Instructional Technology at UC Davis:
Embracing Challenges and Opportunities
Editor's Note: In this issue, we reflect briefly on UC Davis' use of information technology in the last few years and provide some vision of what may lie ahead. We asked Dr. John Bruno, Vice Provost-Information and Educational Technology, to outline some of the challenges and opportunities UC Davis faces in its efforts to harness the latest information technologies in support of the academic and research missions of our institution.
Q: Dr. Bruno, the next century presents both opportunities and challenges to all institutions of higher education. What opportunities do you think information technologies present to this university?
Universities have much to gain from advances in information technology. For instance, the Web, increasingly faster connectivity, and new computer applications are providing exciting opportunities for researchers to collaborate with colleagues from every part of the globe and to simulate many laboratory experiences.
In the area of instruction, universities are finding ways to harness the Web and other Internet applications to enhance their communication with students. Instructors also use these tools to facilitate more in-depth interaction and collaborative learning among students and to reach out to students who may, for one reason or another, be unable to attend courses offered in a traditional lecture format.
At the same time, the university must be strategic in its adoption of new technologies. We can't possibly expect to integrate every new technology, especially not at the current pace of development. We need to constantly evaluate which new technologies can best help us advance our academic mission and then put in place the resources needed to implement and manage new systems and improved services. This is an ongoing process that creates some significant challenges for all universities. The bottom line has to be that any integration of new technologies needs to be in alignment with campus academic priorities.
Q: You've just identified one major challenge the campus faces in the years to come. What are some of the other challenges to strategic adoption you see on the horizon for UC Davis?
Very simply, time is telescoping on us. The pace at which new information technologies are developed often outstrips our ability to integrate them into our daily lives. This is particularly true in a university setting. For instance, faculty are feeling increasing pressure to use digital media and to put their courses on the Web. De facto, this is forcing them to become Web content providers and publishers, experts in the use of ever-evolving Web publishing tools. In addition, they need to be nearly continuously available to their students, particularly via email and newsgroups. As a result, some faculty find themselves spending more time administering Web sites and preparing PowerPoint slides than working one-on-one with students, a relationship that constitutes the heart and soul of teaching.
This results from the fact that many faculty are caught in what is known as the "technology substitution" phase, phase, when many traditional instructional methods and materials are transformed through the use of the Internet and Web. Clearly, the use of technology has become an overlay to traditional instruction, an additional responsibility that faculty must take on and that many students expect them to. For example, an instructor may now post a syllabus on a class Web site so he or she can adjust it as needed and link to lecture notes and other sites of interest. In addition, used properly, electronic class listservs, newsgroups, or chat rooms can greatly enhance interactive learning and advising. Right now, though, all of this is done, for the most part, without adequate infrastructure or support. Some instructors have become their own Webmasters, if you will, leaving them precious little time to engage students one-on-one.
Q: In light of current and projected challenges, what can UC Davis do to help faculty to incorporate technology into instruction?
Currently the Division of Information Technology offers a wide variety of services dealing with instructional technology and media. However, these services are distributed throughout the Division, often making it difficult for faculty to avail themselves of these services. Plans to create a single unit to provide instructional technology and media services were recently approved, and we have begun recruitment of a UC Davis faculty director. [See http://it.ucdavis.edu/jobs/ to read the administrative directive and position description.]
This new unit, the Instructional Technology and Digital Media Services Center, is a direct response to some of the recommendations made during the Administrative Unit Review (AUR) of the Division of Information Technology last April [see http://it.ucdavis.edu/adminrev/]. Most importantly perhaps, the Center will help the campus address a number of very pressing issues, including:
- Students' rising expectations about the use of media and educational technology in the classroom and online.
- The burden on some of the faculty caused by the growing use of the Web to deliver instructional materials.
- Rapid enrollment growth. As you know, the UC system will be expected to accommodate 63,000 new students over the next ten years. This will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on UC Davis's human resources and physical infrastructure.
- The absence of sufficient and appropriately trained staff in many academic departments to provide necessary support to faculty in the use of instructional technology and media.
In addition, in the next few years, the quality of instruction at UCD will be critically dependent upon the high number of new faculty members the campus will need to hire. The academic computing environment for research, teaching, and service will also be a vital competitive factor. We must develop ways in which technology will enrich, rather than burden, the teaching and learning experience.
Q: Besides this new service unit, in what other ways can IT ensure technology support is meeting the needs of our faculty?
One of the important themes of the AUR report is the need to delineate responsibilities between the IT organization and the campus's colleges and schools. The report recommends that deans be responsible for day-to-day support of their faculty’s use of information technology. As such, the new faculty support unit should focus only on those functions that can be better addressed by a central organization. The new unit director will need to continue talks already in progress. Most importantly, the unit should support efforts aimed at improving local technical staff's ability to support their faculty.
The Technology Support Program (TSP), in place since 1995, has already started to expand in response to a changing campus technology environment and expectations. In the last year, the TSP, in fact, has taken on a more strategic role involving closer collaboration with the colleges and administrative departments. The monthly meetings between the TSP's IT Representatives and the Campus Technical Leads to discuss campus-wide technical issues have already proven helpful. We need to continue to explore such opportunities for strategic use of resources and collaboration.
Q: You have mentioned the Administrative Unit Review a couple of times. How are the recommendations from that report shaping the function and organization of the IT organization beyond support specifically aimed at faculty?
Well, as I mentioned, there are several important themes in the AUR report. One central theme is the need for the IT organization to strike a better balance between advising the campus and acting as direct service delivery units. The creation of the position, Vice Provost-Information and Educational Technology, affords me the opportunity to play a role in providing policy advice and participating in strategic planning for the integration of information technology into all aspects of the university -- administration, undergraduate and graduate instruction, K-12 outreach, and research. At the same time, we are in the process of recruiting a Chief Operations Officer to oversee the daily functioning of the organization, with an emphasis on delivery of quality services to the campus. IT's ongoing efforts to improve our communications through a revamped Web site
[http://it.ucdavis.edu] and other key publications and to improve access to services will also greatly enhance the organization's ability to help UC Davis fulfill its mission.
Of course, we will continue to focus on collaborating with key stakeholders on campus -- faculty, administrators, and students -- to identify information technology needs, develop solutions, and anticipate new trends and challenges. Much of this will occur through our work with the formal mechanisms already in place, such as the Academic Computing Coordinating Council, Administrative Computing Coordinating Council, and the Information Technologies Policy Board. Through these mechanisms and ongoing consultation with faculty, students, and staff, we can offer our counsel and play an important role in the strategic use of technology on campus.