This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 22 Number 1 1999. The copyright is by EDUCAUSE and the author(s). See http://www.educause.edu/copyright for additional copyright information.
Faculty And Student Teams for Technology: The ~FAST Tex Program at the University of Texas at Austin
by George Culp, Coco Kishi, and Judythe Wilbur
It's a common axiom in higher education that development of materials based on instruc- tional technologies requires both technical skills and time commitments often not at the disposal of faculty. For over twenty years, the University of Texas at Austin has followed an "informal team" approach for development of these materials, pairing technology-literate students with content-literate faculty. Our latest effort is a more formal one in which students are recruited, assigned, and compensated to support reviewed and approved faculty proposals.
In late 1997, the University's Center for Instructional Technologies (CIT) inaugurated a program to pair students specialized in instructional and computer skills with faculty members to develop innovative instructional technology materials. Supported in part by Apple Computer, Inc. and Compaq Computer Corporation, ~FAST Tex (Faculty And Student Teams for Technology) creates a pool of skilled students to work with faculty from a range of academic disciplines. It is based upon an informal model used successfully since the early 1970s at the University. This article shares the strategies we used to establish the program and what we have learned, including some surprises from the students.
We began recruiting students well versed in multimedia production applications and development of Web materials in early October, before the scheduled program start-up date of January 1998. Several potential student candidates had been identified from previous projects at the CIT, and we also asked faculty to nominate students they felt would benefit the program. These student candidates were sent a questionnaire about their experience and skills with software applications. Following a screening of the returned questionnaires, selected students were interviewed. The questionnaire and interview processes were important because we wanted to ensure that only top-quality students knowledgeable in a variety of applicable software packages were in the pool. We also gave the students the option of receiving course credit through selected colleges, in addition to financial compensation. Semester grades were to be assigned by the faculty project supervisors.
Concurrent with the recruitment of students, we sent out a campuswide call for proposals from faculty. We defined specific guidelines for the proposals (see http://www.utexas.edu/cc/cit/fasttex/guidelines.html), and proposals received were prioritized based upon their innovation, need for support, resource requirements, related departmental goals, evaluation method, and timeline.
We received thirty-three proposals that met the guidelines, and eventually twenty-one were supported. Three proposals were awarded a microcomputer system donated by Compaq Computer Corporation, four received both student support and a Compaq microcomputer, and the remaining received student support, either an individual or student team, depending upon the nature of the project. The projects ranged from a "Virtual Tour of a Roman House: Understanding the House of the Vettii, Pompeii" to "Interactive, Multimedia Case Study Portfolios in Communication Sciences and Disorders" to "Development of Interactive Web Tools for Fluid Mechanics." (See http://www.utexas.edu/cc/cit/fasttex/1998.html for the complete project list, including abstracts.)
What we learned--and some surprises
It came as no surprise that faculty members were very appreciative of the student support, and several asked for continued assistance beyond the timeline for their projects. In the student nomination phase, some faculty named their own graduate assistants--which was fine--but we had to point out that the students selected were in a common pool, and there was no guarantee their student would be assigned to the faculty member's project, should it be approved. Perhaps not surprisingly, we found that many faculty had difficulty managing and assigning weekly tasks to students. Finally, in a few cases, it became apparent that some faculty members had written excellent proposals, but had not planned thoroughly the actual steps required to carry out the projects.
Students enjoyed the opportunity to employ their technical skills while working with a faculty client. Students felt that their participation was valued and enjoyed the collaborative aspect of working on their project, as well as the financial compensation. In some cases, however, students were frustrated by faculty who had not prepared their content adequately or who could not provide enough time and guidance to them. Also, we had anticipated that many of the students would want to receive course credit in addition to financial compensation. This was not the case, and the reason given by the majority of students was that the additional three-credit-hour registration fee was a significant expense to them.
Our primary administrative role was to find and place appropriately skilled students with the supported projects. Our involvement with the faculty projects was minimal because we expected faculty to be able to effectively manage their students and their projects. We now realize that we must take a more active role in helping faculty design and organize their content materials, schedule a timeline for their project, and assign tasks to students. Also, because projects were of varying duration and some involved the replacement of students, the coming and going of a large number of part-time students over the eight-month period put a strain on our own accounting staff. Exploring other avenues for compensation, we surveyed the ~FAST Tex students about receiving computer equipment as an alternative means of compensation and were surprised to learn that the majority of the students would have preferred a laptop computer as opposed to an equivalent salary. This was very good news to us; generally, vendors are more likely to provide hardware than funds in support of programs such as ~FAST Tex. Also, we had had to turn down some top-quality students because the additional hours would have put them over the forty-hour per week limit of course credit hours plus University wage hours. So, the preference for laptops by the students in return for their work with faculty was, indeed, a very pleasant surprise.
What we're doing differently in 1999
Again through the support of Compaq and Apple, students selected to participate in ~FAST Tex will be awarded a laptop computer after completing a minimum of 150 hours of satisfactory work on one or more projects. Twenty microcomputers have been provided. Because the University cannot legally give equipment to students, the laptops will be awarded through a third party, the Ex-Students' Association.
A few of the 1998 projects were not completed before student support ended, so this year we are limiting the scope of the projects to what can be completed in one semester (spring or summer). Additionally, we are defining the areas that will be supported:
Basic Web courseware development. A Web site for a class, including the following components: syllabus; course reading/reference materials; resources and links to related topics; bulletin boards; student tracking; tutorials/instructional materials that include video/audio, animations, images, text, and graphics. This could be delivered online or as a Web/CD-ROM hybrid.
Complex Web courseware development. The components of basic Web courseware with the addition of simulations, interactive exercises, online testing/quizzes, database functionality. As well, this could be delivered online or as a Web/CD-ROM hybrid.
CD-ROM courseware development. Course resource materials on CD-ROM that would include interactive exercises; quizzes; tutorials/instructional materials featuring video/audio, animations, images, text, and graphics.
Media development. Development of media for Web site or CD-ROM courseware, such as digitizing and processing images, video, audio, creating 2D or 3D graphics, and animations. With respect to faculty responsibilities, we are much more specific about what is expected from the faculty project directors. For example, they must be available for an initial orientation session and participate in a project design workshop offered in late January. Project directors are also responsible for working with CIT staff to formulate their project designs and gathering and organizing all raw or digitized content by the content due date early in the semester. CIT staff will be overseeing project management and timelines, and directors must be available for regular meetings during the semester to discuss progress of their projects.
Finally, we are practicing more of what we preach by requiring online submission of the proposals and automatically building a database of the information provided in the proposal. See http://www.utexas.edu/cc/cit/fasttex/call.html for details.
George Culp (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Director of the Center for Instructional Technologies; Coco Kishi (email@example.com) is Assistant Director for Multimedia Design and Production and Manager of the ~FAST Tex program; and Judythe Wilbur (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Assistant Director for Information and Web-Based Design, at the Center for Instructional Technologies, a division of Academic Computing and Instructional Technology Services at the University of Texas at Austin.
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