Monday, November 2, 2015

Using Technology Alone Doesn't Guarantee Better Outcomes - So Why Reward It?

For 25 years, my colleague Casey Green has surveyed campuses about the use and impact of technology in his Campus Computing survey. I'm a big fan of the survey because it's the largest body of longitudinal data we have on the topic. Just last week, Casey released a summary of the 2015 data, and as usual, there's lots of interesting stuff to chew on. I want to focus here on one particular question, which deals with the incentives campuses use to encourage faculty to use technology. 

The particular question in the survey is worded as follows:
Does your campus/institution have a formal program to recognize and reward the use of information technology as part of the routine faculty review and promotion process?
Now, the whole issue of how faculty are reviewed for promotion (and tenure) is fraught and complex and related to controversies around tenure, the appropriate relationship between research and teaching, the rising role of contingent faculty, and indeed the very value and purpose of faculty. But even asking the question suggests that this is something our institutions should be doing.  As Casey puts it
For example, even as instructional integration is the top institutional IT priority again this fall, less than a fifth of campuses (17 percent) recognize instructional IT efforts as part of the faculty review and promotion process.
If it's a top priority, why wouldn't we tie it to the way we review and provide incentives for faculty?

Here's Bryan Alexander responding to Casey's findings:
How do colleges and universities support faculty in using technology?  Badly, it turns out, according to one critical measure. A look back at decades of campus computing strategy finds that the majority of American campuses neither recognize nor reward professors who integrate tech in their teaching and research. 
To use Bryan's word from the title of the posting (and I know he chooses words carefully) our institutions "refuse" to recognize the use of technology by not using it as part of the criteria for faculty recognition. 

I'm an advocate of providing technology to faculty and providing the best possible training and support that my institution's resources can muster, but ultimately technology is a means, not an end. Technology has the potential to transform instruction, improve engagement, and expand access to learning. Technology constantly opens new avenues for research and enables new exploration and discovery. But faculty should be rewarded for excellent teaching and research. If my campus had a practice of providing some kind of weighting or quota for the use of technology that was used in a review process, I'd be concerned that this would become a check box, detached from the meaningful goals at the center of the faculty role. 

There's a lot to critique about the way that faculty are reviewed and rewarded, but I don't believe that adding "did you use technology" or "how much technology did you use" to the review process will provide the outcomes we want. Those of us who provide technology need to listen carefully to our faculty colleagues, work in partnership with them to incorporate the right technologies (and ditch the wrong ones) and keep the focus on the goal: student learning. That's the outcome that concerns me, not how much technology we use. So it doesn't concern me at all that 17% (and holding) of institutions refuse to "recognize and reward" the use of technology - except that 17% might be higher than I would like.


  1. Michael,

    My thanks for your kind comments about the work of Campus Computing and for your response to the "Tenure and Technology" post on my DigitalTweed blog earlier this week.

    For the record, we really do not disagree. I’m not advocating for a pro forma check list about tech in the syllabus. Rather, as reflected in my reference to Boyer’s expansive definition of scholarship in the closing paragraphs of the DigitalTeed post, faculty who make a commitment to the innovative use of IT resources in instruction should be allowed (encouraged!) to present that work as part of the portfolio that goes up for review and promotion. The experience of Randy Bass at Georgetown is a good example of the “expansive scholarly portfolio." (

    What’s striking to me is that the tech factor gets no “respect” in “teaching” institutions despite the continuing proclamations of presidents and provosts about the institutional commitment to leverage technology for curricular innovation and to enhance student learning.


    Casey Green
    Campus Computing

  2. My subjective sense is that we're seeing a shift in many institutions from "technology as panacea" or "technology as disruptor" to a more thoughtful attitude towards technology as a catalyst for meaningful innovation. This may be just my native optimism, but it would be interesting to try to collect data that might support or refute this. I don't think asking about a formal program to recognize technology use is going to answer the question.

  3. I guess my concern is that you need to reward the willingness to try, regardless of its success. If we only reward success, then people will be hesitant and conservative in their attempts - we will not innovate and people will be afraid to try new things. So, we need to make sure there is some form of reward for trying, regardless of the outcome ... but alas, I do agree that using technology without thought doesn't deserve recognition in and of itself.

    1. Rebecca, agree 100% - but why privilege technology innovation over any other kinds of innovation?