Digital Readiness Project

One of the major reasons I became an instructor at a technical college is to help people feel comfortable using technology and to seek out ways to use technology to improve the learning process.  The purpose of this report is to assess how my institution is using technology to improve education.  As part of this report, I interviewed an academic department dean at Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWTech) in Kirkland, Washington on November 20th, 2018.  I also interviewed the manager of the engagement and learning department at LWTech.  I am currently a part-time instructor at LWTech in the CSD department.  The dean and the manager have more than 10 years of experience at LWTech, which make them ideal interview candidates for this report.

To set the stage for our conversation, the dean and I started off by discussing industry standards for the use of technology in education.  Specifically, I asked the dean if he was familiar with the coaching standards defined by the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE).  The dean is not familiar with ISTE, but he has encountered issues around digital competency, digital literacy, and digital citizenship during his career at LWTech.  We also spent some time reviewing the three categories – respect, educate, and protect – of digital citizenship defined by Ribble and Miller, shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Digital Citizen Categories (Ribble and Miller)

As a follow-up to our discussion on standards, I asked the dean about the LWTech vision for the comprehensive use of technology to support a digital-age education for students.  The dean stated that the vision is owned by the LWTech president – Dr. Amy Goings.  Currently, the LWTech vision statement does not set technology as a primary driver for the school.  That is, it is not a goal for LWTech to be an example of the best use of technology in education.  LWTech administration does not block efforts to better use technology to improve the learning process, but it is not a goal.  The LWTech mission and vision statements are defined on the LWTech web site.  The LWTech vision narrative does include the following bullet points:

  • Distinguish ourselves by offering creative, cutting-edge, hands-on education
  • Thrive in state-of-the-art facilities that use the latest learning and business technologies to enhance the delivery of education and our internal operations
  • Implement innovations that result in a financially sustainable organization

As an example of technology sponsored by LWTech administration, the dean pointed out the rollout of Legend (formerly StarFish) at LWTech in the fall quarter of 2018.  Legend is a software system that allows instructors to give students performance feedback for a particular course.  The software helps identify which students are struggling with a course as well as provide kudos to students that are improving or doing well.  The software is primarily focused on helping students graduate, encouraging students to create their ‘legend’ at LWTech.

LWTech is pretty advanced in terms of purchasing and deploying new software.  LWTech has successfully partnered with Microsoft and other local tech companies in the Seattle area.  However, LWTech is not so excited about adding people or instructors to help inform the technology roadmap.  There is an eLearning committee but no real champion of technology in education has emerged from this committee.  The dean of instruction at LWTech is passionate about eLearning and LWTech’s participation in efforts like the Open Education Resource (OER) effort.  The dean stated that LWTech has an attitude of not being equal to other schools and that LWTech often does not cooperate across departments or with efforts outside of LWTech.  It does happen. LWTech did contribute the Lab Chemistry 162 course to OER – but it is not common event at LWTech.  This may change, as the state has offered development grants for 80 OER courses.

I asked the dean to give me some examples of how the school is using technology to improve the learning process.  The dean started off by describing the LWTech adoption of CurricuLog and AcaLog (software products from DigiArc) to publish the LWTech course catalog.  The LWTech catalog was originally done all on paper and was a very time-consuming and error-prone process.  With CurricuLog and AcaLog, the LWTech course catalog is generated by workflow automation.  The system defines a process to get approvals from deans, vice presidents, and different committees.  The software is also used to track past versions, to track whether standards are being met, and to track revisions and rejections.  The course catalog is published to the LWTech web site when approved.  Making the catalog publishing process as efficient and timely as possible is key to preparing for student registration in the each coming quarter.

The dean also mentioned LWTech’s adoption of DocuSign and AdobeSign to automate and speed up the contract signing process.  Both signing tools are available on the Internet and can be used to sign documents anywhere in the world.  Students can also use the signing tools for enrollments and other academic purposes.  The dean has found these signing tools to be so crucial to LWTech operations that he would cut any other technology used for school operations before cutting these two signing tools.

