University IT officials can preach every semester about the growing importance of instructional technology, but the message may ring hollow coming from technology officers who have never taught a college course.
That’s why Barbara Draude’s sermonizing on campus computing hits a different note with faculty at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), where Draude teaches an online nursing class despite her critical role in IT.
Draude, assistant vice president of academic and instructional technologies at MTSU since 2007, said having to rely on instructional technology–such as course content sharing on class web sites–brings valuable perspective to her job as technology trainer for fellow professors.
"If I can show how I use it, then I can really talk the talk and walk the walk," said Draude, 50, a faculty member for 23 years on MTSU’s Murfreesboro, Tenn. campus. "It lets me stay up on the latest and greatest in nursing and using new technology."
Draude was recently invited to join the exclusive faculty of the Instructional Technology Leadership Institute, a three-year commitment that will place Draude at the head of workshops designed to improve faculty members’ computer skills.
The institute’s next weeklong meeting will be held in Portland this June, she said.
"The key, to me, is being a good communicator about the implications of technology," she said. "Information technology is becoming a part of everything we do."
Internet-based learning wasn’t embraced by most campus officials in the early 1990s, but Draude said campus classrooms–known as "master rooms" back then–with web connections and tools like projectors struck her as a harbinger of higher education’s future.
"Now they’re called 21st century classrooms," Draude said with a laugh. "And I definitely wanted to be a part of that."
When MTSU’s nursing program was given a computer lab thanks to a university benefactor, Draude immersed herself in internet lingo and code writing, creating class web sites that were accessible to students at local community colleges.
"It was an entirely new way to manage classes," she said.
Draude said most faculty members are proficient with the campus’ course management system, although the first and last weeks of each semester are always the busiest for IT staff answering professors’ queries.
Many instructors struggle to compile student rosters in the opening days of a new term, she said, and professors who use complicated grading systems that take many factors into account often have complications when it comes time to post final grades to the class web site.
"The more complex their grading scheme is, the more difficult it’s going to be," said Draude, who assembled a team of 20 faculty members to evaluate new course management systems when the university searched for a new option last year.
Each committee member assessed systems from a professor’s and a student’s point of view, Draude said. MTSU switched to Desire2Learn after the extensive search.
MTSU’s Information Technology Division also helps faculty with optical scanning services for test scoring. IT staff members can help professors produce easy-to-read graphs and statistical analysis breaking down exam and final grade results.
For faculty members who want to learn the tricks of the computer trade without IT help, Draude and her division offer frequent workshops and training sessions that cover a wide range of lessons.