WCET Steering Committee member Preston Davis guest blogs today about the skill requirements for modern faculty. After reading his post, join him on October 6 as he leads a Google Hangout addressing the question:  “is there a digital divide between Millennial students and today’s traditional teaching faculty? And what do we do about it?” Thank you Preston for raising these questions in today’s post and in next week’s Hangout discussion.
Russ Poulin

Earlier this year, I hosted a course development workshop for a group of faculty to promote collaboration. These faculty were experts in their disciplines, and highly capable teachers.  As the group began to collaborate on creating some instructional materials, I found that nearly half of the group did not know how to create, edit, or share a Google Doc. It just so happened that the night before, my daughter was working on an assignment in Google Docs and needed my help finding a specific image to attach to her document before submitting it online… to her 3rd grade teacher.Hand holding two cell phones. The screen on the first phone reads "Technology is a given." The second phone reads "not a debate."

Our workshop facilitators were able to get everyone collaborating in Google in a relatively short time, and with relatively few calls to simply let them use Word, but this stuck with me. This was a very impressive group of highly respected and expert educators, who were current in their academic fields, yet behind in a current instructional technology tool widely used by K12 teachers and students.

The Rift: The growing digital divide between Higher Ed faculty and millennial students

Higher education has made some significant advances in the 21st century. Online learning has gained legitimacy within the academy and institutions are innovating in many interesting and creative ways. But one of the key technology platforms of the last century that helped to extend teaching well beyond the classroom, the LMS, has become somewhat of an obstacle to the expansion of learning. The need for a closed system for instructional materials has been replaced by a collection of resources and opportunities that reside in an expanding open ecosystem.

Young students are thriving in this evolving open digital landscape, but many higher education faculty find the digital frontier overwhelming and seek comfort in the more closed and controlled environment of yesterday. Comprehensive faculty development programs can have a significant impact on bridging the technology skills gap between faculty and students, but only if faculty have the necessary tools and are willing participants.

I am witnessing the growth and development of bright young millennial students in my own home. I watch my daughters go online to access assignments and materials for homework. There is not a single textbook to be found in either backpack. The school system’s LMS contains basic information, but the learning takes place outside of the LMS. Students are connecting to information, and to each other, in very different ways than when I was a student…which was not that long ago.

Take it to the Bridge: Digital Literacy and Openness

TES Global surveyed 1000 US teachers as part of a global Teachers and Technology Survey presented at the 2015 SXSWedu conference. Results showed that 96% of U.S. teachers surveyed agreed that technology plays a significant role in their classroom, 83% use technology to deliver group or differentiated instruction, and 69% said that open educational resources (OER) are used more often than textbooks. Textbooks are increasingly becoming optional purchases for students.

Innovative educators are linking technology with pedagogy, and the results are impressive. Some institutions are replacing static textbooks with dynamic digital and/or open educational resources for entire degree programs, or are spinning off entire units as for-profit Ed Tech startups companies. Some academic departments that were assessing learning outcomes with throwaway assignments are now assessing demonstrated mastery of applied competencies that match employer needs.

We live in a complex information age where instant access to information is available to us anytime, anywhere. Young millennial students are much more at ease in this digital, connected environment than are many of their Gen X faculty. These digital natives will soon be entering our institutions, if they aren’t here already, and we need to be able to engage these students in meaningful ways both inside and outside of the classroom.

Preston Davis holding a WCET WOW Award.
Preston with NVCC’s 2014 WCET Outstanding Work Award


Wm. Preston Davis, Ed.D.
Director of Instructional Services
Northern Virginia Community College


Photo Credit: John Biehler https://www.flickr.com/photos/retrocactus/7179067109

1 reply on “Faculty Skills for 21st Century Learners”

Part of the problem is that learning Google Docs or any other method is only temporarily useful. There isn’t a “norm” to learn because there are competing products and none of them last very long or have permanent support from an institution’s IT people.

Much of the world of modern technology isn’t even really considered an “IT” issue. You either learn it yourself on your own time or you don’t. Even major organizations have these issues: my employer finds it difficult to adjust to the fact that I use a Mac.

Thus faculty are somewhat whipsawed by different possible approaches, all of which are guaranteed to change rather quickly. Faculty see this. It is all very well to expect faculty to learn some new things, but constant adjustment to changing technology is debilitating and eats up a lot of time.

Triage is a major factor in what we do. We have no choice but to NOT learn certain things because there are too few hours in the day, but it is impossible to know with reasonable certainty which new technology will be the “right” one to learn. In short, it isn’t the technology that’s the issue, it’s the speed of turnover.

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