Committee aims to improve classroom with technology needs assessment

Will Fowler

What began as a discussion about Blackboard Learn, an online tool for teachers and students, has evolved into a full scale assessment of technology use at the university.

In 2012, the university approached student and faculty groups to determine the effectiveness of Blackboard.

“As we started to go more and more into discussion, we found that people wanted to talk about the strategies and the ways they bring learning to the classroom,” said Jim Twetten with Iowa State’s IT services, academic technologies department. “We realized we needed to gather needs from the faculty instead of just asking questions about Blackboard.”

MindWires Consulting was brought on by a university steering committee to investigate the problems and needs of the growing university.

“This all happened within the context of increasing enrollment,” Twetten said. “We have such increasing enrollment that it’s putting a strain on the university systems.”

MindWires listed multiple issues with the current standing of technology on campus, including the lack of a centralized support system, a prevailing notion among faculty that online learning “threatened the quality of education” and difficulties faced by staff in setting up technology during a 10-minute classroom changeover period.

“A faculty member told me during the process she walks into the classroom, and in that 10-minute changeover period she had 18 different technologies she had to deal with” Twetten said.

Phil Hill, a founder of MindWires, said the 10-minute changeover period was the single largest area which could be improved.

“There’s such a space problem on campus because of the rising enrollment and demand for classes,” Hill said. “If you’re going to use all this technology to improve the classroom, how do you switch it all out in that 10 minutes?”

Also noted by MindWires was the lack of any technology plan to improve learning, either online or in the classroom. One of the recommendations of the assessment was to create such a plan.

“One of the challenges we face is trying to develop a comprehensive classroom technology plan moving forward,” Twetten said. “Something like this assessment has not occurred on campus to my knowledge in the 27 years I’ve been here.”

MindWires and the steering committee provided several recommendations both to address the current problems with technology in the classroom and to move forward.

“If they hadn’t done the needs assessment, they could have done a bunch of small fixes in a bunch of different areas, and it probably wouldn’t have had much impact,” Hill said. “The engagement really allowed us to think more strategically and see things from a broader perspective.”