Uncertainty Inhibits Innovation
Universities are increasingly investing in broad-based technology solutions with the goal of improving student outcomes. At the same time, recent studies have shown that professors are hesitant to incorporate new technologies into their curriculum (Howard, 2013). Why might this be? Using new innovations to engage and demonstrate complex subjects is a natural fit for the latest generation of digitally native students. As it turns out, the reluctance is not with the students, but with the instructors.
Professors generally do not find technology disruptive. In fact, many teachers welcome, and even encourage, students to use and bring technology into the classroom. However, to enhance their own teaching, many instructors prefer traditional methods because they are not comfortable or confident in running new, high-tech tools themselves. A 2008 article investigating factors influencing the adoption of emerging technologies in the classroom found that the greater level of importance students placed on computers created higher levels of computer anxiety in instructors. By experiencing anxiety with their own technical skills, educators become reluctant to use emerging technologies in their curriculum (Ball, 2008).
This is no surprise to Mechdyne Senior Vice President James Gruening. When talking to a group of professors and campus IT professionals at an event in Edmonton, AB, Canada, he recognized the trend right away: “As we were discussing the positive impact immersive technology has on learning, the university representatives immediately saw the value of integrating visualization into their learning objectives,” Gruening paused. “Then, unfortunately, they are hesitant to follow through because they lack experience running a virtual reality system.” Gruening explains that with the right technology partner, the knowledge gap doesn’t have to be the barrier to success.
Overcoming Technology Avoidance
As Dr. Mary Katherine Scott at the University of Wyoming found out, the university’s visualization team was eager to support her efforts.
"I think it's important for instructors to have the necessary support systems in place to quell any fears we might have in using new tech products in the classroom," says Dr. Scott, who teaches Art History. "For me, this was crucial in making the decision to incorporate the CAVE™ as a teaching tool into my Art History survey class. The team at our Visualization Center worked closely with me to ensure I had everything I needed to create a meaningful learning experience for my 50 students."
Dr. Scott collaborated with her colleague, Peter Fine, assistant professor of graphic design, to create a virtual simulation of the Schroder House in Utrecht, Netherlands. Under Fine’s direction, graphic design students created the architectural model for Dr. Scott's students to tour and examine. Such collaboration and exposure, Scott believes, creates a very powerful experience for the students. See Fine discuss his teaching experience in this video.
Dr. Scott explains, "The students experienced art history in a whole new way. By actually being able to walk through the architecture that our textbook only discussed in a short paragraph, they had the opportunity to engage with the architecture on a much deeper level."
Likewise, Fine's students gained new skill sets in visualization and 3-D modeling that had relevant applications in their field of study.
Although immersive technologies like the CAVE™ are well established in the science and engineering colleges at the University of Wyoming, Dr. Scott and Fine are considered trail blazers for the use of this technology in the humanities. Research shows that universities can increase adoption of emerging technologies by leveraging the positive experiences of the early adopters, “and utilize them in assisting those who may not adopt emerging technology as easily” (Ball, 2008).
Dr. Scott has also used the CAVE™ for a research project involving a virtual art gallery. Read more about her virtual art gallery and museum experience research here, or see for yourself in this video.
5 Steps to Technology Integration
This hesitation to adopt emerging technologies manifests in many different ways and is often very subtle. And, especially for non-technical colleagues, it is easy to perceive the divide as too wide to cross. The most innovative universities, like the University of Wyoming, build bridges and reduce technology avoidance because the returns from maximizing utilization are far greater than the resource investment.
"My experience using the CAVE and its associated technologies in my class was such a positive experience. I look forward to thinking about new ways I can include it in other classes in the future," Dr. Scott remarks.
Building on experience from working with hundreds of universities around the world, Mechdyne Corporation has a few tips:
1. Promote your early adopters. Internal public relations are powerful. When people see benefits of emerging technology integrated into the curriculum, anxiety and reluctance to incorporate similar strategies decrease.
2. Address the concerns with open dialogue. Upfront conversations with instructors and users of the technology are critical. Some professors may not even recognize their hesitation. Easy, non-threatening conversations create a foundation to create a support plan, which is often as simple as having two hours of personal training on a system.
3. Partner experienced users with up-and-comers. Inexperience can inhibit new users from identifying the best way to utilize emerging technology. A technology mentor can help the new technology user understand how the technology can help achieve their goals.
4. Invest in training. Most emerging technologies are designed to be simple and easy to understand. But even the most intuitive interfaces benefit from hands on training.
5. Reinvest in training. If someone is reluctant to use technology, it will take more than one exposure to overcome their anxiety. Set regular open house and hands-on opportunities to encourage people to test drive the technology.
Mechdyne is a broad-based technology partner who enables discovery by providing engineering and complex AV design, technology integration, software development, and technical services. By staying up to the minute on technology trends and industry standards, Mechdyne delivers state-of-the-art technology that is innovative, impressive, and performs to our clients' expectations. Mechdyne systems can be found on six continents and in industries such as energy exploration, manufacturing, research and education, entertainment, government and military, and architecture and engineering.
Ball, Diane M; Levy, Yair. Journal of Information Systems Education 19.4 (Winter 2008): 431-443.
Sarah K. Howard (2013) Risk-aversion: understanding teachers’ resistance
to technology integration, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 22:3, 357-372, DOI: