September 1998 // Faculty and Staff Development
Teaching Centers, Instructional Technology, and Course Development
by Iola Peed-Neal
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Iola Peed-Neal "Teaching Centers, Instructional Technology, and Course Development" The Technology Source, September 1998. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

The national movement toward using electronic technology in higher education affects our institutions in various ways, but it has a particularly strong impact on teachers, students, courses, and curricula. Teaching centers (also called faculty development or instructional development centers) have a responsibility to help instructors and their institutions cope with issues raised by the use of technology and to develop rational and effective applications of technology in teaching. Many academics are not familiar with how instructional consultants work with faculty on course design or how the process of course development might be affected by technological concerns. Based on the experience of our teaching center, I would like to outline a generic model for course development, to discuss the issues raised by technology at each stage of the process, and to suggest steps that would address important concerns.

The Model

The model below describes the full scope of course development and all of the factors that might be addressed in the process. In practice, instructional consultants modify the process for each faculty client. The needs, desires, and abilities of the individual teacher should always guide what teaching consultants do in course development. The planning process is recursive and holistic, often requiring backtracking and reconsideration of initial plans. In the interest of clarity, I will present its components in a linear sequence. The collaborative model of course development is most effective: the teaching consultant and faculty client become a team that works together to make decisions that shape the course.

Course Framework

Course planning should begin with the instructor's articulation of the issues he/she wants to address. Consultations can focus on any number of course-related issues: the instructor's ideas about the organization or flow of the course, the important and engaging ideas for the instructor and the students, the tenets of the discipline (and how knowledge is constructed within it). In addition, the instructor's teaching philosophy and beliefs about roles for him/herself, students, and others who will support the course (e.g., team teachers, clinical instructors, TAs, librarians, community members, computer support personnel) are critical to planning a successful course. Effective planning also includes identification of the instructor's pedagogical goals and objectives, the application of appropriate learning theories and principles of good teaching practice, the goals of the curriculum, and the students' learning objectives and needs.

Even at this early stage of course design, concerns with technology can arise. Often we find that instructors are interested in incorporating technology in their teaching from a need either to conform to general trends or to satisfy a specific departmental mandate. Since the use of technology in these cases is closely related to administrative or personal goals, helping the teacher shift focus to learning outcomes and important considerations of course design can be difficult, especially if instructors are under the impression that technology will somehow automatically make them better teachers.

It is also important for the instructor-consultant team to consider the characteristics of the students in the course: their level of cognitive and social development, their skills and abilities, their prior experiences with the discipline and the methods employed in it, their motivation, and the diversity they bring to the classroom. With respect to technology, the team needs to assess student skills and familiarity with various tools that might be used in the course. The team should also review student evaluations from prior semesters and, to supplement this data, might conduct focus group interviews with former students.

Consultants must be attentive to the instructor's needs, abilities, resources, and his/her facility with the teaching strategies that may be employed in the class. If possible, a consultant should observe the classroom performance of the instructor for first-hand knowledge of the teacher's skills and abilities. Here again, technology raises additional questions: Does technology have any place in the teacher's model of instruction, and if so, what does the teacher need to learn about the tools and resources available on campus? Is the teacher willing to spend his/her time to learn about these? These observations should become part of the post-planning process, to ascertain if changes are needed in the course design.

Teaching Environments

The environment for teaching and learning also affects many course planning decisions. Today, "environment" refers not only to classrooms, but to the context for distance learning as well. The best teachers today mix interactive and small group instructional strategies with large group methods such as mini-lectures and video presentations. Teachers may also require a wide variety of assignments and exercises for students, both in class and out of class (e.g., group presentations, library research, service-learning projects). The extent to which instructors can employ any or all of these methods depends on the environment in which instruction takes place.

For residential programs, class size, classroom type (seminar room, multi-purpose room, or amphitheater), classroom tools, and type of seating are often the most important variables affecting how teachers conceptualize and plan their in-class experiences. Teachers may have to lecture more than they would like simply because class participation and group activities are too difficult to manage in the room to which they have been assigned, and moving the class for these activities is not feasible. In recent years, IT professionals have played a major role in redesigning campus classrooms to accommodate the installation of multimedia for presentation support. But instead of stimulating innovation in teaching, redesigning rooms for multimedia use creates barriers for teachers if classrooms lose the capacity to facilitate interactive, small group instructional strategies because fixed seating replaces movable seating to accommodate the control podium, media equipment, and wiring.

