Vol. 11, No. 1
ISSN: 1546-2676

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Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM,
Vol. 11, No. 1. 
1546-2676. Editor: Dorothy I. Mitstifer. Official publication of Kappa Omicron Nu National Honor Society. Member, Association of College Honor Societies. Copyright © 1999. Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM is a refereed, semi-annual publication serving the profession of family and consumer sciences. The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of the society. Further information: Kappa Omicron Nu, PO Box 798, Okemos, MI 48805-0798. Telephone: (727) 940-2658 ext. 2003

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Kappa Omicron Nu


Building a User Friendly Environment: The Challenge of Technology in Higher Education

Virginia L. Clark
Gregory F. Sanders
Ronald M. Stammen

Dr. Clark is Dean and Professor, Dr. Sanders is Associate Dean and Associate Professor, Dr. Stammen is Associate Professor of the School of Education—all of the College of Human Development and Education, North Dakota State University.


The incorporation of technology into teaching and research is one of the most important challenges for higher education today. The College of Human Development and Education at North Dakota State University has made a special effort to build the capacity for using technology. Case examples of faculty experience with both the internet and interactive video are presented and suggest that there are both frustrations and rewards in using these technologies. As one instructor noted, however, students receiving courses from a distance are grateful enough for the access to be forgiving of the problems with the technology.

In the near future, higher education faculty will not be replaced by technology. However, faculty who cannot use the technology will be replaced. — Anon

Today, university faculty who consider change a challenge would say that we are living in the best of times. Adjectives they might use to describe their work, and the challenges they face each day, might include energizing, fun, and demanding. A large part of the change that all faculty face deals with the use of technology, both for their scholarly work and in their teaching. Classes are delivered with the use of interactive video; syllabi and notes are placed on the web; and professors make themselves available on e-mail for questions around the clock.

On the other hand, many faculty members would consider the climate on campuses today the worst of times! The use of computer technology, video and audio equipment, and even overhead projectors seems to demand that new skills be learned every semester if not more often. Take these changes and add them to the new developments in disciplines, the reduction in number of faculty (leaving everyone with more work to do), the lack of time for learning to use new equipment and incorporate new techniques into classes, and the expectations for production of scholarly work and service in order to earn promotion and tenure. The result is often frustration and confusion.

The assumption is often that all faculty know how to use a microcomputer, especially for simple day-to-day tasks like e-mail and word processing. However, the reality is that many faculty have not had the time and training to develop those basic skills—providing them with the right equipment is a beginning, but providing them with the opportunity to develop the skills to use the technology is critical.

In addition to providing opportunities and resources for learning to use technology, the environment for this learning must be a non-threatening one. Nothing will make an extremely educated and competent person feel more stupid and incompetent than a machine! The following example highlights one faculty member’s recollection of technology training:

I can remember the first computer workshop I attended. I had the luxury of having a computer to become familiar with prior to the first workshop session. However, there were several people there who had never used a computer, and just the task of turning it on was a challenge! One person (who was known as one of the best teachers on campus) had never used a computer and could not keep up with our instructor. Finally she quit asking for help, and she did not return to the second lesson. I have often wondered if that was the end of using the computer for that particular faculty member.

Regarding the need for utilizing technology in education, Weinbach, Gandy and Tartaglia (1984) indicated over ten years ago that in their state, “…because of various constraints involving time, finances and distance, many prospective students are unable to avail themselves of main campus or regional campus offerings. In addition, there are not enough students located in any one outlying area to justify sending faculty to the area for on-site education using the off-campus education model employed elsewhere” (p. 12). Visser (1995) indicated that in order to meet this demand successfully, several ingredients were needed: “Students who are curious and want to learn; teachers who are open to various media to transfer knowledge and skills to students; management [personnel] who are willing to support all this with sufficient money and infrastructure; support and assistance of skilled personnel; good learning software…” (p. 108).

Higher education today is challenged by heavy demands and limited resources. In discussing the need for universities to move beyond “allocating shortages” Twigg (1995) states, “It is time to move beyond the walls of our individual colleges and universities to join forces with other institutions, with corporations, and with public policy makers to revitalize American higher education. Together we can create wealth.” Perhaps most critical, such capacity building will greatly contribute to meeting students’ needs for learning anytime and anywhere.

