July 1997 // Case Studies
Using Technology Productivity Tools in Teaching:
One Professor's Odyssey, Part II
by James L. Morrison
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: James L. Morrison "Using Technology Productivity Tools in Teaching:
One Professor's Odyssey, Part II" The Technology Source, July 1997. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

In the May 1997 issue (Morrison, 1997), I argued the importance of integrating information technology productivity tools in instruction. I based this position on the givens: globalization and the impact of telecommunications on this economy, as well as downsizing, and reengineering in the workworld. Today’s young people may have five or six different careers in their lifetime. To remain economically viable in the Knowledge Age, they will need continually to update their portfolios and their technological competency. In the educational leadership program, my students’ career objectives include working as principals and superintendents. To be viable applicants for such positions, they must be technologically literate, on the cutting edge, able to lead their organizations in using technology to enhance productivity and learning.

Part I described my initial attempt to implement a course in which students had to become competent in such tools as e-mail, listservs, Internet search engines, word processing, and presentation software by the completion of the course. In addition, I placed considerable emphasis on improving written and oral communication skills as well as mastery of their ability to implement an issue analysis process. From my professorial point of view, the course was highly successful; my students greatly improved their competencies and produced very credible products. From the students’ point of view, the course evaluations were low.

Why such a mismatch of course success evaluations? My analysis is that I had failed in two aspects: (a) I had not sufficiently "sold" my objectives—that written and oral communication skills and the use of technological productivity tools were so important that they would be factored into their grades; and (b) I had not compensated for the fact that these added requirements increased their class work load substantially. Students had not expected this class to take so much of their time and energy; they found learning to use e-mail, listservs, Internet search engines, and presentation software a burden.

The Social Context of Educational Leadership

In spring 1996, I was assigned a core course in the educational leadership program titled The Social Context of Educational Leadership (EDSP 287), originally designed as a lecture course. I looked on this assignment as an opportunity to improve on my earlier less-than-successful attempt to integrate technology in my instruction. Specifically, I intended to provide class time for students to learn to use the tools they would need to complete the course objectives. Most classes would be held in the computer lab and students would work in teams so that they could help each other learn to use the technology tools while completing their assignments. I attempted to "sell" the approach by stating in the syllabus:

This course depends upon technology for its implementation. Integrating technology in instruction is the wave of the future in education; you need to have more than an intellectual understanding of its use. Moreover, such technologies as word processing, e-mail, the Web, and presentation software are valuable tools in our professional development and in our work. When you complete this course, you will be able to use these tools effectively; indeed, you will wonder how you ever got along without them.

Also note that the theory underlying the course is constructivist theory, a theory that defines knowledge as developmental, mediated by our culture, and, therefore, non-objective. Learning is a process of solving conflicts that arise through interaction and reflection. The implications of this perspective are that instructors pose relevant problems structured around key concepts, value students' viewpoints, and adapt their courses accordingly. This syllabus defines the course framework and focus. You provide the content. I serve in the role of guide and critic. Together we will learn how to be more effective in developing our thoughts and skills so that we can improve educational practice.

Course Objectives

The specific objectives of the course as stated in the syllabus were for students to be able to:

  • conduct an analysis of critical issues in education and the social context within which they are formed;
  • use information resources (including the Internet) to inform issue analyses;
  • use a computer software presentation package to communicate issue analyses; and
  • use written and oral expression effectively in issue analysis presentations.

The intended outcomes of the course as stated in the syllabus were that students by the end of the course should be able to:

  • converse fluently on the subject of issues challenging education;
  • use the Internet and the World Wide Web (the Web) as an information database;
  • write effective issue analysis presentations;
  • use presentation software to make effective oral/visual presentations; and
  • develop constructive and useful critiques of others’ work.

Course Procedures

We began the course by simulating a special task force formed by the Secretary of Education that was charged with identifying, analyzing, and making recommendations concerning the major issues challenging American public education.

Our first task as a class was to identify these issues, then move on to prepare issue papers that incorporated the following format:

  • What is the issue?
  • What is the background/context of the issue?
  • What are the forces driving the issue?
  • Where is the issue going? What are its prospects?
  • What are the implications of the issue for public education in the U.S.?
  • What should educational leaders do now to prepare for the issue?

