At a recent Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Conference (STLHE), I was part of a round table discussion about the pros and cons of including educational technology departments (serving learning management systems, blogging, video streaming, mobile devices, online course instructional design) within higher education teaching and learning centres.

In Canadian colleges and universities, there is definitely a mix of both inclusion and separation when it comes to educational technology. Some institutions have educational technology maintained by the IT department or a separate educational technology centre – some institutions have an ‘all inclusive model’ where all learning and educational technologies are under one roof.  A number of directors of teaching and learning centres weighed in on the pros and cons of having educational technology (often, but not always including online learning components) within a dedicated teaching and learning centre. Here are some of the pros and cons of inclusion:

Pros of Including Technology within a Centre

  • faculty convenience: can obtain assistance with teaching, curriculum, learning – and technology in same spot
  • technology as another learning tool: educational technology is seen as another tool for learning and not a separate activity they have to get assistance with across campus – at another time
  • ease in curriculum integration: technology assistance and support can be easily integrated into curriculum design activities right on the spot as required
  • technology staff seen as team players in curriculum design process: through collaborative projects they learn more about curriculum components and as team players in the learning design process
  • business owners of the systems make the decisions based on learning: control over systems, servers and support for technologies and not at the mercy of IT schedules or staff

 

Cons of Including Technology within a Centre

  • technology can consume staffing: due to necessity to manage support and services, staffing often dominated by technology before curriculum and pedagogical support
  • technologies can consume budget: often budget lines will be dominated by contracts for systems and salaries
  • staffing challenges for specific skill sets: challenging to find skilled technical staff to
  • technology issues can dominate discussions and workflow: being the business owner of systems and making the decisions requires time dedicated to solving problems
  • challenges working with IT to co-ordinate technical support: since IT isn’t the business owner, there are co-ordination efforts and key point people required in IT to work collaboratively
  • seen as a solely a technology centre: not seen as a teaching and learing centre or curriculum, teaching and learning gets overshadowed by time consumption of technology management
  • leadership may not have savviness in both curriculum/pedagogy and technology: both require experience and dedication and in smaller centres hard to know both well

 

These are my thoughts after directing a teaching and learning centre for three years – a centre that does include educational technology, online/blended learning and is the owner of the learning management system, web-conferencing system, streaming video servers, along with curriculum and learning design and scholarship of teaching and learning. I experience all of the above on a daily basis.  I am still growing my centre but the technology issues seem to dominate daily conversations and workflow – but I’ve hired a new Manager, Learning Technologies to help out with this side of the centre. I also have an extremely collaborative relationship with IT who believes that education and learning should be a major player at the table on topics of IT growth and development.

I don’t think I’d want educational technologies or online learning in a separate unit in the university. Academic institutions are all about learning – shouldn’t all learning support and development be housed in the same area/centre with collaborations and integrations happening seamlessly. Shouldn’t we be modelling what effective teaching is all about?

I have a good amount of experience with technology in teaching and learning in K-16 settings – and this has allowed me to be fluent in managing technology in my centre. I know technology is just another tool and can access my specialists and developers at a moment’s notice to show faculty how seamlessly we can integrate digital activities, assessment mechanisms or curriculum design into their class or program. I guess I know it no other way – I started my teaching career using computers and the Internet in a fashion that was just part of how I taught. I never thought of it as an add-on, or something I had to learn or add to my repetoire – it just comes naturally. I know that not all feel that way and many faculty need assistance and support to integrate and use technology appropriately in the classroom.

With this in mind, shouldn’t teaching and learning centres be driving the bus around educational technologies and not IT departments or separate departments?

What do you think? What am I missing in my pro and con list? Where is the best home for educational and learning technologies in institutions of higher education?