Dissertation: Exploring the relationships between faculty beliefs and technology preferences

I’ve worked in three faculty development centers over the past 10 years and in each there has been a struggle to understand how to assist faculty in meeting their needs. Often, the faculty that seek assistance want to use a technology in their classroom because the technology is interesting, not because it will help their students learn better. Too often faculty feel that merely using clickers, mobile devices, or PowerPoint slides is enough to capture the interest of their students. This problem is compounded when considering blended or online courses.

Faculty, by definition, are experts in their chosen field. With the exception of the Education field, future faculty members do not gain any training in classroom teaching. Because of this, faculty need help taking their boundless field expertise and capturing it in a consumable format for students. For a small lucky few, this process is natural. For most, however, this process has to be learned.

When developing their course(s), many faculty focus on their lack of technological skill and immediately refrain from anything uncomfortable. Because of this, many faculty do not want to use any sort of technology for fear of looking foolish in front of their students. As a result, faculty development centers spend a great deal of time, effort, and money development technology training. In reality, however, lack of technological skill is only a portion of the problem. Other variables like their motivation, available tools, and their preferred teaching style need to be considered. This is the heart of the problem: what process can be designed to gain this information?

My primary goal of my dissertation is to develop a faculty development model that will assist faculty developers and faculty development centers getting a more useful picture of the faculty they serve. When the data for each particular characteristic is complied, the data will reveal an overall inclination of the faculty member towards technology. The information gained from a model like this would serve tremendous value to centers for teaching and learning, as it will help guide individual training strategies. It will also give the individual faculty members an opportunity for self-assessment.

My dissertation was completed in March 2015 and is currently in the process of being published.

Additional Research Goals

Gamification in the Classroom

This particular idea has always been of interest to me. Game theory is specifically designed to motivate the player to keep playing. I’ve written a bit (though non-published so you haven’t read it) on the comparison of game design and classroom design. Essentially both are trying to design a path that scaffolds the player to the next objective. Or at least, that is the idea. The problem is that it is really hard to do that. I want to research the feasibility of these ideas. In principle, they should work. Why don’t they? Are we just designing the classroom to be a bad game?

Online Identity

Do students fundamentally learn differently online than in a face-to-face course? (In other words, are students in a completely different mindset when looking through a computer screen at an online course than when they walk through the doors of a classroom?)Do students behave differently in an online discussion than in a face-to-face discussion? Do students treat each other differently if they know their peers in a face-to-face setting? What factor does “anonymity” play in online discussions? What role does gender play in online discussions?

These questions perplex me and I’m highly interested in finding answers. If any one of the questions above is “yes”, then online learning fundamentally change.