To prepare the issue papers, we formed Issue Analysis Teams of three to four class members per team. The purpose of forming teams was to spread the experience with listservs, search engines, and PowerPoint throughout the class. (We used PowerPoint because the School supported Microsoft Office. Also, since many students used PCs at home, they could bring their disks in to a Macintosh lab, work on their files in Word or in PowerPoint, and take their disks home where they could continue to use them with their PCs.) During the first class session, I asked students to complete a questionnaire in which they estimated their experience with these tools, if they had a personal computer, a modem, and an Internet service provider for home use. Based on this information, I formed six teams of three people each, making sure that one of the six most experienced students was on each team.

Although teams could use any source available in developing the issue analysis paper, I encouraged them to use the search engines available on the Web. I explained that an advantage of using Web sources is that references can be linked to original sources via hypertext. I also required each member of the team to subscribe to one listserv (in addition to Horizon List, a list that I moderate, focusing on emerging trends and developments that may affect the future of education) as part of an on-going environmental scanning exercise to keep informed about emerging issues challenging education. I had posted the names of relevant listservs, including instructions as to how to subscribe to the listservs in the Educational On-Ramp section of Horizon Home Page.

I formed a class listserv, EDSP287, to facilitate communication between classes. Via the syllabus I informed students that I would use the list to communicate between classes and that they could use the list to write messages to the class as a whole. The primary use of the list, however, was to conduct the work of the course (e.g., posting scanning abstracts, emerging issue statements, draft issues analysis papers).

Because effective written and oral communication skills are essential for educational leaders, one of the required texts was The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Not only does the manual contain useful instructions about writing style, it also was useful for guidance in in-text citations and for reference lists in the issue analysis papers.

I emphasized oral presentations skills at the end of the course; each team presented its issue analysis paper in a dress rehearsal (in preparation for later presentation to the U.S. Department of Education senior staff). The presentation required using Microsoft PowerPoint and a computer projection device (LCD panel or TV). We posted presentation hits and tips in the EDSP 287 section of Horizon Home Page along with criteria for critiquing presentations.

The other required text was desktop published by me titled The Educational Leaders Handbook on Anticipating and Managing Issues. This text, which I hope someday to publish, describes the background and conceptual framework for issues analysis and management. I required it to provide the material for several lectures on this topic in reading format, which saved time to work with students as they grappled with the complexities of learning to use technology while completing the scanning abstracts, writing their issue analysis papers, and preparing their presentations.

In the class syllabus, I stated that students were to post issue analysis papers to the Issues Challenging Education section of Horizon Home Page for review and comment by class members for use in revision; I stated that I would suggest to Horizon List subscribers that they review the papers and send their comments and suggestions to student authors. I told students that there were over 700 subscribers to the list and that we could expect visits to their papers on Horizon Home Page. The intent was to increase student awareness that their work might be read by other educators around the world; therefore, they should attempt to do their best work. As we proceeded through the course, I modified my stance in that I did not put out a call to participants on Horizon List to review student papers. Also, I decided that we did not have enough time to teach HTML authoring; therefore, I had my assistant post their papers student papers to the class section of Horizon Home Page at the conclusion of the course.

As we went through the course, I pointed out that at the end of the course, they would be able to cite the URLs for two scanning abstracts and an issue analysis paper on their resumes and they would be able to put the URL of their biographical sketches on their business cards. (Earlier, I had taken their pictures with a digital camera and had asked them to put their biographical sketches on the SOE fileserver [where we established a class folder]; my assistant had put their pictures and bios together in the participants' section of the course on Horizon Home Page.)

Evaluation of Student Performance

In the syllabus, I pointed out that the major component of the course was for students to develop and persuasively present, both in writing and orally, a thoughtful, in-depth analysis of an issue challenging education. Because students wrote and presented this component as part of a team, originally I specified that each member would receive the grade assigned to the team. I later amended this requirement by grading the presentations on an individual basis, while giving team members the same grade for the paper.

