July/August 2001 // Faculty and Staff Development
Faculty Development at the Grassroots Level
by Darrell L. Butler
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Darrell L. Butler "Faculty Development at the Grassroots Level" The Technology Source, July/August 2001. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Several years ago, I converted my paper syllabi, course handouts, some lecture notes, and a few demonstrations to course Web sites. I added a few other resources I had never had on paper, such as e-mail lists of students. After all this, I still felt I was not fully utilizing the capabilities of the Web. I posed the question: What else should be included on a good course Web site? I never could have guessed where this question would take me.

I began by searching the Web sites of other faculty members in my department. Most either did not have Web sites or had sites less fully developed than my own. I searched the Web for courses similar to mine at other campuses, but found little I could count as new. I then wondered whether faculty members in other disciplines on my campus had ideas I had not yet seen. Administrators I spoke to did not know which faculty members had good course Web sites, so I conducted my own search for Web-based course materials. I looked for creative teaching and learning ideas, especially ones that involved active learning. My search uncovered 21 sites with interesting and unique ideas.

In the fall of 1998, I contacted the faculty members who created these sites and suggested we form a group. During the first few months, we met in a large conference room with one or two computers connected to the Internet. At first, we took turns demonstrating our course Web sites. One member, for example, shared how he used MUDs to teach writing, and another showed how she posted the best student work from previous semesters to provide models and motivation for current students. A graduate faculty member demonstrated how he used discussion rooms that involved professionals in the field to encourage students to work through their positions on difficult issues. Another faculty member showed how he used a Web site to create class groups for assignments.

Later, we began to discuss on-campus and off-campus resources that we were using. For example, we reviewed synchronous and asynchronous communication tools, counters that track hits on Web sites, software that generates online tests and quizzes, and software for creating and editing Web sites (such as MS Frontpage and Macromedia Dreamweaver). All of us were familiar with e-mail but not with other electronic communication tools, so we created our own private Web site where we could experiment with tools such as bulletin boards, chats, and whiteboards.

In our meetings, we focused on such issues as the advantages and disadvantages of posting lecture notes online, the merits of various ideas to encourage active learning in an online environment, and whether electronic communication tools could really help students learnand under what circumstances. We debated whether such tools could be used in very large classes (more than 200 students) or freshman classes. We reached the consensus that these tools are particularly appropriate for any course that does not meet frequently. This conclusion followed from our own experience interacting as a group, as well as from the observed behavior of our students. When we as a group met often, we did not use the communication tools much, preferring instead to discuss issues face-to-face. When we met less frequently, we used the electronic tools more frequently (particularly e-mail). Several members of the group indicated that these observations also applied to students in their classes.

After a few months, the group had shrunk to seven regular members and a couple of occasional attendees. We then decided to meet with staff members involved with technology on campus. We needed to know what was being planned for the growth of technology in teaching and learning, and we wanted to share our viewpoints—that is, the viewpoints of faculty members who truly cared about teaching, learning, and technology. We set up meetings with directors and staff from University Computing Services, the libraries, the campus teleplex (distance education, TV stations, and radio), and other technology offices that served teaching and learning. Staff members were willing and accommodating, giving us more of their time than we might have gotten as individuals. As we built a stronger network with the technology staff, we worked on a variety of Web-based active learning projects. Most were directed by only one member of the group, but some have been highly collaborative.

Individual Projects

The individuals in our group have developed innovative ways to use course Web sites. In part, these innovations have been influenced by interactions with the group. Below, I briefly describe some individual projects, the first three of which are described in more detail in this issue of The Technology Source.

Susan Tancock, a professor in the Department of Elementary Education, has developed a Web-based database of literacy training materials for elementary school teachers (Tancock, 2001.) Her students, who are pre-service teachers, must learn how to teach reading skills to elementary school students. They use the Web to evaluate existing literacy training materials and to create materials of their own. They then build Web pages that describe and illustrate these activities, contributing to a growing, publicly accessible database that serves them during their training and also serves as a resource for professional teachers already employed in schools.

Bill Bauer, a professor in the School of Music, has experimented with the on-campus use of distance education tools (Bauer, 2001). He has found that electronic communication tools such as e-mail, listservs, and chat can enrich his students' experience. For example, Bauer requires students to participate in a music education listserv. The discussion lists expose students to a multitude of new ideas and viewpoints, broadening their perspectives on music education. Another of Bauer's findings is that online testing of assigned readings encourages his students to complete the readings before class.

