Teaching Tech to Teachers

Educational technologies have great potential to enhance student learning—but only if faculty use them. Here’s how several business schools are helping their faculty stay current in the digital age.
Teaching Tech to Teachers

TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION in education has gone from a steady stream of individual advances—first email, then the web, then smartphones—to a whirlwind of social media, mobile apps, cloud-based computing, 3-D printing, data analytics, robotics, and the Internet of Things. What distinguishes educators who view that whirlwind as exciting from those who see it as overwhelming? In a phrase, institutional support.

We asked educators at several business schools one question: What do they do to encourage professors to embrace new classroom technologies? We found that by adopting one or more strategies featured in the following pages, these schools empower faculty not just to manage the technological whirlwind—but to harness it to deliver more innovative, enriching, and engaging student learning experiences.


When it comes to making investments in a digital strategy, all business schools face the same challenge, says Peter O’Connor, professor of information systems, decision sciences, and statistics and dean for academic programs at ESSEC Business School in Cergy-Pontoise, France.

“Our challenges are not with the technology itself, because the technology exists for most things schools want to do. But there are costs associated with each and every one of them. We must figure out how can we do these things reliably and at an acceptable cost,” he says. “That means we must prioritize well. Then, we can provide the resources that allow us to achieve our objectives at an acceptable speed.”

At ESSEC, administrators and faculty have set three main three objectives: digitizing all of ESSEC’s core courses; creating MOOC specializations, each with three MOOCs and one capstone project; and developing training in digital media, including social media, for students. As part of the first objective, ESSEC also added to its curriculum a Digital Disruption Chair, which refers to a concentration in digital innovation.

With those priorities in place, the school created a new business unit for innovation and digital pedagogy in September 2015, as well as a new position, chief digital officer, to manage it. The school’s first CDO is professor of marketing Nicolas Glady. “The idea is to transform our school, not only in our teaching and research, but also in areas such as human resources and administration,” says Glady. “We also have identified ambassadors among the faculty who have success stories that can engage new professors in our activities.”



Similarly, IE Business School in Madrid, Spain, has made online and blended programs a priority, investing in tools for learning such as simulations, games, and multimedia—as well as a new telepresence space it calls its WOW Room. (See “Business Schools Teach with Telepresence.”) With this priority in mind, the school deliberately hires professors who are excited about using new media, explains Martin Boehm, dean of programs.

“We make our commitment to online education and innovation very clear during the recruitment process,” says Boehm. “Our new faculty are eager and excited about teaching online. They themselves are digital natives and see online education more as the status quo and less as an innovation.”


The more b-school administrators signal to faculty that they encourage and support technological adoption, the more likely it is that their faculty will experiment with new tech. For many business schools, one of the easiest ways to send that signal is to establish or expand a department where faculty have access to instructional designers, workshops, and the latest technological tools.

Just a few years ago, IE Business School set up its department for learning innovation, says Boehm. The department staffs instructional designers to assist faculty, particularly when it comes to adapting face-to-face courses to online and blended formats.

The Academic Technology Center serves that role at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. When it was established 15 years ago, its staff worked with faculty primarily to create websites and load content to Blackboard. Today, the ATC employs 15 staff members and approximately 30 student assistants to help professors master blended and flipped learning formats, in-class polling, digital media creation, and mobile applications.

“We have a green screen studio, which faculty can use to make video with different backgrounds—or they can use their own spaces,” says Gaurav Shah, who is the ATC’s director and an adjunct lecturer in computer information systems. “We provide the microphone and software, so that the quality of the experience will be consistent for everyone.” At ESSEC, faculty can turn to the K-Lab, shorthand for the Knowledge Center, which offers the assistance of instructional designers, as well as facilities where faculty can practice using different digital tools. K-Lab features a 3-D printing lab, virtual reality technology, and two recording studios—one self-service and one staffed with a professional recording and sound team—where faculty can create content for MOOCs and flipped classrooms. These studios are proving especially important to ESSEC’s commitment to ongoing MOOC creation, O’Connor notes. Students also can use these spaces for their own projects.

