Many Colleges Now See Centers for Teaching With Technology as Part of ‘Innovation Infrastructure’

In the past few years, many colleges have expanded the scale and scope of centers that support teaching and learning with technology, as part of an effort to build a new “innovation infrastructure” for instruction.

That’s according to the results of a new survey of directors of academic-technology centers at 163 colleges and universities, released last week at the annual conference of Educause, an organization that supports technology on campuses.

One key change has been the creation of new or redefined administrative jobs at colleges intended “to lead their academic-change initiatives.” And the survey found that several colleges have reconstructed their centers for teaching and learning to focus more on student success than just on faculty development, working more often across various departments such as student services and academic affairs.

In other words, supporting teaching with technology is becoming less about offering training sessions for professors about how to use clickers and course-management systems, and more about coordinating bigger-impact projects like redesigning large introductory courses or leading the creation of a new online-degree program.

“We’re starting to see a shift and a recognition of the importance of teaching and student learning,” said MJ Bishop, director of the William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation at the University System of Maryland, who wrote a report on the survey with Anne Keehn, a consultant. “All of these institutions now have as their core missions student success and graduation rates.”

Ms. Bishop said that colleges and universities have a “really bleak” track record for using technology in classrooms, too often throwing in technology that has little impact on student learning.

“It can no longer be business as usual in the way that we’re delivering instruction,” she added. “We can no longer assume that we are getting a certain kind of student that can thrive within our existing models of delivering instruction. We have a real changing demographic of students, and we need to be much more mindful of the way we facilitate their learning.”

Susan Grajek, Educause’s vice president for data, research, and analytics, said in an interview that the changes were part of a broader trend of colleges’ looking to make technology “a strategic differentiator,” to give them a competitive advantage. Because of new trends like looking to data to shape decisions on student learning and retention, she added, “boundaries across silos in higher education are getting more and more porous.”

The biggest challenge for the new campus leaders and redefined centers, the report argues, is to lead the cultural change that comes with new approaches to teaching. Yet, the leaders “may not be particularly well trained or well supported” in the role of a change agent, the report concludes.

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