The other course components for evaluation were two scanning abstracts and their individual critiques of an issue analysis paper and an issue analysis presentation. The scanning abstracts were important in assisting the class to identify the critical issues that teams were to work on during the semester. The critiques would be helpful to authors and presenters not only in developing their written and presentation skills for the course, but also in adding an important skill for their future as administrators. As we hit the presentation part of the course, however, I dropped the requirement that I would grade their critiques of oral presentations. This change was in response to student requests; they saw it as an additional written requirement at the end of the semester when they had just rewritten their issue analysis papers, sometimes for the third or fourth time. The oral critiques were on the whole well done; I concurred that a written critique of the oral presentation was unnecessary.

Because grades are always a concern of students, I inserted the following statement in the syllabus:

Grades will follow the Graduate School's definition: an "H" represents genuinely superior performance; a "P" represents that quality of work normally expected of graduate students at this university; an "L" represents an assessment that the quality of work examined is below expectations; an "F" represents an assessment of doubt that the student can improve the quality of work to the point of successful completion of a degree program. Usually, a student receiving a grade below "P" will be given the option of revising it to improve the grade to "P." Incompletes will not convert to a grade higher than "P" unless the incomplete is based upon illness or similarly unpredictable personal or family event.

Modified Procedures

I modified the procedures concerning the papers as we went through the course. The first written assignment was to write a scanning abstract that described an emerging issue. The papers were to be short, only a single spaced page or two, and they were to be posted to the class listserv. I inserted my comments in caps and returned them to the writers with a grade, and with a note that if they wished to rewrite their abstract, they could resubmit it to me and I would reevaluate it. Just about every student took advantage of this offer; some revised their abstracts four or five times. Most students improved their grades in this fashion, but some were disappointed that I never marked their grade up to an "H."

I continued the same policy with the issue analysis papers. Both the students and I were to critique the first draft. I did not grade the first draft (although I graded the student critiques on the extent to which the critique was of value for a redraft of the paper). I did grade the second draft, but again allowed the team to revise and resubmit their paper for reevaluation. Two teams earned an "H" on their paper with the second draft; they each did a revision for their third and final draft. Four teams managed to improve their papers, but all still received a "P" or "P+" on their third draft. I encouraged them to make my suggested revisions on that draft for Web posting, but no team did. As with the scanning abstracts, I stressed that revisions were optional, and that my only guarantee was that I would reevaluate their work.


Periodically during the semester I asked students to post their comments, questions, and concerns to Patches, The Horizon Dog, our template through which browsers of Horizon Home Page could send me their comments or questions about the Web site. This template also provided anonymous feedback if students did not type in their names. Periodically during the semester I asked students to submit their comments and concerns to Patches anonymously. I would then post their comments and my response to them on the course Web site under a section titled, "Formative Evaluation" and respond to their comments. Below is a summary of my observations from student comments as they relate to teaching the course.

Student use of technology. I expected students to become proficient in the use of various productivity tools by the end of the semester. However, it seems that I was unsuccessful in getting total student "buy-in" for this objective. For example, one student stated early in the course:

I cannot invest more than two hours per day, and I am not efficient with my time using search engines. I am concerned about the amount of time the project will take. You give us so much valuable, useful information that I just can't catch it all.

Emphasis on written and oral communication. One objective of the course was to improve written and oral communication, which I implemented by providing rigorous critique to student papers and to the presentations. I would spend an hour or more per paper writing a critique that included organization of the paper, paragraph structure, grammar, and formatting. Some students seemed to take the critiques as a personal affront. Students were unaccustomed to getting this level of feedback on their work. Perhaps this reflects a deficiency not of my making (it would seem that giving and receiving such feedback during a course should be an automatic faculty-student interchange).

Grades. Another concern of students was their grades. I applied the graduate school's definition of grades literally. The majority of papers, particularly in their first and second drafts, were "P"s. One student wrote:

I resent working so hard on the issue analysis paper and not getting a good grade. This has made what could have been a meaningful experience one that I resent.

A different instructional paradigm. This course used a different instructional paradigm from the predominant mode in the educational leadership program. In effect, it was student papers that determined the content of the course. My role was to help shape the topics and the resulting papers, but the actual choice of topic and papers were student choices. About midterm, one student asked this question via Patches anonymously:

I am concerned that we REALLY haven't addressed the social context of leadership. I feel that there is a lot of inside info I am not getting.

I responded,

We are addressing six issues challenging education. Within each issue analysis paper there is a section on the issue background. This section, plus the section on driving forces, constitutes an analysis of the social context of the issue. An important component of leadership is skill in analyzing an important issue, including both its context and its implications, and formulating action plans.

I used this comment to begin the next class in re-explaining the course structure and mission.

Students were not the only ones concerned about the perspective taken about this course. There was also concern among my faculty colleagues over what appeared to be two somewhat incompatible instructional paradigms. The traditional paradigm is represented by the approach taken by the program faculty in developing required courses for degree programs. Educational administration/leadership is a field of defined knowledge that is taught to students, usually sequentially. The paradigm that guided my approach focused on process, not defined knowledge. In essence, the course consisted of students’ scanning abstracts, issue analysis papers, and presentations of those papers; topics students themselves chose. My role was to teach students how to use listservs and search engines, to explore the issues they thought most critical to the future of education, and to provide professional critique on how they argued these issues to the world at large (because we were to publish them on the Web). This difference in approach is summed up by the saying: from sage on the stage to guide on the side.

Student Evaluations of the Course

Students were not satisfied with this course. On the end-of-semester course evaluation, students rated the social context course below the mean on all categories of questions, and rated me as instructor below the mean. This seemed to me to be an anomaly; from an outcomes perspective, the course had been successful. Students, most of whom had not previously used e-mail, listservs, search engines, or PowerPoint, had gained competency in these tools. Moreover, their issue analysis papers would be useful to other investigators, and their presentations were done quite well.

What could explain the relatively low student ratings of the course? I thought this an appropriate question to ask on the Spring 1997 preliminary written examination for the doctoral students who were also students in the course. The specific wording was:

EDSP 287 Spring 1996 focused on identifying emerging issues that challenge public education and on conducting an issue analysis. This course also required that you develop your competency in using such technologies as e-mail, listservs, Internet search engines, and presentation software. It also required working as a member of a team in developing and writing an issue analysis. Moreover, the pedagogical approach was that the instructor was a guide, mentor, facilitator, not information provider. The intent of the course was to assist you to develop technological competencies and work competencies, and to experience in environmental scanning and issue analysis skills that would assist you in your role as an educational leader in the coming decade.
  1. In terms of outcomes, this course was successful. Yet, it received low ratings on the student evaluations. Explain this anomaly.
  2. What are the implications of this course (content as well as instructional process) for you in your role as an educational leader?

In answer to the first question, to "explain the anomaly," one student responded:

Students were required to learn new skills in which they felt inadequately prepared. The student evaluations may have been a reflection of their feelings and not of the outcomes of the course. … In any learning curve, there is an enormous dip before the new knowledge is assimilated. … This is an extremely uncomfortable time for the learner; it involves taking risks, feeling inadequate, fear of failure, as well as greater time spent on assignments.

This student also pointed out that working in groups produced stress, as did the pressure of knowing that one's writing would be published on the Web. The student stated:

Students were operating under the strain of needing to perform in a competitive arena. They were still being judged by tough criteria in their writing skills and presentation style. The … evaluation ratings may reflect their feelings of frustration, that they did so while learning new technological skills that they still did not feel comfortable in.

Another student wrote:

The class required many new competencies at the same time, causing students to feel extreme anxiety and stress. This is a case of overloading the content for the time allotted.

The student pointed out the new skills required of students in this course as compared to what they were accustomed to:

Old Skills

New Skills

Work alone

Work productively as part of a team

Learn and recall the professor's concepts

Discover how to apply the new skills to a real-life performance

Work without critical feedback from other students

Provide honest feedback to other students on writing and presenting

Work with word processing and the library

Work with multimedia materials, the Internet, e-mail and the web

Turn in your work and be evaluated

Receive multiple feedback and continuously revise

Keep your writing your own and private

Co-author articles and presentations

Present using overheads or activities

Present using a multimedia tool

Don't provide feedback to the professor

Provide feedback to the professor via the Web

This student added that "many students felt that when they shared their stress and concerns with the professor, they did not receive support and the expectations for performance were not altered." She noted that "the professor's candid and often blunt critiques of writing and performance were interpreted by some students as a lack of concern and caring for students' feelings."