I asked the dean if there were technologies at LWTech, either current or planned, that support a digital-age education for students.  Most, if not all, of the LWTech technology investments for education purposes center around Canvas.  The decision to use Canvas, rather than some other learning management systems such as Blackboard or Moodle, is driven more by state funding than any analysis or need.  The dean pointed out that many students consider Canvas to be LWTech.  Most students do not interact with any other software from LWTech and check Canvas for course updates, schedule, grades, etc. on a daily basis.

The dean pointed out that CSD is not typical when it comes to leveraging technology to improve the learning process.  For example, the dental hygienist department has their full curriculum in Canvas – not just on the LWTech web site, like CSD and most other LWTech departments.  The use of technology for the learning process varies across departments.  Some departments use Open Education Resources (OER), online discussions, and other tools in their classrooms.  Many students ask that all teaching materials be published in Canvas before the start of a course, but this is not done in every department.  Also, there are CSD courses that are experimenting with using technology for new teaching approaches, including a flipped or blended class room.  The dean gave the following two examples:

  • Dave Dion is using a flipped class room to teach the HTML/CSS course (CSD 112)
  • Jo Nelson is also using a flipped class room in the LWTech school of science

In the 2018 fall quarter, I was assigned to a new classroom floor plan at LWTech for a course on JavaScript and jQuery.  The floor plan was similar to what is shown in Figure 2 below.  There are five pods that seat six students, and each pod has a dedicated monitor with 6 HDMI cables to hook up individual laptops.  The room includes a cabinet of 30+ laptops for student use.  There is also a monitor at the front of the room for the instructor to give a presentation.  I changed the way I teach the course for this classroom by introducing class exercises after each major topic, giving the students a chance to get ‘hands on’ with the new concept, and for me to wander the room to see how students are doing.  I plan on making some changes for the next time I teach in this classroom to better utilize the class room layout and technology.

Figure 2: Learning Classrooms (Steelcase)

Next, I asked the dean to circle back on to the topic of digital literacy and digital citizenship.  How is LWTech making sure that LWTech graduate have basics digital literacy and citizenship skills? The dean arrived at LWTech in 1999 and has been talking about both of these issues ever since.  The issue of whether to require curriculum support for digital literacy and citizenship has reached the VP of instruction at LWTech.  While no formal requirements were made at the school level, some LWTech departments have created courses to cover digital literacy:

  • Business Technology Education (BTE) 120 is a course on Business Computer Management. The goal of the course is to develop skills to manage desktop productivity tools and systems.  Course content includes file management – archiving, storing, security, and sharing – as well as cookies, FTP, e-mail, and use of the Internet.  The LWTech accounting program uses BTE 120 as a prerequisite.
  • Transportation Technology (TRAN) 110 is a course on computer basics for the transportation trades. The course focuses on computer basics, keyboarding, and industry applications like Microsoft Word.  The course also offers instruction on the use of the Internet.

Most LWTech departments do not have prerequisite courses for digital literacy and citizenship.  The issue has reached LWTech administrators in the past but with no resulting changes in the general education requirements across all LWTech departments. About 10 years ago, LWTech did a global outcomes study that assessed students twice a year.  The study included a rubric to assess information literacy which included library and computer literacy.  The assessment included ethics and a digital ‘bill of rights’.  The study is no longer conducted at LWTech, but The dean provided contact names for administrators that may still have the results of the study.

I concluded my interview with the dean by discussing best practices for using technology, including social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  The dean stated that most students follow the student code of conduct, which aligns with the Washington code of conduct when it comes to using social media in the class room.  There have been cases in which students and faculty did fully understand proper conduct for respect and privacy issues.  LWTech has had challenges with resistance to having social media profile in the class room.  This is not ruled out by the state, but few instructors use these technologies in the class room.  The dean pointed out that Facebook and LinkedIn are used to track graduates and alumni.  LWTech often uses these connections to recruit faculty, mentors, speakers, etc.  The dean is also aware of the economics and sociology departments using Twitter as part of their curriculum.

