How do you overcome faculty resistance to technology?

Bryant Park, late Apr 2009 - 21I’ve spoken to two senior e-learning professionals in two top Connecticut universities recently, and both say the same thing: that the big challenges in their job are not related to the e-learning tools or infrastructure themselves, but to trying to get faculty members to adopt new technologies.

How do you overcome faculty resistance to new technologies?

I’m assuming that we are talking about technologies which will enhance professors’ ability to teach effectively – and more importantly enhance students’ ability to learn and retain knowledge.

I’m talking about things like the flipped classroom, where students watch pre-recorded lectures before class and spend class time more valuably working through real problems. And e-quizzes which will automatically grade a student’s answers and drastically reduce the amount of time professors need to spend marking (thereby in theory freeing them up to plan more interesting lessons). The use of social media and new grading standards such as badges are perhaps on shakier ground, but:

What do faculty members have against trying some of this out?

Understanding resistance to technology

It is hard for people “into” technology (like me) to understand why others just aren’t interested in adopting this, that or the other tool.

I would love to actually speak to technology-resistant faculty members to learn how they think and what objections they have. Since there aren’t many around here tonight, I’ll try to put myself in their shoes.

Feeling threatened

New technologies will take away my job and make me irrelevant. When students have access to online lectures by eminent professors from other universities – or even by self-declared experts – they will no longer be a need for me to deliver lectures in real life.

Fear of looking stupid

Let’s face it, people who choose a career in academia want to appear as clever. Lack of ability with technology can undermine this.

It’s stressful

This relates to the two above, with the added worry that it will add to an already huge workload.

I can’t be bothered

This one is frustrating but I imagine it’s the most common of the lot.

What’s the best way to persuade faculty members to adopt new technologies?

Tom Haymes, in an article in Educause, puts forward a three-pronged strategy which he claims “has been at the core of every successful technology adoption throughout history.”

First, a technology must be evident to the user as potentially useful in making his or her life easier (or more enjoyable). Second, a technology must be easy to use to avoid rousing feelings of inadequacy. Third, the technology must become essential to the user in going about his or her business.

By evident, Tom suggests using positive language and marketing techniques to “sell” a particular technology to professors for whom it might be useful.

By easy to use – well, little explanation required here, but it’s surprising how clunky some new technologies can be. Technology that is not user-friendly will quickly be abandoned, no matter how functional. Lack of usability is a barrier to the adoption of technology by anyone, but particularly by people who are scared of looking stupid.

By essential, Tom posits that new technologies must help professors become more productive and efficient. They must soon think “How did I manage without it?” This is the difference between having a website because it’s required of you, and having a website because it allows you to easily share class materials and other useful information.

Tom’s three-pronged strategy is best achieved in two ways, I feel.

First, through colleagues. If a trusted colleagues uses and enjoys a new e-learning technology, his or her colleagues will quickly see the benefits. And if a competitor uses it successfully, that’s all the more incentive to adopt it so you’re not left behind.

Second, incrementally. Disruptive technologies (like Massive Open Online Courses, or social media in education) are highly unlikely to be embraced with open arms. Sometimes we have to step away from zany ideas and offer technologies that are not so different from regular teaching and learning experiences.

photo by: Ed Yourdon
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *