When President Dianne Harrison joined the CSUN community last year, she brought a new vision for the campus—and a commitment to academic technology. As an “early adopter” of technology, she understands the crucial role it plays in promoting student success.
Harrison first forayed into academic technology as a doctoral candidate, when she manually programmed Washington University’s giant computer center. She remembers how the machine would spit out cards with her data.
In 1999, Harrison taught her first online course in social work at Florida State University. Today, the CSUN president embraces new technology in both her work and personal life, keeping on top of her demanding job with an iPad and smartphone, as well as the latest software on her computer.
Harrison is a huge advocate of technology in the classroom setting.
“Technology can be a tool by which we can individualize student learning,” she says. “It can open up so many opportunities and resources for both our faculty and our students.”
Her interest in academic technology comes largely from her sense of what students expect in the modern classroom. She recalls a recent conversation with the mother of a junior in high school who talked about her daughter’s early search for prospective colleges and universities. The student would click onto a university’s website and make a quick judgment call: If the school did not seem technologically up to date, she would scratch the university off her list.
That decision process did not come as a surprise to Harrison after she discovered the student had been using tablets as a standard educational tool at her public high school.
“Their texts were on tablets, their exercises and homework were on tablets and they got feedback from their teacher on their tablets,” she says. “Students will be coming to us with different experiences and different expectations of us.”
“It’s not so much about a particular tool, whether it’s an iPad or an iPhone or some other type of mobile device,” she adds. “It’s about the expectations students have that we are technology savvy, up to date and accessible on their time.” Earlier this semester at the faculty retreat, Harrison introduced a potential Apple initiative that could provide opportunities for faculty and staff to use iPads in the classroom.
Harrison wants faculty members to feel comfortable with technology. She believes that technology today is simple to use for people at all levels of tech proficiency—so simple, in fact, that she personally does not bother to read the instruction manuals anymore.
“They wanted to make it as easy for us as possible nowadays, and that’s the key to new technology,” Harrison says. “If I don’t know something, I will ask somebody who has already mastered it.”
The university president is excited to see how faculty members utilize technology to improve their teaching capabilities for tech-era students.
“I would encourage those who are excited and passionate and creative and geared toward experimenting in their classroom to please continue doing that,” she says. “That’s the kind of teaching, innovation and pedagogy that I think will be incredibly valuable for our students.”
Despite her own enthusiasm, Harrison knows not everyone is ready to embrace technology solutions in the classroom. She remembers being hesitant to experiment with email when it first arrived. Now, she says, emailing is second nature to even the least technologically inclined faculty member—and it is “like a dinosaur” to students.
“Just take a baby step and see if it doesn’t help you,” she recommends to hesitant faculty members. “We have to get there on our own and at our own pace.”
Harrison says a good start for any faculty member is to browse the Academic Technology website and check out the different programs and services available to help them succeed.
“There are face-to-face faculty development programs for incorporating and integrating the new technologies into your classroom or to do a course online,” she says. “We do have resources that are available. You just have to reach out and take advantage of it.”