The dean pointed out that faculty readiness is definitely an issue when considering new technologies in the class room.  The AppConnect NW effort is one example of LWTech collaborating with other instructors and universities that offer programs similar to LWTech programs.  There have been some bad experiences in which instructors put a large effort into learning a new technology only to have the technology change significantly in a new release (Cisco Networking software).  However, there are some promising efforts that are using the latest software from Microsoft and Amazon.  For example, the Computer Security and Network Technology (CSNT) department is working with Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services products for their virtualization courses.

The dean and I did not have time to cover the questions on teacher development.  Instead, I reached out to the manager of engagement and learning at LWTech.  I asked the manager how LWTech assists instructors in learning innovative use of technology to improve the learning process for their subject area.  The manager pointed out that LWTech is very short on staff in this area (2 people), and focuses on technology that support all instructors – such as Canvas, Zoom, and Panopto (video recording software).  The eLearning staff offers one-on-one appointments and workshops, but these are not well attended by instructors.  The manager is developing a ‘training tracks’ map to help faculty, supervisors and deans see a possible ‘flow’ for professional development, which will include a technology track.

Currently, LWTech does not have instructional designers to help teachers use technology effectively for assessing student learning, differentiating instruction, and providing rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning experiences for a diverse student body.  This task is left to the individual instructor.

The manager pointed out that all new technology at LWTech goes through the Information Technology (IT) department.  She is not in the loop when a department seeks out new technology, as that is between an instructor’s dean, department, and IT.  Technology like Canvas, Zoom, and Panopto go through the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), and is more controlled by the state than LWTech.

I also asked the manager for examples of best practices in technology-rich professional learning program that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.  The manager pointed out the Teaching @ LWTech Canvas course.  The course uses Canvas best practices to show faculty how to use Canvas to state what is expected to complete a task and how to use Canvas rubrics to grade discussions and assignments.  The idea is to showcase Canvas features to faculty so that they see value.  Faculty can then incorporate these best practices into their own courses.

The manager will be running a cohort for universal design for learning in the coming quarter on how to make teaching, learning and assessments for adult learners.  The manager pointed out that any subject must be shown to be ‘relevant’ for the learner or be introduced to them in a way that connects the new learning to their past experiences.  This goes for introducing new technology to instructors.  The technology must be shown to have a true purpose towards teaching, learning, and assessing the learning experience.

Reflection

I found both the dean and the manager to be frank and very open in our discussions around LWTech’s use of technology in education.  It is clear that LWTech is very focused on using technology to improve the learning environment.  This is great place to start when using technology in education, as it is likely to have the biggest impact across all departments.  Most of the technology used to improve the learning environment is provided by the state of Washington.

I also learned that not all educators and administrators agree on how and where students learn about digital citizenship.  One thing obvious from both of my interview candidates – not everyone agrees where students learn about digital citizenship.  This is not an issue where all educators agree on one approach and all administrators agree on a different approach.  There are educations that do not agree with other educators and administrators that do not agree with other administrators.

This lack of agreement on digital citizenship education can be found in both the dean and manager’s responses.  The dean was the most direct, stating that the issue of how and where to teach digital citizenship had gone to the LWTech board multiple times.  While some presidents have been more supportive than others, the issue has never gained significant traction to cause a change in general education requirements at LWTech.  Because many folks are passionate about this topic, the issue does not go away, and some departments have taken on the responsibility of adding courses to their program to cover these basics of digital citizenship.  The manager was not as direct as the dean, but stated multiple times that the eLearning program is not staffed or funded to take on responsibility for training educators about how to teach digital citizenship to students.

My report will lead to further discussion with my dean and the eLearning department about how we can follow Ribble’s three categories of digital citizenship – respect, educate, and protect – to help our students become responsible digital citizens.  I plan to have a conversation with my department dean and the eLearning department on building a fully-online course on digital citizenship. Currently, LWTech has a limited selection of fully-online courses, none of which are offered by the Computing and Software Development (CSD) department.  By building this online course in a way that can be leveraged by any department at LWTech, I hope to not only give my department their first fully-online course, but also win over the crowd that currently does not support adding digital citizenship education to the general education requirements.  If successful, every student of LWTech will be required to take digital citizenship education online course as a graduation requirement.

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