For on-campus classes, teachers are not limited in the range or type of out-of-class assignments because they can count on the availability of various support services, including libraries, laboratories, writing centers, learning centers, computer labs, and technology assistance centers. In non-residential programs, however, the capabilities of the delivery systems and the remote student’s ability to access the course, the instructor, classmates, and resources are factors that may require substantial changes in these assignments. Also, for off-campus courses, a teacher cannot assume that students have access to libraries and other resources equivalent to those on campus, so the instructor/consultant team must carefully consider the feasibility of assignments for widely-dispersed, remote students. Communications personnel set the standards and policies and maintain the systems that govern the flow of information (data, voice and video) to and from our campuses and control access to campus resources by off-campus individuals. The course design team must thoroughly understand the capabilities of these delivery systems and the limitations imposed (by policy or technology) in order to plan an effective course.

Distance learning can also limit the range of choices of learning outcomes, teaching strategies, and evaluation methods. Higher-order learning outcomes such as critical thinking are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in the typical distance education environment. Lecturing is often the primary strategy in distance learning courses, even to those students with two-way, interactive video. Test security and issues of cheating and plagiarism, which are problems in any course, are multiplied in distance learning courses. Moreover, the time it takes to "produce" a distance learning course is far greater than that required to develop a residential course. Instructors who choose to teach such a course (or are assigned to teach one) need to understand the limitations imposed by the delivery system and the additional time it will take to prepare the course.

Teaching Strategies

The selection of teaching strategies is based on the considerations explored above in "framework" and "environments." Today, the range of strategies used in higher education has expanded considerably and includes lectures, recitations, cooperative learning, library and other research projects, debates, team projects, experiential and community-based learning, games and simulations, case studies, reflective journals, programmed instruction, and many others. As they select teaching strategies, the instructor-consultant team may need to work collaboratively with other campus organizations such as the library, writing center, learning center, community-based learning program, or others who can help. Ideally, the team maps out teaching strategies so students will be engaged in the course in different ways, at different levels, as their knowledge increases and their skills develop. At this point, the team also begins to develop ways to assess student learning, planning the evaluation methods and deciding on a grading scheme.

Electronic technology can be used to facilitate various teaching strategies, but the decision to use a particular teaching strategy should be independent of technological considerations. For example, the decision to use case studies should be based primarily on the effectiveness of that strategy for achieving particular learning outcomes (although many other considerations can affect that decision, such as the instructor's skills in facilitation, his/her attitude toward active learning, or students' familiarity with the strategy). Of course, case studies might be presented on a Web site, and student discussion of cases can take place on a discussion board, but the decision to use these electronic tools is based on their availability and ease of use, the technical skills of the teacher and the students, and the quality of the technical support services on campus (and not on pedagogical considerations).

Teaching Tools

When the team selects teaching strategies, they also identify instructional tools to aid the teaching and learning process. Traditional tools include books and other print materials, chalk/whiteboards, 35mm slides, overhead transparencies, films or videotapes, computer-based programs and multimedia. Newer electronic tools in wide-spread use are essentially computer-based delivery systems for traditional materials, with the addition of text-based communications tools (e-mail, listservs, discussion boards) and searchable databases. The newer technologies also have capabilities that make them valuable for course and information management (e.g., archiving communications, tracking student participation in on-line discussions, keeping bookmarks, electronic grade books, and note-taking from electronic information sources). The course design team may decide that one or more of the newer tools would be useful for addressing particular course needs.

Producing Course Materials

At this point there are many paths an instructor may follow. In comprehensive teaching centers, the teacher can work with specialists in instructional design and production to create course materials. The instructor may also choose to work independently at this stage, meeting with the teaching consultant for guidance and feedback in unfamiliar areas. Teaching center staff may help instructors complete course projects on their own, teaching them how to write case studies, develop role-plays, etc. Many centers also have faculty development laboratories in which the staff can teach instructors to use media equipment, computers, software, and peripherals to complete production of course materials.

The instructor might also seek assistance from other support services for specialized help in specific areas (e.g., distance learning center, division of continuing education, instructional technology center, media center, library). The instructor/consultant team may also choose to ask one or more representatives of these units to join in collaborative meetings at the teaching center. These collaborations generally result in the most effective and satisfying educational offerings. When working independently, faculty and consultants must rely on these units to help with the implementation of teaching projects and to create materials that accurately fit the needs of teachers and learners.


