Why Tech Training for Faculty is a Waste of Time

Providing faculty training for ed tech tools is a waste of time, unless accompanied by instruction that shows instructors how to incorporate the tools to enhance teaching. In this post I share reasons why tech training for course instructors must include pedagogical instructional methods and how instructors and institutions can incorporate such strategies into faculty ed tech training.

Note: In the following post when  I use the term ‘LMS’, I’m referring to learning platforms such as Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, Desire2Learn, etc.

Deutsch: Logo der freien Software Moodle moddl...

This past week I facilitated a session on how to use Moodle effectively with twenty-five faculty members who teach face-to-face classes for the degree completion program. In the institution that I work with, more than two-thirds faculty use the LMS platform for administrative purposes only, such as posting syllabi, PDF files, and links for students to upload assignments.

My goal for the session was to prompt faculty to want to use the LMS; to view it as a tool to teach more effectively, use it pedagogically rather than administratively. I believe we achieved what we set out to do, if we use the level of involvement [which was high] and the questions from the instructors as indicators. Many appeared motivated, if not enthused by what they could do with the tools within Moodle. This prompted me to research further and write this article.

The Research
With the research I’ve done on our institution’s and others LMS usage, and in speaking with several friends that work as adjunct faculty with public universities, it seems that only a fraction of the instructors are using the LMS as a teaching tool and the rest as a static web page. Furthermore, training in how to use the LMS, if available at all, traditionally focuses on the technical aspects of the platform.

My findings are consistent with survey results conducted recently by an instructional designer for his institution last year in the school’s quest for an alternate LMS platform. Eighty-four faculty responded to the survey, and the results, of which I’ve posted a summary below, support the theory that LMS’ are used primarily for posting syllabi and as a drop box for assignments. A partial list of faculty responses: (Curran, 2012):

  • Posting Documents, PowerPoint’s, and PDFs: 90.3%
  • Posting Course Announcements: 84.7%
  • Emailing Students and Colleagues: 76.4%
  • Web 2.0 Tools (Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, Private Journals): 25%
  • Chat: 12.5%
  • Creating TurnItIn Assignments: 11.1%
  • Virtual Classroom 1.4%

Pedagogical versus Administrative
Faculty need to see that the LMS  can be a valuable teaching tool, not just an administrative one. This means that someone needs to show them how to use it as a tool that can enhance and support classroom instruction. Too often LMS training for faculty and staff is taught as a how-to-use-this-technical-platform for uploading a document, posting a message, emailing etc. The technical aspects are important, but are only one aspect of the training. It is only after the basics are mastered, that we can go further;  demonstrate how a discussion forum can create deep and meaningful conversations that continue after the face-to-face class. Or, how pages created within the LMS for each week can outline focus questions, objectives that can prepare students for classroom learning. And, how the LMS can be a vehicle for interaction, for example with students conducting peer reviews of draft documents of assignments through virtual, small discussion groups, etc.

4 Faces of Personal Learning Network (w Tools)
4 Faces of Personal Learning Network (w Tools) (Photo credit: catspyjamasnz)

I realize that there are far more complex and robust platforms, or non-platforms that create a virtual learning environment, many of which are described in-depth in an excellent piece featured in EDUCAUSE Review by Jon Mott. Mott examines the limitations of LMS platforms and presents two alternatives for learning environments. The first is PLN’s, Personal Learning Networks, which are personally customized networks of blogs, wikis and web 2.0 tools, and the second, open learning networks, which leverage the open architecture of the web, and suggest that the LMS is too limiting and confining. However, these options, appear far beyond the scope of most faculty who are still acquiring skills in mastering the basics of  the LMS.

Why LMS is Necessary for now at least…
Though I find the idea of PLN and open learning network attractive, I also believe that institutions that offer education programs or open, online courses need to provide a virtual meeting place, which is what the learning management platform provides. Though I do suggest that faculty and students also develop their own personal learning networks, where perhaps content and resources they access or create through the LMS could be added to their own PLN, or conversely could be shared and brought into the LMS.

‘Teaching’ Centers for the Teachers
Faculty that teach in all modalities not just online, need support in learning how to adapt their teaching methods and pedagogy to the digitally connected student and the virtual meeting place. Some institutions have dedicated centers for such education, like Texas Christian University, which has the Koehler Center for Teaching Excellence that offers workshops, open ‘labs’ for support in LMS development, and technical support. Training programs are not all one and the same, technical support and training is differentiated from pedagogical support.

Purdue University has the Center for Instructional Excellence, which offers a robust selection of training support for instructors. Many resources are open and accessible online to anyone, making it a tremendous resource for course instructors at any institution.

Suggestions for Institutions

  • When it comes to providing training for instructors, consider emphasizing the desired results and outcomes of using the LMS effectively.
  • Though a trainer might be technically adept in the technical aspects of the LMS, he or she may not be able to provide pedagogical training. Offer both, technical training [foundational training] and training in educational methods and theories that emphasize the use of technology as a tool.

Suggestions for Course Instructors

  • Determine what training is available within your own institution.
  • Request training in pedagogical methods that incorporate technological applications and tools.
  • Visit other institutions web sites that offer resources, such as the ones listed above.
  • Review training videos that might be available on YouTube on your own LMS system. Many educators post training videos on LMS features they are experts in.
  • Develop a personal learning network (PLN) to aggregate resources and web content, and build a network.

Faculty training and professional development involves resources of time and money, as do investments in LMS platforms and other ed tech tools. Money is wasted however, if training is not conducted effectively to reach faculty, to help them to teach and incorporate technological tools, such as LMS platforms, that support learning outcomes and learner development. Too often training is ineffective, is one-dimensional focusing on only one aspect, either technical or pedagogical skills. Both are needed to support and develop faculty in becoming an instructor that is relevant and skilled in knowing when and how to use ed tech tools appropriately and effectively.