The challenge for higher education, and specifically for administrators in higher education, is to create a user-friendly environment that provides the tools, training, and support for faculty to use technology and to make wise decisions regarding the use of technology. This manuscript seeks to describe the plan that we have created in the North Dakota State University College of Human Development and Education to make our environment user friendly.

The Need

According to Kenneth C. Green, “Technology resources are becoming an increasingly important component of the instructional experience, across all fields and all types of institutions” (1997). Key findings in the 1998 Campus Computing Survey of 571 higher education institutions indicated:

  • about 44% of all college courses use e-mail—up from one third in 1997.
  • about one third use the Internet as a resource—up from one fourth in 1997.
  • almost two-fifths have an institutional technology competency requirement for all undergraduates.
  • instructional integration (33.3%) and user support (26.55%) were reported as top challenges.
  • technology fees are used on many campuses to assist with the financial issues created by technology; 45.8% report a mandatory fee—up from 38.5% in 1997.
  • adequate rewards have not been identified for faculty who invest time and effort to include technology in their classrooms, and “[t]he growing role of the WWW as a vehicle for scholarly dissemination and as a repository for instructional resources raises important questions about who owns intellectual property of a course syllabus, working paper, or some instructional software posted on a college or university WWW site” (1998).

According to Carol A. Twigg (1995), “What was the most efficient way to teach and learn—the research university model of faculty who create knowledge and deliver it to students via lectures—now cracks under the strain of meeting new learning demands. As an old technology, the traditional classroom suffers from severe limitations, in both its on-campus and its off-campus versions. We need a better system of learning to enable students to acquire knowledge. We need to create a support system for faculty who want to teach in this new way” (p. 6).

Faculty have voiced the need for a support system as well. Faculty who participated in a LearnShop sponsored by the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance in May, 1997 indicated in their evaluations that of most concern were issues pertaining to time and administrative support to maintain distance education delivery with technology. The participating faculty indicated they need and want support from their colleagues and administration. The faculty deem it crucial to keep this Distance Education vision alive and want to work together to help students. They indicated that the work effort of students should not be increased but rather enhanced by the computer-based courses. The evaluation also indicated that faculty members who participated in the LearnShop want to work together to share goals and expectations with their peers (Stammen, 1997). This collaborative desire exists among universities and within groupwork teams. Further, it was found that such faculty collaboration encourages and builds on diversity to develop ways to apply technologies with pedagogy. Participants valued their support groups, not only the discipline group, but interdisciplinary faculty groups who share and work to come up with innovative ways to apply technology for education.

According to Al Rogers, Global SchoolNet Foundation (1997), “It is no secret, of course, that one of the biggest failures is the lack of appropriate staff development. And of course, when one talks about technology and staff development, the focus is often on ‘training’ teachers how to use the technology and what is known as ‘how to integrate it into the curriculum’ …in my fifteen years of teaching teachers ‘about technology,’ I have found it far more effective to show teachers how to teach writing using a word processor, rather than teaching them how to use a word processor; how to use a spreadsheet or data base to collect and plot census data as part of a social science unit, rather than how to use the tool; or how to use the World Wide Web to develop incredibly rich professional dialogs between students as Web authors and their audiences around the world.”

Steps in Building the Capacity for Technology Use

Hendrick (1994) stated that “Technological and social change will transform 21st-century institutions from transmitters of knowledge—which characterizes education in highly stable societies—to creators of new paradigms—which is the norm in a rapidly changing society. Education today must, like any enterprise, be a bold or dangerous undertaking preparing individuals for a changing world rather than a world of permanence” (p. 1). Shifting paradigms can truly be a bold and dangerous process. Trying something new and unknown can be extremely frightening, however that is what technology is requiring higher education faculty to do.

In The Paradigm Conspiracy, Breton and Largent (1996) indicate that three things must be considered in shifting paradigms:

  1. Where are we now and where are we going?
  2. How do we get there from here?
  3. How can we make the shift and go for change?

Faculty come to the challenge to shift their paradigms with varying degrees of expertise in the use of technology, as well as in their abilities to select appropriate teaching techniques and tools. In considering the above three issues, our group efforts and individual stories serve as markers to our progress.

Where are we now and where are we going?

