Technology and Intercampus Teaching Expand Networks, Opportunities

Although technology can require a learning curve and at times bring us to new levels of frustration, it inarguably yields significant benefits. That sentiment holds true for the use of instructional technology as it relates to intercampus teaching. While there are hurdles to overcome, its successful use can mean better opportunities for students and faculty without straining current institutional resources.

RebeccadavisRebecca Frost Davis, director of instructional and emerging technology at St. Edward’s University, enjoyed her career as a professor of Classical Studies, but she finds her work in instructional technology exciting because she gets to work across disciplines rather than focusing in one area.  Davis has worked with emerging technologies since she finished graduate school, serving as assistant director for instructional technology at the Associated Colleges of the South Technology Center and teaching within and helping to coordinate the virtual classics department of Sunoikisis, a national classics consortium. Davis then began work as a research fellow on intercampus teaching (which she continues) with the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) before joining St. Edward’s last summer.

Davis has seen intercampus teaching used for various reasons, such as:

To expand expertise and develop a networked community.Small departments that feel the need for a larger community can achieve that with intercampus teaching. Faculty gain colleagues from similar backgrounds (if institutions with similar cultures and sizes are paired), and students are exposed to the expertise of other professors. Grading standards are higher as professors grade students that they do not know personally, and students work to compete with students from other campuses.  “There is a network effect,” said Davis. Students gain the confidence of knowing that they can achieve when matched against peers at other institutions. Even though the network is expanded, they still have the benefits of being at a small campus.

To expose students to diverse perspectives. To support St. Edward’s strong emphasis on global learning, faculty use technology to expose students to global concepts, usually by leveraging the professor’s or the university’s global network. There are two global digital classrooms with high-definition videoconferencing, but students first interact asynchronously, perhaps by reading and commenting on blogs written by the person or people with whom they will connect. The initial asynchronous interaction makes the live interaction more fruitful when it does happen. Davis recommends taking the learning a step further by having the groups engage in a collaborative project online rather than simply talking with each other via videoconferencing. Also, this collaboration does not need to be with networks abroad as diverse perspectives can come from different regions within the U.S.

To expand opportunities and resources for students. Davis worked with five institutions that formed the Texas Language Consortium to fill gaps in first year languages through shared courses. Their goals are to develop stronger programs by aggregating demand across campuses and offer less commonly taught languages. To date, through the use of high-definition video conferencing, they have been able to offer Chinese and Portuguese, in addition to German, French, and Spanish. This program opens up opportunities for students who may otherwise be unable to take these languages.

stedwards_top_level_03Intercampus teaching is not without its challenges, however. Cost is often a concern, but Davis advises that the lack of a pricing structure at the onset shouldn’t hamper moving forward with the collaboration. Inter-institutional collaboration has worked for regional consortia for years, but collaborating virtually across a wide geographical area is new so it will take experience to figure it out. Scheduling can be challenging when institutions differ in time zones, start/end dates (semester v. trimester), vacations, and class start times. Davis said that institutions need to work around these issues, perhaps collaborating for 10 to 12 weeks rather than an entire semester or by recording sessions that happen during an institution’s break. She also said that many find it easier to collaborate occasionally rather than consistently. Finally, cultural differences – even something like amount of homework assigned – need to be discussed and anticipated prior to collaboration.

To ensure the greatest chance for success, support and collaboration from departments such as IT and library staff is crucial, said Davis. To facilitate scheduling in the Texas Language Consortium, registrars are connected. Also, Davis said, if rooms with special technology are scarce it’s helpful to have an administrator who can prioritize the space according to which programs need it most. Lastly, outcomes are better if there is a dedicated project manager who will make sure that the project is moving forward and institutions are indeed working together.

Despite its challenges, intercampus teaching can offer positive outcomes that make it worth pursuing.  Davis already has one idea for NAC&U campuses.

“I’d like to see NAC&U offer a unique course for its students, perhaps one that is focused on undergraduate research in which students perform studies in their own locations but network the data with other campuses and then put together the results for a symposium.”

As NAC&U looks to further consortial collaboration the use of technology and intercampus teaching may be worth considering as a way to increase opportunities and expand networks for students and faculty.

For more on digital pedagogy and its application to liberal education, see Rebecca Frost Davis’ blog: Liberal Education in a Networked World.