Institutional Leaders – This is Your Wake Up Call.
You Have Major eLearning Responsibilities
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), is the world’s leading aviation/aerospace institution of higher education. ERAU is a worldwide, multi-campus institution with a residential campus in Daytona Beach, Florida and another in Prescott, Arizona, and over 130+ teaching centers located throughout the world. ERAU’s aerospace engineering program in Daytona Beach is ranked number one in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The effective use of technology is vital to ERAU’s mission in both the delivery of instruction throughout the world and in the delivery of administrative services through its portal, ERAU Online.
ERAU clearly falls into the “innovator category” on the Rogers’ bellcurve of change adopters ( Rogers, 1995). In fact, ERAU was one of the first institutions in the nation to establish a department of educational technology. The department was established in 1996, and by 1997 the Ed Tech Department created in-house, a course management system named NetCourse. When commercial products began to enter the market, NetCourse was replaced with WebCT and LearningSpace in 1997. In 2000, ERAU made the strategic decision to migrate to the Enterprise edition of Blackboard to achieve the goal of implementing a portal to accommodate the online administrative and academic needs of ERAU’s worldwide constituents and to provide faculty with an easier-to-use and more robust course management tool. In 2002, ERAU Online, the institution-wide portal, was deployed.
An executive decision was made in 2003 to automatically generate coursesites for every course taught at ERAU. Steady progress in faculty’s adoption of the Bb Learning Management System (LMS) has been made over the last few years, and there are now over 4,000 Bb coursesites in use by ERAU faculty and students. Approximately 80% of the ERAU faculty teaching students face-to-face actively utilize eLearning for course enhancements. In addition, 100% of the faculty teaching in the distance learning program utilize Bb coursesites.
The current ERAU eLearning focus is on helping faculty utilize technology for pedagogical improvements. Most faculty are very comfortable utilizing their coursesites for the distribution of information such as announcements and posting course notes, and many are ready to move to more advanced uses of technology and to concentrate on its use for specific improvements in teaching and learning. Through a number of incentive programs, faculty are being encouraged to “rethink” their teaching practices, to redesign their courses, and to utilize technology as an enabler for pedagogical improvements.
At the recent EDUCAUSE conference in Denver, Colorado, in October, 2004, we presented a presentation that outlined “wake-up call” messages that we feel all institutional leaders must address if the full potential of eLearning is to be attained. These wake-up call messages are based on the experiences and insights gained in the implementation and advancement of eLearning at ERAU, and this article provides a brief summary of the EDUCAUSE presentation. We believe that in order for institutions to attain the full potential of eLearning, the following four critical factors must be addressed. The list is followed by an explanation of each.
- Top leaders must be “actively” involved in eLearning
- Technology must be viewed as a strategic asset
- Faculty issues must be addressed
- An eLearning success model must be deployed
1. Top leaders must be “actively” involved in eLearning
Institutional leaders must become aware of eLearning concepts in order to understand what is being asked of faculty when they are encouraged to change the way they teach. In addition to an understanding of the advantages, leaders must also fully understand the factors that hinder successful eLearning. Also, they must fully understand the resources that are necessary to facilitate major changes in teaching paradigms. Leaders must lead the change process that is necessary within the institution, and they must facilitate activities that will establish a shared eLearning vision and encourage eLearning success.
At ERAU, many activities have been implemented to raise the awareness of eLearning for all ERAU constituents. One of the most successful activities focused on raising the eLearning awareness of top leadership. A short, online course entitled “A Web-Based Instructional (WBI) Briefing” was developed specifically for cabinet-level leadership. The content of the course focused on providing examples of a variety of online learning activities including simulations, electronic discussions, online testing, and an online team project. In addition to the online learning strategies, the costs and resources required to develop the examples were presented as a component of the content of the course. The cabinet leaders became online students moving through the content, engaging in online discussions, taking online self-tests, and participating in numerous other online activities. This one-hour experience provided them with first-hand knowledge of online instruction as well as an awareness of the resources necessary to development and implement eLearning instruction.
