Educational Technology and "Roads Scholars"

By Tillyer, Anthea | Academe, July/August 2005 | Go to article overview

Educational Technology and "Roads Scholars"


Tillyer, Anthea, Academe


Too often, technology is an abstraction. The new conditions of academic labor play an important role in who does and doesn't benefit from new tools for teaching.

The school brought me a computer a couple of years ago and !played with it a little and when I turned it off for Christmas it didn 't work anymore. I haven't pressed the issue. The more things are tied into electronics, the more vulnerable we are to getting totally wiped out. When I need to write up a test, I take it to the secretary and she types it. This is what they have secretaries for.

-Full-time history professor at Jacksonville University, quoted in "Profs Who Don't (Won't) E-Mail," New York Times, January 16, 2005

We are now being asked to submit our grades electronically. Wliile we are not opposed in principle, most part-time faculty have no computers, offices, etc. We cannot be asked to perform and comply like tenured faculty to all kinds of work involving the new technologies (electronic grade submissions, course Web pages, submission of course outlines, etc.) and yet not be given the same tools to do our work.

-Maria Peluso, President, Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association, writing on June 8, 2003, on the Aaj-l Adjunct Listerv

If you want to use educational technology, you need to be able to type. But that is not all you need. You need a computer, a place to put your computer, and the knowledge and time to use it. Full-time faculty members have, or are offered, all of these. But what about part-time faculty, who make up 46 percent of all faculty in institutions of higher education in this country?' They typically have no office on campus and no computer, conditions reflecting the four realities of life for part-time faculty: invisibility, transience, fictional contingency, and insecurity.

Institutions invest large amounts of money in technologies meant to improve students' educational experience and the efficiency with which institutions serve students. But billions are spent on hardware, software, and expertise that cannot be used by almost half of the faculty, the invisible contingent half, preventing global application of the technology.

The most common technology in which colleges invest is student-management (or "housekeeping") technology: the programs that record and adjust registration, grades, and attendance; create schedules; and assign classrooms. Once an institution adopts housekeeping technology for grades and other student records, faculty are typically required to use it. Institutions demand that part-time faculty also do so but without the tools necessary to fulfill this requirement.

Course management programs, such as Blackboard, WebCT, and SAKAI, have also become more common on campuses over the past decade. These programs permit faculty to incorporate technology into their pedagogy and to deliver instruction partly or wholly online. The programs are expensive to buy, license, and maintain. Training faculty to use the technology is a big challenge, especially if many of them are part-time professors with no computers or offices.

Many faculty use technology in their research, including that intended to improve their pedagogy. Text, audio, and images can, for example, be incorporated into instructional materials to create an enriched educational environment. As one faculty member commented, "Web-based lessons tend to keep students awake." Obviously, faculty can use these programs only if they have the necessary know-how and equipment.

Some faculty members use the Internet to store their materials or make them available to students online, cutting down on paper files, dusty file cabinets, and photocopies. The realities of the existence of part-time faculty prevent their full participation in this technology as well. In short, the dependence of institutions of higher learning on part-time faculty creates a real weakness in the crucial area of technology. …

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