PROVIDING SUPPORT FOR AYSNCHRONOUS COURSES DELIVERED BY THE WORLD WIDE WEB.

REWARD STRUCTURE: There must be a recognition that, given the present climate and policies in place, there is considerable real risk to faculty in proceeding with the development, restructuring and creation of classes using the new techniques of learning technologies. Many of the Departmental Criteria do not have any means of judging the merit of these efforts nor, in many cases, even where to place them. Newly hired instructors who come to us filled with enthusiasm and creativity are at risk if they spend a considerable amount of their time being innovative with respect to learning technologies rather than devoting all of their time to the traditional research activities. This is a particular shame since many of these new faculty have taken courses using these techniques and have valuable ideas on how to improve what they have seen and what they can do.

The inclusion of technology into the classroom is too important to be left to tenured, full professors who have nothing to lose!

RECOGNITION OF EFFORT: Many of us are concerned and believe that many members of the administration from the department chair to the top do not seem to realize the enormous effort that it take to revise a course to use some of these new technologies. It is not only the curriculum development, the modifications and the initial effort to master the technology, but it is the constant maintenance and upkeep.

We were amazed to see what the University of Illinois had done with some of their courses; their course in Introduction to Italian is fantastic! Then we noticed that they were given released time and had one or two TA's assigned to them for the effort along with considerable professional technical help. We are not insane enough to believe that Western Illinois University is going to support us to this extent. However, it appears that our administration from Department Chair to the Top often sees only the finished product and not the effort that goes into it; we wonder if they see the continual maintenance - an effort of time very often equal to the initial development.

We admit that the following is anecdotal, but we were very concerned to hear that some of our administrative leaders had made the following comments:

1. "Why should I reward this type of effort when it is no different than changing a textbook?"

2. "It's not hard to do this; you can buy software that does it all for you."

We hope that these statements are not true, but if they are, they demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of what is happening.

VISION AND PLANNING: We believe it is critically important that our University develop a vision for what it can do and should do with respect to the incorporation of learning technology into the classroom. There are critical elements of this that must be handled by the individual faculty and at the department level. However, there must be a central planning and vision to guide us, support us and reward us. IT IS OUR HOPE THAT THE NEW COMMITTEE CREATED IN THE SCHOOL OF EXTENDED AND CONTINUING EDUCATION WILL BE THE START OF UNIVERSITY EFFORTS TO IMPLEMENT THESE NEEDED ELEMENTS.

Suggestions, Solutions and Actions:

The preceding section was an attempt to set down some of the problems and challenges. Let us now turn to more positive items.

First, our group has appointed itself as a advocacy Ad-Hoc Committee to pursue the actions listed below. We will ask those who attended FSI in 1997 to join with us. We would be very receptive to members of the administration or other faculty to also join. We will probably stay in place until either a satisfactory replacement committee or task force is appointed or until we become so discouraged or busy with our courses that we give up.

We believe that the incorporation of technology insofar as Distance Learning has already "got the Administration's attention"; it appears that support may be easier to gain in this area. It is not so clear that these statements are true for our on-campus classes. Why do we believe that support might be easier to gain for Distance Learning? Money! Student Credit Hours! For example:

Positive Actions:

We will ask the Faculty Senate to conduct an assessment of our present capabilities, activities and the faculty's perceptions of their needs for support and training. Further, a determination should be made of what the faculty believes can be done if adequate support and training were available. Finally, we believe that a plan of action should be developed and implemented.

We do not believe that our Administration is against or indifferent to the incorporation of technology into our classrooms; we are concerned that some members may be misinformed. We want to work with the academic administrative leadership to make real progress for the benefit of our students and our classes.

We will work with Faculty Development to:

1. Create a "Technology" Mentoring Program where those of us a semester or two ahead can help one or two others get started. They, in time, will help one or two others giving a compounding effect.

2. Create a "Faculty Development Laboratory" stocked with good equipment and a selection of software packages appropriate for course development. This would be available for faculty to work together in small groups to learn and to develop materials. Someone would have to be available to help faculty who are just starting to learn the equipment and the software.

We will work with the Faculty Union to insure that the Contract recognizes our activities and the effort involved. We will ask both the Union and the Administration to support specific language in the Contract that will reward and support activities that provide for the inclusion of technology into our courses.

We need to develop a directory of present services and support available and distribute it to the faculty; this will need to be updated as additional help is made available. This will be of benefit to both novice and experienced faculty wishing to obtain help and direction.

We fully recognize that we need help with course and instructional design. How do we take our present courses and adapt them to use appropriate technology? How can we use technology to make them better? Perhaps our College of Education can help?

We wish to work closely with Academic Computing and the Library; we recognize that they have much to offer and are central to our efforts. We also recognize that neither is presently represented in our group.



We are proud of what has been accomplished on our campus. We believe more is not only possible but necessary. There are still many issues to be addressed which are not touched here (for example intellectual property rights) and we believe that they will need careful study and deliberation. However, we can and should proceed to insure that our courses are of the highest quality and our student receive the best instruction possible.