This student concluded with the observation that the competencies emphasized in the course "may not have been as valued by the students." The student stated that many in the class "may not have seen how the presentation and Internet skills and the environmental scanning were relevant to their needs as a school assistant principal." The student recommended spending more time on the rationale for why these skills were important.

Another student noted that "the course objectives may have been in conflict with what the students themselves considered their personal needs. Many students in the course had a pretty clear perception of what they considered was necessary for them to function in the real world of the public school." This student also stated, "There is an undercurrent of resistance to acquiring new technology skills that is rampant among teachers..." and, "The course outline and listing of competencies did not mention that the work done in class was going to be critiqued and rewritten in the manner and to the extent that it was." This "threw many in the class for a loop, and many were resentful of such interactions." The student suggested that in the future I "caution the participants that they may not like some of the criticism they are about to experience" and that I give some "regularly scheduled pats on the back" because "people can never get enough of these when they are going through what may be challenging experiences for them."

Another student wrote,

Individuals may be aware of new technologies, ideas and actions, but until an individual truly has a personal motivation to incorporate a new change into their lives, they will resist outside forces pushing this change upon them.... [In this course] students had to change, learn how to use new technologies, and display knowledge of new technologies within a short period of time. The nature of the course took away the choice option to this change...MSA and EdD students are not necessarily the products of cooperative learning, interdisciplinary approach, shared decision-making, and new pedagogical practices. [The concept of ] instructor as guide, mentor, facilitator, etc., is still not practiced as much as preached in educational settings. Adult students in graduate programs still mainly come from exposure to pedagogical practices that reward independent learning, learning in isolation, and working in a corner alone....

In response to the second question vis-?É -vis the implications of the course for them, one student wrote:

Because of my work in EDSP 287, on Netday I was able to explain to the various educational stakeholders, in the system and in the community, the practical applications of having Internet access in the school building. I was able to relate from experience how students can gain information from the Internet, what educational information is often on the Internet. It is easier to sell local stakeholders on a state initiative because of my first hand exposure.

Another student wrote:

I believe that the course gave me some valuable skills in current communication technology. It helped re-foster in me a respect for these technologies and helped me understand their importance in our larger society.

And a third wrote:

The skills of writing publishing on the Web as well as collaborating with others on articles will be another way to promote my agenda as an educational leader in a forum that is accessible to many people I may never have thought to target. Web pages are also ways to communicate with parents and students, and my school's Web page could promote many of the values and programs of the school as well as attract business community interests and garner resources for teachers and students. The presentation software skills learned though PowerPoint should help make presentations and staff development meetings more professional and effective. It is a style that appeals to many different types of learning and invites interaction It is also a great way to store presentations that are then easily and efficiently updated for fine tuned for different audiences. As an educational leader, I would also want teachers and students to learn the same skills for their own growth.

Social Context of Educational Leadership, Spring 1997

For the spring 1997 social context of education course, I made the following changes, (which were duly described in the new syllabus):

First, to strengthen my attempt to get students to buy into the value of learning to use information technology tools, I made a formal presentation as to the rationale for the course, focusing on the importance of educational leaders being proficient in issue analysis and being proficient in using such technological productivity tools as e-mail, listservs, search engines, the Web, and presentation software. I explained that at the end of the semester their work would be available to anyone with a Web browser, and that other educators, using search engines, could discover and use (and cite) their work, and that therefore it was imperative that their work on the Web be of high quality. With such exposure, they would wish to be certain that (1) they would be presenting their own best image, and (2) their work would be useful to others. I explained that posting to the Web was tantamount to publication; they could actually include their two offerings as publications on their resumes (which would also be posted to the Web). My job was to help them in this task, which would probably require several drafts before their papers would be of publishable quality. I told them that other than by plagiarizing, it would be impossible to "cheat" in the course; getting quality work on the Web required the critique and help of everyone. I encouraged students to take advantage of the services offered by the UNC Writing Center. I told students that I would give them my best, most rigorous, and most helpful critique for each draft they submitted. I stressed that my intent was not to offend, or to belittle, but rather to provide them with sufficient feedback to help them produce a publishable paper that would be of value to others and that would enhance their employment credentials.