The course development process does not end when the instructor begins to teach the course. Effective course development includes both formative and summative evaluations that will help the instructor make "in-flight corrections" to the course as well as long-term adjustments to the course design. The teaching consultant may observe the class a number of times during the semester to determine how well the course is working. Classroom observations also enable the consultant to help the instructor polish his/her classroom skills with a new technique, strategy or tool by providing timely feedback and suggestions for improvement. In addition to observations, mid-semester evaluations and focus group interviews are often required to identify issues that need attention. With the help of the consultant, an instructor may also design a unique evaluation instrument to assess the efficacy of a specific strategy or to acquire early feedback on overall teaching performance.

Analyzing student performance in the course is the ultimate assessment of its success. The instructor/consultant team may review student work on specific assignments, examinations, classroom presentations, etc., as well as the overall performance of the class in terms of the grade distribution. If the course is a re-design of an existing course, the team may also examine student performance from previous semesters for comparison. If the course (or course components) are on-line or if electronic communication tools like listservs or discussion boards are used in the course, these tools might provide additional artifacts for the summative evaluation. End-of-semester student evaluations of the course are always an important component of the assessment process, and the team will analyze the results of these evaluations to identify areas for improvement.


Given the current emphasis on instructional technology, instructors are increasingly turning to teaching centers to talk about uses of technology in teaching or to ask for help with a project that involves technological tools. Teaching consultants are always willing to help them work these projects, but have an obligation to initiate a discussion of the larger pedagogical issues outlined above. Most centers promote active learning and the development of higher order thinking skills over methods that allow student passivity and emphasize memorization. Since instructional technology can be used by an instructor to accomplish either end, consultants want to insure that their participation in instructional technology projects produces meaningful, appropriate, and well-planned learning outcomes.

Most large campuses have a variety of support services, centers, and offices that teachers can use for different kinds of instructional assistance. The selection of the appropriate service depends on how the instructor defines his/her needs, the organizing principle of that office and its philosophy and services—but the match isn't always clear to the instructor or to the staff of the support service.

In general, teaching centers help instructors expand and improve their teaching skills, solve teaching problems, develop courses and course materials, evaluate their instruction, and promote development and growth in their teaching over the span of their careers. There are many areas in which technological issues may affect the work of teaching centers. For example, teaching center staff need to learn more about the potential for using technology for faculty development (faculty relationships, satisfaction and rejuvenation). They also need to identify the barriers to innovations in teaching and the problems that arise in using technology for collaborative work. Finally, they have a responsibility to help identify effective applications of technology in instruction.

Computing and information technology centers, and distance learning centers provide teachers and students with access to, and training in, the use of instructional technology. They also develop useful tools for instruction, course management, and communication. The staff of these centers need to understand the course development model outlined above and all the factors that should be taken into account in effective course design. This model is far broader and more complex than the information- and artifact-exchange model that seems to predominate in instructional technology. These centers also need to learn to provide meaningful advice on the utility and feasibility of serving specific instructional needs with current services, not generic instructions about the use of their tools. Moreover, they need to be willing to create new tools or adapt existing tools to fit the needs defined by teachers and learners.

Faculty members and students, as the creators and beneficiaries of the educational enterprise, must reaffirm their primacy in it. They need to articulate what they value about teaching and learning and what they don’t want to give up. Faculty need to specify learning outcomes and conduct well-designed classroom research to illuminate the differences between outcomes of courses taught with technology tools (or in technology-enhanced environments) and courses taught using traditional methods. Perhaps more importantly, teachers and students need to clearly communicate their attitudes, perceptions and opinions about (1) the effectiveness of specific technologies and resources they use, (2) support personnel and support systems, (3) the effectiveness of course and class processes, and 4) their willingness to participate in similar projects in the future.

If teaching centers, technology centers, and faculty and students work together in this way, I believe we will be able to identify which technology systems work best for instruction (on- and off-campus), which of the available tools to use, what new tools are needed, where the best resources are, and what factors advance (or hinder) our work. We can also identify areas that institutional administrators need to address (e.g., availability of equipment/access, release-time and teaching rewards for faculty/course development, teaching credit for team taught courses and classes with remote students, course credit for classes that do not physically meet together). Collaboratively, we can substantially further our understanding of the utility of many forms of information technology in postsecondary education.

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