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Today's Teaching and Learning: Leveraging Technology

  • ID: 42890
  • Report
  • December 1999
  • 97 pages
  • American Productivity & Quality Center, APQC
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As states and institutions of higher education sink millions of dollars into their technological infrastructures, it is understandable that they would ask “Are we getting the most we can out of this investment?” On the administrative side of the house, the answer is a resounding “yes.” In recent years colleges have made tremendous progress in streamlining and integrating their financial, human resource, and student information systems. Students report high levels of satisfaction with the new electronic services such as the ability to apply and register, receive grade reports, and even order books online.

In many cases, higher education’s investment in its technological infrastructure is far ahead of its investment in the human development necessary to realize technology’s transforming potential. A recent national survey revealed that only half of higher education institutions have a strategic plan for information technology, and only 40 percent have a curriculum plan or an instructional plan for using technology. In addition,
officials in this same survey rated “assisting faculty to integrate technology into instruction” as the single most important IT issue confronting their institutions (K.C. Green, Campus Computing 1998). It is clear that many institutions are struggling to find the resources to support faculty development initiatives.

Faculty members in colleges and universities, especially the “early adopters” who were the first to use technology in the classroom, have been frustrated by the lack of institutional support for their efforts. But this situation is changing as the use of technology moves into the mainstream faculty ranks. Institutions are supporting their faculties in a wide variety of ways including faculty resource centers, project funding, release time, technical and pedagogical support, equipment allocations and upgrades, and training. “The use of technology needs to be accompanied by some major
changes in the way faculty are trained and rewarded,” said Tony Bates, subject matter expert for this study. “Teaching with technology is not something that can easily be picked up along the way as something to be done off the side of the desk while engaged in more important or time-consuming activities such as research.” Recognizing the enormity and complexity of the task, the sponsors and organizers of this benchmarking study set out to discover the best organizational strategies for helping faculty members integrate technology into their teaching. The sponsors, along with the project team, outlined a scope and set of questions on faculty instructional development with the realization that there would be no easy answers. However, through the process of examining their own, one another’s, and the seven partner organizations’ practices in faculty instructional development, everyone discovered important lessons they could implement in their own institutions.


In 1996 APQC and SHEEO formed a partnership to find best practices in
education through the use of benchmarking. The first study the two organizations conducted together was Creating Electronic Student and Customer Services, which concluded in May 1997. The second study from the APQC/SHEEO partnership, entitled Faculty Instructional Development: Supporting Faculty Use of Technology in Teaching, began in April 1998. Dr. Tony Bates from the University of British Columbia provided content expertise throughout the course of the study.

The purpose of this multi-organization benchmarking study was to identify and
examine innovations, best practices, and key trends in the area of supporting the use of technology in teaching, as well as gain insights and learnings about the processes involved. The goal was to enable participants to direct their own faculty instructional development processes more effectively and identify any performance gaps. The study afforded participants the opportunity to gain a better understanding of issues and challenges involved in implementing technology-based education.

Fifty-three institutions, businesses, and government agencies took part in the
study by attending a series of planning sessions, completing data-gathering surveys, and attending or hosting on-site interviews. Seven of the organizations were identified as having an exemplary process for supporting the use of technology in teaching and were invited to participate in the study as benchmarking “best-practice partners.” The findings from the Faculty Instructional Development study form the basis for this report.


The following scope defines the content and structure of the benchmarking study. Sponsors spent a day-and-a-half collaborating with the project team from APQC and SHEEO and subject matter expert Tony Bates to create this scope.

Focus Area I: Current Institutional Context
- Institutional vision for teaching via technology
- Campus technology infrastructure
- Current technology for teaching
- Technical support for faculty
- Faculty development arrangements

Focus Area II: Teaching and Learning Issues
- Institutional philosophy for teaching and learning
- Technical skills
- Pedagogical skills
- Instructional design skills
- Project management skills
- Matching appropriate technology to learning objectives

Focus Area III: Organizational Issues
- Overall organizational structure to support faculty development
- Reward systems
- Faculty workload
- Faculty development activities