Other business schools can take advantage of university-based resources to train their faculty in new technology. That’s the approach at the Willumstad School of Business at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. Its faculty can go to Adelphi’s Faculty Center for Professional Excellence for support in areas such as flipping their classrooms, teaching in blended environments, creating online audio and video, and using digital media. “The center is our faculty’s main resource for all types of teaching methodologies,” explains associate dean Alan Cooper. The school makes sure to keep faculty informed of upcoming center services and training through its internal newsletter. With the center available, says Cooper, administrators can focus the school’s resources on providing faculty with more opportunities to use those skills.

"We will never tell a professor, 'You're doing this wrong. This is how you should be doing it.' Faculty all have their own perspectives and ways of doing things. But we can say, 'Let us show you this newer tool that will make things easier for you.' "



A routine schedule of workshops in various applications is another common characteristic of tech-ready business schools—some taught by instructional designers, some taught by the faculty themselves. Bentley’s ATC, for example, provides monthly workshops on new classroom tools; recent sessions have covered video creation platforms, polling software, and new features in Blackboard. IE Business School’s department of learning innovation worked with the dean of faculty to create a year-round series of optional workshops, so that faculty can “choose wisely where to focus their improvement efforts,” says Boehm.

Each month, designers at ESSEC’s K-lab deliver two-hour training modules for faculty on tech-related topics, which have included increasing visibility on social media, creating quality video with smartphones, setting up online quizzes, and using video-editing software. At least twice a year, says O’Connor, the school holds special “pedagogical days,” for the purpose of exposing faculty to new facilities and technology and gathering their feedback on new tools under consideration.

The training at all three schools is optional, but Bentley’s Shah says he is always looking for ways to attract more faculty to these sessions. Most recently, the ATC added online workshops, delivered via GoToMeeting, to its schedule to make training even more accessible.

A few schools have taken faculty development even further, such as the School of Economics and Business Administration (SEBA) at St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga. SEBA has designed a 12-hour, six-session teaching certification it calls the Digital Driver’s License (DDL). To earn the certification, faculty must pass an assessment of digital proficiency. The DDL program gives faculty a clear framework for learning and integrating technology, says Barry Eckhouse, SEBA’s director of technology and online programs. He adds that, since the DDL has been in place, the school has seen more of its professors integrate digital media into their teaching.

“Our faculty are gradually expanding their digital capabilities, and it’s becoming more likely that they’ll take that key lecture and export it to a podcast or create a digital video for YouTube,” says Eckhouse. “They’re moving more into using rich media, such as screen capture and voice grading, for all the right reasons.” Read more about the DDL in "Creating a Path to Digital Teaching Proficiency."


If professors are going to invest time in learning new tools, they’ll want to have ample opportunity to use them. For many business schools, that means expanding the number of online and blended courses they offer and designing classroom spaces that rely heavily on online collaboration and active learning.

The Willumstad School now offers a course focused on social media-based marketing, and it is delivering more classes in blended formats, says Cooper. “We’re also exploring the use of mobile platforms for teaching and incorporating more simulations and interactive technologies in our management courses,” he adds. “As a school, we need to create new opportunities for faculty to apply technology to teaching. We know we have to take an integrative approach.”

Faculty at Bentley have been experimenting with its new MBA Studio, an active learning space that supports the Bentley MBA program. Throughout the program, each cohort of 20 students remain in the same classroom all day, every day. There, they spend three-month segments taking courses from the same two professors. Every three months, the courses and professors change.

“We needed a pleasant place for the students to be in, with a nice lounge area and kitchen and areas for group activities,” says Shah. The MBA Studio replaces traditional front-facing rows of seating with group tables, lounge chairs, smartboards, LCD screens, and plenty of open space to allow for multiple activities. Faculty and students also use special software to be able to collaborate more effectively, sharing information on their personal devices to a larger screen. Read more in the sidebar below “Tech to Try.”

Faculty have been so pleased with the function of the new space, in use since 2011, they’ve asked the university to convert more traditional classrooms to active learning environments. In response, the ATC retrofitted an additional classroom in 2013; in January it added three more active learning spaces to a new facility, for both graduate and undergraduate courses.


For faculty to implement their grandest ideas in the classroom, they’re going to need funding. Many schools are setting aside small amounts of money for faculty to purchase the tools they need to bring their ideas to fruition. At Bentley, for example, faculty can submit requests to the ATC for new software or hardware. After approving a request, the center not only sources and purchases the product, but also helps the professor use it effectively.