Second, in order to reduce the work load of the class, I cut the written requirements to a scanning abstract, to be written individually and not longer than one page single spaced; one issue analysis paper, which was to be written by a team; and one critique of one issue analysis paper (both to give experience in writing a critique that would be helpful in a redraft and to seriously involve the students with an issue other than their own topic).

However, I added a requirement: I required students to develop their own Web sites and to post their resumes, abstracts, and issue analysis papers on them. Since Internet Assistant had become available in Word, it is relatively easy for students who did not know hypertext markup language (HTML) to convert their documents and, with just a few instructions, to post them to a Web site. I told students that at the conclusion of the course I would post their documents to Horizon Home Page so that they would be able to cite the URLs on their resumes using a Horizon Home Page address instead of their Web address (which was subject to elimination by the University when they graduated).

To facilitate giving feedback to students on their papers, I used a School fileserver for the course. In the course the previous spring, students had posted their abstracts to the class listserv to which I responded (not to the listserv) by putting my comments in all caps so that they could differentiate my comments from their prose. For the issue analysis papers, I printed out the paper, hand-wrote a footnote number where I wanted to make a comment, typed my comments referenced to the footnotes, and returned a paper copy to the issue analysis team. By using a fileserver, and by using the revision function under the tools menu in Word, I could insert my comments directly in their paper. My comments would appear on their file in a different color and would be underlined, for easy differentiation. Moreover, if I suggested that material be deleted, I could select their text, use the delete function, and the selected text would appear with a line drawn through the text.

To avoid the "grade chase," I told students that I would critique their first abstract and their first issue analysis draft without a grade, but would grade their second draft. If they wanted to redraft their paper based upon my critique, and if they wanted me to review even their third draft, I would do so but their changes would not affect their grade. My goal was to convey the idea that excellence is its own reward. Critiquing rewrites takes a good deal of time and energy, but I felt rewarded by expending that energy on students who wanted to improve their work without an external reward.


From my perspective as professor, the course was a success. Students had acquired the skills to conduct an issue analysis and to use major productivity tools competently. Moreover, their work is now available to be read and used by anyone who browses either of the course sections (one or two) on Horizon Home Page.

From the perspective of the students, however, the course was less than the success I had perceived. Although it will be some time before I receive the results of student evaluations, I have already received feedback from the formative evaluation discussion forums in each section and have had informal discussions with students who wished to discuss their grades. I also asked Edward Neal, the Director of Faculty Development in the Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC, to evaluate both semesters of the course (Neal, 1997).

Ed interviewed the students and me, and he reviewed pertinent materials (the syllabus, my comments on student papers, and the doctoral written examinations cited above). He confirmed that students on the whole seemed frustrated. Ed examined the difficulties, separating them into four areas: course conceptualization, technological issues, teamwork issues, and evaluation issues.

Regarding the first three areas, he noted that an underlying assumption of the course had been that it was critical that educational leaders be proficient in using information technology tools. However, many students still were skeptical about technology and its role in their future. They were aware of the technological backwardness of the school systems in which they had been employed. Ed quoted one student as saying that his/her school "bought bunches of computers just two years ago and now they are obsolete and they haven't enough money to replace them," and "how can I apply (at work) what I struggled so hard to learn?" Another student said, "The expectations of the course exceeded what I was ready for technically." Although some students thought that developing proficiency with productivity tools was important for their own professional growth, it is clear that many felt that the time spent learning to use these tools to complete the requirements of the course was excessive given their load and took away time they could have spent on course content. For many students who were returning to the classroom after teaching from two to ten years, the frustrations associated with learning and using the technology magnified their personal feelings of inadequacy. These feelings of inadequacy added to their automatic resistance to the unaccustomed role reversal. As Ed stated "It is difficult for adult professionals to return to school and re-live the role of student again. One remarked, ‘this course often made me feel as though I was back in Freshman calculus.... I was angry, frustrated, and felt stupid.’"

