August 1997 // Commentary
Critical strategic and tactical elements for successfully integrating technology into teaching and learning
by James Garner Ptaszynski
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: James Garner Ptaszynski "Critical strategic and tactical elements for successfully integrating technology into teaching and learning" The Technology Source, August 1997. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

I visit many colleges and universities each year and many more institutions visit the Microsoft campus for briefings on the academic use of our technology. Most of these briefings concentrate on product features, underlying technologies, academic uses and future directions of our products. Regardless of the size or type of institution, the discussions invariably lead to a series of burning questions on the part of our academic guests:

  • "How can we insure that the resources we commit to technology will be appropriately utilized?"
  • "How can we keep up when technology is changing so fast?

And probably the most critical question,

"What can we do to truly integrate the use of technology into the teaching and learning process (i.e., get the faculty to use it) rather than simply 'bolt it on' to existing pedagogues?"

At the last briefing I attended I offered a number of critical strategic and tactical elements that, if implemented, could assist institutions meet the underlying needs implied by their questions. Given the positive response I received from briefing participants, I thought others might also find this list useful. I will first focus on those elements that help to "encourage" faculty to use technology. I will end with those elements that are critical but often not considered since they constitute "backroom" activities.

Support from the top

If the leadership of the institution makes pronouncements about the importance of technology but do not use it themselves, faculty will quickly realize that it is not worth spending their most critical resource (i.e., their time) on acquiring technology skills and utilizing them in the classroom. Technology adoption is an area that campus leaders must lead by example.

When I was the associate dean of the graduate school of management at Wake Forest University, I had the honor and pleasure to work under one of the best deans I have ever known - John B. McKinnon (former president of Sara Lee Corporation). In a faculty meeting one day John announced that "Our electronic mail system is very good. Unless it is a legal contract, or something similar, I am not going to send out paper memos anymore."

The result of this "support from the top" for the use of technology immediately ratcheted-up our faculty's use of electronic mail. They realized that in order to stay in the information loop, they had to use their electronic mail. Now there were a few self-identified curmudgeons that tried to get around the technology. They assigned their secretaries the job of printing out their email and putting it in their faculty mailbox. These few faculty members quickly realized that such a work-around resulted in an information lag and often they were the last to find out about critical issues being discussed within the school. Most faculty members do not like to be the last to find out anything especially when it comes from the dean. One-by-one these faculty members began to send and receive electronic mail (parenthetically, some of these faculty members are now some of the most prolific users of the school's messaging system).

Training and support

Technology cannot be introduced without appropriate training and support for users. Giving a faculty member a computer, not providing training and expecting them to be proficient users would be like giving them a piano and expecting them to know how to play. In my past experience, I found several elements critical to faculty training. First, provide numerous and voluntary training opportunities (I found that there was always higher faculty attendance at voluntary training sessions then there were at mandatory ones). Second, do not mix faculty with other groups of users (i.e., staff and students). Faculty do not appreciate the opportunity to appear less informed or less skilled to individuals outside their "class."

Demonstrate individual utility of technology

Every institution has a few faculty holdouts against technology. Most of these instances are caused by the faculty not yet making a connection as to how technology can assist them in the activities they hold important (i.e., teaching, research or service). Often the key to overcoming their resistance is to explore with them various applications of technology until one sparks their interest.

When I was at Wake Forest, we were fortunate to have on staff Bob Hebert as our management librarian. Bob was not only an outstanding raconteur librarian who had a flair for the application of technology he also had the patience and skills necessary to spark the interest of even the most recalcitrant faculty member.

I remember the last two faculty members in the school of management that had yet to use technology (i.e., turn on their computer). Had I not implied that it was part of the building fire code (or some other regulation) to have a computer in their office, they probably would not have been allowed it in the door.

Bob took up their appreciation of the benefits of the appropriate use of technology as a personal crusade. He often visited them in their office (rather than requiring them to attend training sessions or initiate conversations with him). In these meetings, in a very low-key (i.e., non-threatening) style, Bob sought to find applications of technology that interested the individual faculty member. He found that one faculty member, who was a prolific writer of articles for practicing managers, found utility in the world wide web as a good source of current information on management problems, practices and solutions. Bob helped the other faculty member discover the benefits of keeping in touch with alumni around the globe through the use of the school's messaging system. These contacts often led to consulting engagements or opportunities for the writing of management case studies

While the custom and personalized activities that Bob designed for these few late adopters are much too resource intensive to apply on a large scale, they are often necessary tools for complete institutional adoption.