In August of 1997, faculty in the College of Human Development and Education (HDE) at North Dakota State University (NDSU) completed a Faculty Computing Competency Self-Assessment Profile. The assessment was designed to determine ways to provide support for faculty during the 1997-98 academic year to work toward the College Goal, “Strengthen the capacity of the faculty to incorporate technology into existing classes, or to use it (technology) to better meet student needs.” Results of this survey indicated that some faculty felt they needed training in basic word processing, in using a database and/or spreadsheet, in use of e-mail, in use of Web sites, and in preparing multimedia presentations (see table 1). One faculty member commented, “Having someone available to help me learn how to use technology is important, seeing it at a workshop doesn’t do it for me!”

Table 1: Faculty Computing Competency Self-Assessment: Percent of responses. Need training in:




Word Processing












Web Sites



Multimedia Presentations



Creating Web Pages






Statistics Programs



In addition to providing information about the areas where training was needed, the survey also indicated some resources within the college. A total of 22% of the faculty indicated that they were skilled enough in word processing to teach others; 20% could teach e-mail use; 11% could help others use the internet; 10% could help with multimedia presentations; and 5% could help others create web pages.

The real key (and challenge) for administrators in higher education is to create/facilitate the environment so that faculty receive the information in a context that provides experience and with the resources that they will be using to actually do their work. For most, this means determining how to provide help in their office, classroom, or lab when it is needed and makes the most sense.

Several strategies have been identified for use in creating a user friendly (and supportive) environment in the College of Human Development and Education:

  1. An Associate Dean position (part-time, with the remainder of the position a faculty role) was created to provide a person who could spend some dedicated time and leadership working with faculty and the Dean, to support capacity building in technology.
  2. A faculty support team was identified with representatives from each unit in the College and with varying degrees of expertise in technology use.
  3. The wiring, hardware, and software were provided for each faculty member to be able to accomplish the basic goals of word-processing, e-mail communication, and use of the internet and the Web.
  4. An assessment was conducted (briefly described above) to determine actual faculty needs, as reported by faculty.
  5. Goals were set by the faculty team using the information obtained through the assessment (many of these were very basic, such as “All faculty and staff will be able to use their e-mail and access the Web by the end of the fall semester”).
  6. Evaluation strategies were identified, so that information would be available for future planning and determining success of our goals for this year.

How do we get there from here?

Several strategies are being employed to build college capacity in technology use. Goals of the Associate Dean related to technology included: (a) help to build internet course exchanges with other institutions; (b) submit grant proposals to support faculty training in distance education; (c) develop and publish the evaluation of distance learning training; (d) organize a college technology team and report on activities of this group. Each of these efforts are currently underway.

The first internet course received in the college was completed in 1998 for our Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Management program. We did not have a faculty member with the expertise we needed, so we contracted with another institution to deliver the course. Proposals have been developed and submitted for other internet courses and others are in process. Distance education training is being conducted by our own campus experts, and demonstrations of on-campus distance education software have been conducted for the Technology Team. Evaluation of web-based distance learning training has been conducted (for efforts to date), and a report has been completed.

The Technology Team has been actively working on a number of issues. Specific goals of the team include: (a) all college faculty and staff will have a working knowledge of electronic mail; (b) training for Powerpoint presentations will be made available along with direct support to individuals; (c) faculty will have a working knowledge for electronically downloading course lists of enrolled students; (d) faculty will have access to support for Web page development. Progress has already occurred on a number of goals. College personnel have been surveyed and e-mail training has been provided to all staff and faculty who indicated need for help. Faculty also have been informed of the process for downloading class lists and many have used this process. A list of faculty with skills in each of these areas who are willing to provide hands on support to others has been shared across the college. To date, this “one-on-one” training has been extremely successful.

Lessons Learned—Web War Stories

Stories from faculty members about their experiences in utilizing technology point to both the successes and frustrations experienced. The examples that follow help us to learn from experiences and mistakes and inform us about potential uses for technology.

Burton M. Nygren, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, School of Education (Dr. Nygren teaches in a program that can be completed through Interactive Video.)

The “pain and promise” of teaching on interactive television.