Such feelings of frustration were exacerbated by conditions in the computer lab where we conducted the class. The lab was hit by the Macro virus just about the time students were establishing their Web pages. The virus rendered Internet Assistant virtually useless and we had to use work-arounds because we could not depend on lab computers being virus free or even on their having Internet Assistant installed for each class.

There were other aspects of the course that cause frustration. Although frequently students thought that working in teams provided them support, many felt that writing and presenting in a team was a difficult learning experience. In particular, students unaccustomed to group editing were uncomfortable critiquing each other’s writing.

Students were also unaccustomed to receiving the degree of feedback on their papers that I gave them. I would spend an hour to an hour and a half on each draft; the revision function in Word makes it relatively easy to provide detailed comments that are useful in rewriting papers. However, according to Ed, the electronic format for the critiques made them seem impersonal and cold. One student stated, "I felt that I was taking a correspondence course with a teacher in another state."

Concerning the fourth issue, grading, that problem was evident throughout the course. My grades on their papers were their first brush with a technique they did not understand. Although some students felt that the system I had imposed for revising papers had improved their writing skills, many were frustrated when I sometimes made as many comments on their final draft as I had done on their previous drafts. Students simply did not understand my standards for assigning their grades. What constituted a superior paper as opposed to one that represented work normally expected from graduate students at UNC? And why, after they had worked so hard and improved so much, had they not earned the deserved reward, a grade of H?

Ed suggested ways for me to address these problems and concerns the next time the course is offered. To begin with the issue of technology, Ed urged me to spend several initial class meetings to convince students that developing technological competence is a legitimate course goal that is equivalent to mastery of the subject matter, that I provide more opportunity for students to express their doubts on this topic, and that perhaps I even offer a section of the course without technological requirements for those students who couldn’t be "sold" on the use of technology in this class and who felt uncomfortable with such requirements.

Regarding the issue of grades, Ed recommended that I use a criteria reference grading form in addition to the comments and suggestions that I provided on drafts. For example, I could award students points based upon the extent to which the papers conformed to standards of organization, narrative, concepts, mechanics, and style. Ed suggested that I personally discuss with students my written comments after they have had a chance to read them. He also recommended that I monitor group dynamics and attend to group-building. He pointed out that students need counsel on how to collaborate on projects and how to maximize the group learning experience. They also need time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each other in order to exploit each member’s expertise effectively. He recommended that I incorporate peer grading as a way of assessing student performance in groups.

The Future

I appreciate the time and energy Ed spent evaluating the first two times I taught the social context course; he made many helpful suggestions. I also appreciate student comments made in the discussion forums and to me personally. Such suggestions and comments will be helpful as I continue to revise the course for next year.

Specifically, I will incorporate the recommendations of (1) personally reviewing my comments on drafts with student authors, (2) including a group building exercise at the outset of the course, (3) using peer grading, (4) adopting a criterion-referenced system for calculating course grades, and (5) providing examples of superior papers written in previous semesters. I suspect that as we move through time, the importance of attempting to "sell" the value of being technologically competent will become less an issue. I don’t see that providing an alternative course section for students who do not want to learn to use technology as a viable option. Competence in the use of information technology productivity tools is important now, and will be essential in the future.

I understand student frustration with attempting to learn to use new tools, particularly when software and hardware malfunctions. However, the ease of use of software is increasing as dramatically as prices for equipment are falling. Probably by next year the Windows environment will already be seamless with the Internet. FrontPage will enable students to quickly build attractive and useful Web pages. Instructional time devoted to learning to use these tools should be less than in previous semesters. Moreover, it will be more fun, for me and for the students. I’m looking forward to continuing the odyssey.

[Editor's note: This article was modified from an article in Technology Tools for Today's Campuses (Morrison, 1997a).]


Morrison, J. L. (1997a). Using technology productivity tools in teaching: One professor's odyssey.

Morrison, J. L. (1997b). The social context of educational leadership. In J. L. Morrison (Ed.), Technology tools for today's campuses [CD ROM]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation.

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