Recognition and rewards

Another incentive that dean McKinnon prodded the faculty with was the integration of technology issues into the tenure, promotion and review system. Soon after the school had in place a comprehensive, robust and stable information technology infrastructure, he announced in a faculty meeting that, "While it is too early to know exactly what answers I expect, you should count on me asking the question in your next review as to how you are using technology in your teaching, service or research activities." This in essence sent a strong and clear message to the faculty just how important technology was in their daily activities. Subsequently, faculty began to question how they might apply technology to their activities and what answers they might provide the dean.

Green's recent survey reports that few institutions presently include technology in their formal tenure and promotion review programs. Those familiar with TQM vernacular are probably aware of the statement, "What gets measured gets done." This is especially appropriate in this situation.

Outside forces

Part of the management school's strategic plan to adopt technology included providing each entering full-time MBA student with laptop and productivity software (Microsoft of course). While this had many outcomes, germane to the present discussion was the fact that most of the students were quick to adopt and use the technology. Some faculty found themselves still using overhead transparencies while students were using PowerPoint and Excel to illustrate and demonstrate their ideas. It did not take too long for these faculty members to start attending some of the voluntary workshops on PowerPoint and begin to integrate it into their own classroom activities.

A similar example was found with students using the World Wide Web to peruse the electronic version of the major business publications the day before they were released in print form and several days before they landed in the faculty mailboxes. Never to be ones that liked to be behind the information curve (especially behind students), some faculty soon developed the habit of regularly checking their favorites folder in Internet Explorer for the on-line version of the business publications.

Strategic and Financial Planning

I find that many schools are adopting technology without integrating it into their campus strategic and financial plans. They may make mention of technology in their plans but rarely do they provide strong linkages between technology and the mission of their institution. Kenneth C. Green, Visiting Scholar at the Claremont Graduate School and author of the Campus Computing Survey, reports that, depending upon institution type, only between forty and sixty percent of the institutions he surveyed have a strategic plan for information technologies. Worse, only thirty percent report that they have a plan for "acquiring and retiring technology" while the majority of institutions either use one-time budget allocations (i.e., budget dust) or are developing an amortization plan (i.e., planning to plan). For a complete description of Green's 1996 survey, see his Vision article in the March Technology Source.

If technology is as important as educators portend it to be, it should be holistically integrated into the institution's strategic and financial plan. If it is not important enough to put in the plan, critical institutional resources are being wasted. Only with a clear vision of how technology fits into the institution can successful integration be possible.

Solid infrastructure

Many years ago when I lived in North Carolina the State approved money for the development of a state zoological park. For many years after its approval, North Carolina residents could see little visible evidence of a park in the form of animals or viewing areas. The reason for this was that initial efforts needed to be concentrated on the infrastructure to support the animals and the visiting public (e.g., underground shelters for winter accommodation, trams for visitor transportation). It would have been easy for the state to build a few viewing areas and stock them with animals but, for the long-term health and safety of the animals as well as the optimal experience of the visitors, a solid infrastructure was needed.

So it is with information technology. In order to maximize the use and adoption of technology in teaching and learning, significant time and effort must be spent on developing a comprehensive infrastructure to support it. I find a variation of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Jim's Hierarchy of IT Needs) a useful way to understand infrastructure.

Often much of the attention is focused on either sexy, leading-edge technology or the technology advanced by the institution's early adopters (usually discipline specific applications). Instead, the focus should be on developing a solid foundation that will support users across the spectrum of technology adoption. Initial emphasis should be placed on the areas that most users never see (or care about) - the physical layer and the network operating system. Suffice it to say, careful planning and implementation in these two areas will make supporting the "higher level functions" a great deal easier.


If adopted, these critical elements will help an institution go a long way in the appropriate adoption of technology. Still missing may be activities that support the use of technology beyond preliminary adoption of technology through the use of productivity tools (e.g., Word, PowerPoint, and Excel). While these tools often help faculty to enhance their teaching (e.g., using revision marks in Word to provide assistance and feedback to students in a writing class) they often do not significantly augment or replace traditional pedagogical activities. While it may be some time before many institutions get to this phase of technology adoption, it is important that they start seeking answers to this question. We here at Microsoft are seeking answers too. We have a group of individuals in higher education called Microsoft Scholars. We have a meeting of the Scholars coming up in August and the primary agenda will be two-fold: what does it mean to adopt technology beyond productivity applications and what might a curriculum look like to assist faculty in this endeavor. I am very much looking forward to this meeting and will report on its outcome in a future Technology Source. I would welcome hearing any thoughts that you might have on these issues.

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