Focus Area IV: Policy and Strategic Issues
- Funding levels
- State funding mechanisms
- Institutional funding mechanisms
- Cost/benefit analysis
- Scalability of products
- System level/consortium approaches (sharing revenue and cost)
- Outsourcing
- Mechanisms for faculty participation in policy and decision making
- Finding people with the right skills
- Collective bargaining, copyright, and intellectual property
- Program/curriculum review (institutional and state level)
- Strategic partnerships (e.g., K–12 collaboration)
- Technology standards/uniform policies for faculty development within and across campuses

Focus Area V: Performance Measurement
- Input measures
- Output measures
- Alignment of performance measures with institutional goals


Following are the 14 key findings that emerged from this study. Organized into five macro topics that follow the study scope, the key findings will be explored in detail throughout the remainder of this report.

1. Organizations that are responsive to their external environments are drawn to technology-based learning solutions.

2. Many best-practice organizations take a “total immersion” approach to technology involving the entire community of teachers and learners.

3. Best-practice organizations keep their focus on teaching and learning issues, not the technology itself. However, faculty members must reach a minimum comfort level with the technology before they can realize the deeper educational benefits.

4. There are no shortcuts; best-practice organizations provide sufficient time for planning and implementation of technology-based teaching initiatives.

5. Curriculum redesign is not taught to faculty members but rather emerges through project-oriented faculty development initiatives.

6. Faculty incentives come in many forms. Among the most powerful motivators is
newfound pride in teaching.

7. A project team approach can produce a high-quality product and provide the faculty relief from “technology overload.”

8. A variety of departments coordinate instructional development services.
Centralized structures and funds support overall organizational strategies, and
decentralized structures and funds support “just-in-time” technical assistance.

9. Best-practice organizations have steadily moved toward strategic investments
and firm criteria for funding projects.

10. Best-practice organizations do not wait for or depend on external funding for their faculty instructional development initiatives.

11. Faculty spokespeople and mentors are critical to effective dissemination strategies.

12. Effective partnerships for instructional development can leverage resources and improve quality.

13. Best-practice organizations use faculty and student evaluations to adjust instructional strategies.

14. Most best-practice organizations have not attempted to justify technology-based learning on the basis of cost savings. Improvements in learning effectiveness, relevance for the workplace, and widening access have been the key motivators.


The past decade has seen wrenching change for many organizations. As organizations have looked for ways to survive and remain profitable, a simple but powerful change strategy called “benchmarking” has evolved and become popular. Benchmarking can be described as the process by which organizations learn, modeled on the human learning process. A good working definition is “the process of identifying, learning, and adapting outstanding practices and processes from any organization, anywhere in the world, to help an organization improve its performance.” The underlying rationale for the benchmarking process is that learning by example, from best-practice cases, is the most effective means of understanding the principles and the specifics of
effective practices.

The most important aspects of benchmarking are twofold. First, benchmarking is not a fixed technique imposed by “experts” but rather a process driven by the participants who are trying to change their organizations. Second, it does not use prescribed solutions to a problem. Instead, it is a process through which participants learn about successful practices in other organizations and then draw on those cases to develop solutions that are most suitable for their own organizations. Benchmarking is not copying; networking; or passively reading abstracts, articles, or books. It is action learning, as demonstrated in the following description of the consortium methodology. Benchmarking is not simply a comparison of numbers or performance statistics. Numbers are helpful for identifying gaps in performance, but true process benchmarking identifies the “hows” and “whys” for performance gaps and helps organizations learn and understand how to perform at higher levels.

Summary of Benchmarking Methodology

There are two main phases in APQC’s consortium benchmarking methodology:
- selecting best-practice partners, and
- learning from the best.
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- Sponsor and Partner Organizations

A listing of the sponsor organizations in this study, as well as the best-practice (“partner”) organizations that were benchmarked for their innovation and advancement in leveraging the use of technology in teaching and learning.

- Executive Summary

A bird’s-eye view of the study, presenting the key findings discovered and the methodology used throughout the course of the study. The findings are explored in detail in following sections.

- Key Findings

An in-depth look at the 14 key findings of this study. The findings are supported by quantitative data and qualitative examples of practices employed by the partner organizations.

- Partner Organization Profiles

Background information on the partner organizations, as well as their innovative practices in encouraging the use of technology.
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