In my large lecture courses in psychology, I have used a course Web site to facilitate active learning projects (Butler, 2001). The site helps students select topics, find relevant information, evaluate the information they find, and use various technologies to report their work. The addition of this student-centered component of the course has enabled me to embrace several course goals—such as developing problem-finding skills and technology skills that were difficult to encourage previously.

Peter McAllister, in the School of Music, has been experimenting with student-developed digital videos that demonstrate students' teaching abilities. Students create these videos as documentation of their teaching in the field and show them in class, where they can be assessed by faculty and other students. Not only does this facilitate students' development as teachers, but the videos can also be used as portfolio items to demonstrate teaching skills.

William Magrath, in the Department of Classical Cultures, has carefully assessed his students and his courses as he has progressed from lecture to multimedia presentations and finally to Web-based course materials. His data have been valuable to all of us as we make choices about what kinds of technologies to use. Likewise, Kay Hodson-Carlton, in the Department of Nursing, has worked with library staff to develop an interactive module that helps students assess Web sites that house nursing information. Several members of the group have adopted the module to their own disciplines.

Collaborative Projects

In addition to work on individual courses, our group has worked collaboratively on a number of projects. Mike O'Hara (Department of Theater) and I (Department of Psychological Science) worked closely with Yasemin Tunc and Dan Fortriede in University Computing Services to develop a proctored, computer-based, on-campus testing room for students outside the classroom. The testing room has enabled faculty members to test more frequently without sacrificing class time, to use adaptive testing (which is difficult to implement on paper), to include multimedia or Web sites as part of test materials, and to experiment with other computer-based testing ideas. Faculty members using this facility know that exams are proctored and that there are other controls to minimize unethical student behavior, which is not the case for testing in most distance education classes.

As staff and administrators have become aware of our interests and expertise, we have been asked to help with campus-wide projects and events related to teaching, learning, and technology. For example, when the campus was considering purchasing Blackboard, we were asked to review the product and provide a perspective from the point of view of advanced users. We have also been asked by the director of the Office of Teaching and Learning Advancement to hold faculty workshops on using technology to facilitate active learning. In these workshops, we have helped other faculty members develop Web sites, design new assessment tools and approaches, and determine how they can best use e-mail and other electronic communication tools. Recently, we have been developing a tool to assess course Web sites; we hope to make the tool publicly available as soon as we verify that it provides a convenient, valid assessment across disciplines. In addition, our group regularly teams up to publish or give conference presentations on our experiments and innovations related to teaching, learning, and technology.

Based on the success of our small group, we decided to facilitate networking among a greater number of faculty and staff interested in technology. In the fall of 1999, we formed a group called ABIT (A Bunch Interested in Technology) and organized meetings on teaching, learning, and technology. These have been interesting, usually well-attended gatherings. In the spring of 2000, the director and associate directors of University Computing Services offered a panel discussion which drew more than 100 attendees, entitled "How will computing be different at BSU in the fall of 2000 and beyond?" Summaries of this panel discussion and regular ABIT meetings are posted on a Web site, and e-mail is used to keep attendees informed of meeting topics, dates, and locations. Occasionally, e-mail is sent to the entire campus to inform all faculty, staff, and administrators about ABIT events.

Our group is now in its third year of existence. We continue to discuss teaching, learning, and technology on and off campus, including the projects we are pursuing. We also continue to meet with technology staff to discuss new projects and programs. Because we share interests and a common technical vocabulary, we have found that the group serves an important role in our professional growth and development.


Bauer, W. (2001, July/August). Enriching the traditional music classroom through Internet-based technologies. The Technology Source. Retrieved July 1, 2001, from http://technologysource.org/?view=article&id=116

Butler, D. L. (2001, July/August). Using a Web site in a large lecture class to help students with personal learning projects. The Technology Source. Retrieved July 1, 2001, from http://technologysource.org/?view=article&id=387

Tancock, S. (2001, July/August). Using a Web site to provide literacy lesson models for preservice teachers. The Technology Source. Retrieved July 1, 2001, from http://technologysource.org/?view=article&id=388

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