The following are some struggles, successes, and lessons I learned from working with the North Dakota Interactive Video Network (IVN) and the Minnesota Interactive Television Network (ITV):

  1. No matter the logistical and technical challenges (frustrations) for a professor teaching on interactive television, you can be certain students at distant sites tend to evaluate the instruction and course experience as satisfactory. They have saved considerable time, travel, and cost and are appreciative.
  2. The fundamental dilemma for the instructor, a problem which persists in all distance education, is how to create a genuine sense of classroom (a true community of learners). Interactive television does not prevent class participation, but student-to-student and student-to-teacher discussions are cumbersome and seldom spontaneous.
  3. Faculty members find the lack of physical presence a true barrier in getting to know and motivate students. Certainly, video and audio permit a “connectedness,” yet a student’s personality is not well revealed on a small television screen.
  4. The case can be made that an authentic teaching and learning situation can only exist once a relationship is established. It is not clear if this can be accomplished on interactive television.
  5. Sound level and distortion persist to the annoyance of instructor and class.
  6. The most skilled and successful classroom teachers will not become instantly successful on interactive television. Persons beginning on ITV need extensive training and practice in the use of camera, monitor, and microphone technology.
  7. More than any quality, an ITV instructor needs a sense of humor for coping with the system when it goes down—a development as predictable as gravity and sunset. A “bag of teaching tricks” and some patience are crucial to survival.
  8. The deluge of more powerful and more complex instructional tools makes a proper balance difficult to find—a balance where professors don’t “over-tech” or “under-tech” on their courses.
  9. Instructors involved with ITV strive hard to project themselves through the camera to distant sites, so there is a real danger that students in campus-based classrooms are cheated out of a desired teacher/student interaction.
  10. Because practically every student has a life-time of experiences with home television, students in an ITV setting may appear (or choose) to be watching television rather than participating in a class. A professor must work diligently at incorporating the interactive dimension or the class may become little more than a “TV show.”
  11. Faculty members engaged in ITV are exhausted teachers (emotionally and physically). It is logistically difficult to prepare and send materials for arrival in the right places at the right times. Compounding all, is the unending anxiety, even “fear,” about when technical problems will bring everything to a halt.
Mary Hadley, Associate Professor of Food and Nutrition.

Course material on the Web.

My first attempts to produce course materials that could be available to students on the web were a failure. When I started, to the best of my knowledge, the only way to prepare web materials was to use HTML. The computer center offered some introductory courses in using HTML, which I took. They gave us the addresses of several web sites that had helpful material to the beginning HTMLer. The problem was time. I spent two days in May just getting one page ready to load into the Web. Then I had to get permission even to try to load the page. I just gave up. I decided that if it was going to take me two days to get one title page ready for the web, my syllabus alone was going to take a month! A hard copy of the syllabus was sitting on my desk. I had 120 copies made and handed them out to the students that fall.

I guess I am competitive by nature. The idea that a computer program and all the trappings had beaten me kept nagging (I keep forgetting that the programs are prepared by people). An inanimate object had me hooked. I kept making the odd feeble attempt to get something onto the Web. Then I heard that Claris Home page was available. The ease, the simplicity, all problems were solved. I had my syllabus ready in Microsoft Word. All that I needed once the software was installed was to cut and paste. The problem is that you can cut and paste if you don’t mind one long paragraph with none of your original formatting.

The first lesson of Claris Home Page is that you must start from scratch and type everything in. Now the real thing is ready to upload. Uploading. Uploaded!

All right, now into the Web and find the page. A screen shows up but there is a message that the URL isn’t available.

Lesson number 2. Once you have one page ready to upload, try to upload it to see if it works. If it does, keep preparing things to upload! It took the “experts” the better part of 8 hours to figure out what happened. Very basically, Claris Home Page will put spaces and other odd things into your document at will.

The Home Page Browser doesn’t pay attention to these freebies, however, the web reads all these additions as foreign language and it won’t load!

Lesson 3. Even with Claris Home Page one needs to have some understanding of HTML so you can take out all the things you didn’t put in. After many hours of high blood pressure, some words actually turned up on the web page. The pictures didn’t but the words did. It took only two or three days to get the figures to show up too. I spent the better part of a month getting the material in place for one undergraduate class. I put up copies of all the pre-prepared overheads I use in class too. There are still things in there that I didn’t put in but I just can’t argue with the computer any more.

I found that there are many advantages to using the web. Students no longer want copies of my overheads. I can correct mistakes in a few minutes. The student can check her/his grades at any computer with Web access. They don’t have to block the hall and try to read the microscopic print.

Using Power Point!

I did all my overheads for one undergraduate class so that I could present the lecture material using Power Point presentations. I’d say getting the Power Point ready didn’t take any time compared to the Web material. (I am now a much better typist than I was before I started either of these projects so that is a bonus.)

