This evening concludes the first full day of the Faculty Summer Institute. This is the ninth year of FSI and probably the last time we will do such an event in this format. A few of my impressions follow.
The passions of the attendess are lower than in the past. Whether that is due to budget cuts, that the faculty are not "early adopters" but rather members of the "late majority," or if is because the novelty factor has worn off with educational technology, I can't say. But to me it clearly is less intense from the attendee perspective. I associate deep learning with a profound emotional response. For this FSI there is no faucet of emotions where I can simply open the tap. We've had good speakers in the plenary sessions. Yet the audience has almost been too respectful of them.
At the Burks Oakley leadoff session, until Burks started to talk about Blogs and RSS feeds, there was little interaction with the audience. At Curtis Bonk's main presentation this morning, and to be sure Curtis puts on quite a show, there were nary any questions. The most interaction we've had so far was in Tim Stelzer's presentation on iClicker. I attribute that to Tim's mild mannered demeanor and his comparatively slow pace. The audience could ask questions in his pauses and didn't feel they were interrupting. Attendees from years past would have challenged Burks and Curtis more, their pace notwithstanding. I sat with some folks from Chicago State at lunch. They were genuninely appreciative and eager to talk at the lunch table. So I sense something wrong with the picture. Why didn't they ask questions during the sessions?
On a different point, at the reception last night I talked with a faculty member in the College of Business here who had been a Blackboard user and after taking some training in WebCT Vista but not having that training register opted instead to use Netfiles (Xythos) because mostly he was distributing lecture notes and answer keys to the students and Netfiles really is fine for that. This faculty member, roughly my age (I'm 50), complained that the training addressed things things he didn't care about. I'm of two minds about this. There is the "complete customized view" - the attendee designs the training. And there is the "this is good for you view." There are things to learn in the new environment that are important, trust us. At play in this particular case, I believe, is a generational issue. This faculty member has had a lot of prior experience with computers and has done some fundamental work in his primary area of research. Seeming stupid about Vista just doesn't match the profile. I will try to help him out next week as a colleague, not as ed tech support person. With what he wants to do next fall Netfiles is not sufficient.
The other thing that is noteworthy about FSI is the no shows in the audience. There were some late arrivals, so I will have to get a new tally tomorrow, but it seemed as if almost a quarter of those registered did not show up. Last year we know that many of the faculty from here didn't go to the plenary sessions and instead only attended the hands on sessions in the labs. Perhaps the same thing is happening this time around. But the dynamics are different now and we really expected the locals to come in the morning. The attendee commitment to this activity is weak, in large part because the institutional commitment to their faculty development is weak.
Events like FSI are critical if we are to see progress with learning technology, because faculty need to pick up new teaching ideas from somewhere. They won't generate those ideas purely from introspection nor will they generate them from careful empirics on their own teaching. If the institution doesn't make a greater commitment to these instructors, it appears they won't generate them at all. But in tough budget times, faculty development activities look incredibly non-tangible and, hence, the commitment is bound to be weaker. This is a problem.