2. Technology must be viewed as a strategic asset
CIOs must work closely with top campus leaders on all technology issues. At ERAU the CIO works directly with the ERAU cabinet and key academic leaders on all IT budget issues and to insure that technology is viewed as a strategic asset at the institution. Processes are in place that foster collaboration between the IT Department, academic leadership, and administrative leadership. One is a charter process where all major IT projects are assigned a project sponsor who shares ownership for the project. Also, the university trustees and the ERAU cabinet work closely with the CIO to insure that enterprise technology solutions are implemented that facilitate the worldwide profile and technology needs of all ERAU constituents. Together the CIO and the ERAU cabinet support the following overall strategic technology goals:
- Technology must enhance teaching and learning
- Technology is always on and is accessible anytime and from anywhere in the world
- Technology must be easy to access and consistent in a “one stop” shopping concept
- Technology must be flexible and easy to use as well as secure and stable
- Technology services must be deliverable via the web
3. Faculty issues must be addressed
eLearning will not be successful if the needs and concerns of faculty are not addressed. Institutional leaders have an obligation to understand the issues of their faculty, and they must implement processes that will aid faculty in succeeding in their efforts to utilize eLearning for pedagogical improvements. Not only are the technology tools important, but even more important are technology training, time to learn new skills, and training in how eLearning can be used to improve teaching and learning. Also, leaders must address those issues that are often described as “disincentives.” For example, a lack of intellectual property policies favorable to faculty often discourage faculty from adopting technology as do promotion and tenure policies that favor research and publication over extensive technology projects. When workloads are dramatically increased because faculty must respond to numerous emails from students they teach at a distance or when they must spend hours of additional time creating online learning activities, eLearning becomes problematic for faculty.
At ERAU, facilitating faculty’s adoption of technology is taken very seriously. State-of-the art technology tools are provided, but the focus of the Educational Technology Department is to help faculty use technology for effective teaching. One example is the Bb tutorial program. To accommodate the training needs of the worldwide faculty, a complete set on online Bb tutorials are maintained so that faculty anywhere in the world can access instructions on how to use all the functionality of Bb. Another example is the posting of a list of over 200 technology competencies that faculty need to become proficient users of technology. Using this list, faculty can “check off” the skills they know and determine what skills they need to learn in order to utilize the technology tools they are provided. Once this profile is determined, a technology training program can be tailored for the individual faculty member. Faculty training can be conducted in an e-conference, or the faculty member can come into one of the Faculty TechZone’s which are laboratories maintained on each residential campus.
The ERAU Chief Academic Officer actively supports faculty’s eLearning efforts through a number of funded programs. One is the eMentoring program where faculty who are more experienced in the use of technology are teamed with two or three faculty mentees to work on specific projects together. Consultants from the Educational Technology Department work closely with the eMentoring faculty teams, and the final course materials are posted in an eGallery of best practices where they can be shared with the ERAU worldwide faculty. Another example of the provost’s support of faculty efforts is the Technology Grant Program where faculty are invited to apply for funds to use in redesigning their courses with a goal of using technology to make pedagogical improvements.
4. An eLearning success model must be deployed
In order to attain the full potential of eLearning we recommend establishing an eLearning success model comprised of the following phases: (1) awareness, (2) planning, (3) implementation, (4) assessment, and (5) refinement. Such a model can be used not only to establish eLearning but to insure an ongoing process that facilitates upgrading and refining existing systems. Of course, it isn’t realistic to assume that an institution can start at the beginning phase of awareness and progress sequentially from one phase to the next. In fact, most institutions, ERAU included, skipped the awareness and planning phases initially and started eLearning through the implementation of an LMS. Once the LMS was in place, then the faculty were encouraged to use it. Beginning with the implementation of an LMS system, without an awareness process and without an eLearning strategic plan, created an underutilization of eLearning systems for many institutions.
What ERAU has learned over the eight years is that in order to fully attain the power of eLearning, institutional constituents, especially campus leaders, must first become aware of the potential of eLearning. Next, a shared eLearning vision that is supported by top campus leaders must be established. Once a shared vision is created, all institutional constituents must be provided opportunities to contribute to the construction of an eLearning strategic plan. The overall institutional eLearning strategic plan should then be integrated into academic departmental plans and the IT strategic plan. If these important phases are addressed first, eLearning systems that meet specific institutional and departmental goals can be established. Finally, systems and processes must be assessed, and the assessment feedback incorporated into systems refinements and upgrades.
For institutions that have established eLearning systems, it isn’t too late to apply an eLearning success model. Technology is not static but is changing constantly. Through the implementation of an eLearning success model, future upgrades and system changes can be improved and campus leaders, as well as faculty and students, can participate in shared eLearning success.
The complete EDUCAUSE presentation including numerous URL references and a complete bibliography of associated articles can be accessed at: http://edtech.erau.edu/presentations/educause04/
Mr. Marty Smith is the CIO of ERAU. He also serves on the Bb CIO Council.
Dr. Shirley A. Waterhouse is Director of Educational Technology at ERAU. She also serves on the Bb Product Advisory Board. She is the author of six books, and her most recent is The Power of eLearning: The Essential Guide for Teaching in the Digital Age, Allyn & Bacon, 2005.
Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations (4 th ed.). New York: Free Press.