At St. Mary’s, Eckhouse is a member of the multidisciplinary Educational Technology Group (ETG), a campus-wide committee that provides faculty with grants for projects related to classroom innovation. Faculty submit a simple application describing the project they would like to pursue. “I can’t think of the last time we said ‘No’ to a request,” says Eckhouse. “Once faculty come to us, their ideas almost always seem to be well-conceived.” After they receive funding, professors must provide the ETG with project reports and share their results at a panel presentation so that their colleagues can learn from their experiences.

So far, the ETG has provided funds to an art professor who wanted to build an “infinity room,” a seamless blue-screen environment where students can work on special video projects; and a voice instructor, who purchased voice grading software so that if her students went off key in their recorded assignments, she could sing the notes correctly in her recorded feedback. The ETG recently received a proposal from a professor who wants to organize a white-hat hackathon to highlight cybersecurity issues.

Eckhouse says he has been “blown away” by ideas that faculty are proposing. Their projects show “what you can do with a grassroots effort, as long as all the stars are lined up,” he emphasizes. “By that, I mean that as long as you have a dean who gets it, program chairs who get it, and a provost who gets it—who see the value of faculty authoring in rich media forms—you can see a truly faculty-led effort toward innovation. Without the support of school leadership, it would be much more difficult for faculty to push these projects through.” When business schools provide funding for faculty innovation, they show that they recognize that higher education is in an era of experimentation, says Boehm of IE Business School. “Teaching and learning excellence are moving targets,” he notes. “If we felt that we were where we wanted to be, we would be missing the point. Innovation is about constantly pushing the boundaries.”


If schools want to spark similar grassroots efforts on their campuses, says Eckhouse, they need faculty advocates who have great energy and enthusiasm about technological adoption. Once a school has one or two energized faculty, “others almost always catch the bug,” he says. “From that point on, it’s mainly a matter of leading by example and promoting collaborative effort.”

To what extent faculty adopt new technologies depends on how much a school allows them to explore on their own, says O’Connor. “Business schools always will have people who are innovators who push the boundaries, those who are in the mainstream, and those who are laggards resistant to change. The goal is to advance more of the mainstream much more rapidly,” he says. “We won’t achieve that goal by telling faculty, ‘You must do this.’ But we can achieve it by showing them what the options are and how those options can improve the quality of their teaching and make their lives easier.”

Cooper of Willumstad agrees that policies that force faculty to integrate new technologies before they’re ready are unlikely to succeed. “We need to move slowly to manage change effectively. That’s why we do not mandate anything. We tell faculty, ‘Here’s what’s available, feel free to explore it.’ Then, we hope faculty see their colleagues’ success and think that they should try those tools as well.”

Shah agrees that if the resources are available, faculty will take advantage of them, whether to solve a curricular problem or follow up on students’ requests. “We never tell a professor, ‘You’re doing this wrong. This is how you should be doing it,’” says Shah. “Faculty all have their own perspectives and ways of doing things. But when they come to us to ask about a particular feature, we can show them how to use it. And while they’re here, we can say, ‘Let us show you this newer tool that will make things easier for you.’”


Eckhouse believes that many faculty aren’t reluctant to use new technology because they fear trying out new tools. Rather, some might be concerned about the time commitment involved; others might fear that they’ll receive negative student evaluations; still others might believe their efforts will not be recognized as academic work. As a former chair of SEBA’s rank and tenure committee, Eckhouse often writes to the committee on behalf of faculty members, providing extra explanation of their technological adoption when necessary. “They deserve our advocacy. We want to show that we support their use of technology as central to their work as teachers.”

ESSEC’s Glady would like to see more schools show they value a professor’s classroom innovation. “One of the biggest challenges is for the academic community to recognize the importance of digital innovation,” he says. “It would be great if a professor’s successful technology initiative could be seen as being as important as an influential book or paper in a top journal.”

No matter what support business schools provide, not all faculty will jump on new digital strategies right away—and that’s OK, say these educators. “Most faculty are up for learning new things,” says Shah. “They want to know what’s out there.”

To learn how Bentley University exposes students to innovative tech, read about its CIS Learning & Technology Sandbox in “Bentley University Creates a Social Space for Tech.”