I do not think I would spend my time preparing power point presentations again. They look nice but I ran into too many problems. Half way through a lecture something went wrong and the system crashed. It ate all the material on the disk. I was smart enough to have a back up copy of the disk available in my office, but couldn’t use it until I had backed it up. Now I have two backup copies of any Power Point Presentation. Then the bulb burned out in the projector and that was the end of that lecture. So now I have three disks with the presentations and one copy of acetate overheads. I might as well just use the acetate overheads.

When I lost all the info on the disk in use, I was just going to plug into the web and use the copies of the overheads I had for the students. That wasn’t possible as someone had not left all the bits and pieces with the computer and the cables were missing. Another problem was that there are only a few computers available that we can use for Power Point presentations. I made my bookings in July for the fall semester. Two nights there was no computer available because the person who was to return it didn’t.

It is clear from these examples that time and frustration are major ingredients in the technology mix. We do believe that the needs for using technology outweigh the frustrations and setbacks. Bugs get worked out, and new and improved systems are developed. We learn from each other as we struggle. It is apparent that we are still pioneers, and as such we are struggling to “build the cabin rather than sitting by the cozy fire.”

How can we make the shift and go for change?

“What we don’t like we can conspire to change” (Breton & Largent, 1996, p. 39). Based on our experiences to date, we have set a number of goals for the future.

  1. We will work to reach those who need education but can’t come to campus.
  2. We will share expertise and resources with other universities through exchange of internet courses and modules.
  3. We will continue to evaluate these efforts to better inform our own work and inform our colleagues of our experiences.
  4. We will develop an ongoing system of faculty development and support for use of ever-developing technology.
  5. We will incorporate technology in on-campus courses in a manner that advances our learning objectives and uses an active learning approach.

An article in the Dallas Morning News (August 10, 1997, p. 10A), “Senator’s request to use laptop boots up debate,” speaks to how these challenges arise in all aspects of society. It seems that Senator Michael Enzi of Wyoming asked to bring his laptop computer on the Senate floor to take notes. This simple request sparked much controversy and debate. Senator Dianne Feinstein, California, said, “I’m not against computers, but I think they have their place, and it’s not everywhere. When you’re speaking on the Senate floor, you should be speaking from a lifetime of experience, not from what you punch up on a computer.” If senators should be speaking from a lifetime of experience, should professors be speaking from a lifetime of education? What is the appropriate role for technology in higher education? and What are the keys to creating the environment that makes appropriate use of technology possible?


This paper has provided a brief description of our approach to changing a demanding, rapidly changing environment that is often extremely unfriendly to one that is “user friendly.” Maintaining and enhancing this support will challenge all involved, and may also involve debate as each new challenge and change is faced. The following principles are suggested for helping to meet the challenges of technology in higher education.

  • Provide leadership at the college (or department) level for faculty use of technology. Make sure that someone is identified to provide this leadership and that they have the time, interest, and skills to serve as a role model, motivator, and teacher as technology challenges emerge. Encouragement and support are critical ingredients to building capacity.
  • Do not make assumptions about the type of technology faculty need. Ask faculty what type of support they need and how they are using technology. This is a continuous process as faculty move to higher skill levels and new innovations become available. Because of time constraints, faculty members often will not seek out opportunities to develop their technology skills.
  • Commit funds to keep campus technology up-to-date. Help faculty members have a realistic picture of what is possible and available on campus. Cooperative efforts with other campuses, such as those suggested in the preceding text, will be less successful if the technological incompatibilities render activities such as course exchanges cumbersome or even impossible.
  • Work with campus technology specialists on an ongoing basis to inform them of needed support, problems, and goals. These professionals can obtain or even develop software to meet special needs, but only if they are aware of those needs. They are not in the classrooms as teachers on a regular basis, nor do they encounter many of the other issues created by technology that faculty and staff do on a day-to-day basis. In addition, the technology units on campuses often provide resources that help in maintenance and keeping the technology up-to-date.
  • Maintain a “can do” approach to the administrative challenges of technology and distance education. Cooperation among campus administrators is the first step in facilitating course exchanges with other campuses, registration for distance education courses, evaluation of course quality, and other issues created by new and emerging technologies.


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Dallas Morning News (1997, Aug. 10). Senator’s request to use laptop boots up debate, p. 10A.

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