Exclusive Interview with Keith Barker, and Richard Gorham: The University of Connecticut, University Center for Instructional Media & Technology

July 1, 2004

Dr. Keith Barker
Director, Center for Teaching and Learning
Mr. Richard L. Gorham
Direcotr, University Center for Media & Technology

Dr. Saba:
We are discussing the development of a robust technology infrastructure and instructional design efforts at the University of Connecticut with Richard (Dick) Gorham, Director of the University Center for Instructional Media and Technology (UCIMT) and Keith Barker, an Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education & Instruction and the Director of Institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL).

Keith, Dick: Please tell our readers how each of you became interested in technology-based education and instructional design?

Mr. Gorham:
My interest developed as a result of my graduate studies at Utah State University’s Instructional Technology Department in the mid-70’s. While I worked for the Media Center as a student at the University of Southern Maine where I received my undergraduate degree in history and political science, I was more drawn to the pedagogy of teaching as I progressed in my graduate studies. In a nutshell, I wanted to better understand how students learn, how best to deliver meaningful instructional experiences to them and how the proper use of technology might influence a success instructional design process. For me, it has never been about the technology, but about the effectiveness of utilizing technology to enhance the teaching and learning process. My career at UCIMT and UConn have afforded me a wonderful laboratory in which to both test and apply the theories and appropriates that first struck me as important at Utah State.

Dr. Barker:
As an engineer and educator I have always felt very comfortable with technology for teaching and learning. I grew up teaching with technology in the late 60’s and instructing others about its appropriate use. We think that technology is changing rapidly now but in many ways it was doing so then through multiple formats of recording sound and pictures on tape, film, and disc. But it wasn’t deliverable through one medium from a single source. The computer’s flexibility and accommodation of text, pictures, graphics, audio, and video have made technology-based education very rich on opportunities and a minefield for those who do not know how to use it well.

At an educational workshop in 1972 I learned that everything I had been doing up to that point was pedagogically correct – but I didn’t know the fundamentals on which I had based my work nor did I know what the elements were called. Today, I have a strong understanding of pedagogy and can not only use the principles but are able to pass them on to others.

Dr. Saba:
In recent years you have built up the technology infrastructure of the university, and have added a serious instructional design component to it. Would you comment on these efforts?

Mr. Gorham:
The services of the UCIMT have evolved over time, generally reflecting a service model not dissimilar to our peer institutions at other land-grant public universities. This year, we celebrate our 65th year of providing instructional support services, in some fashion, to the UConn community. While my predecessor’s in this position and I have always been engaged in supporting the teaching, research and service activities of a Research I university, with campuses scattered across the State, in the past ten years the Center and its staff have been largely committed to positively affecting the quality of our undergraduate offerings. As a Research I university, UConn of course gives primacy to the development of scholarship, to furthering the academic enterprise through theoretical and applied research. Its faculty enjoy an international reputation as first-rate scholars and researchers. However, we are also charged with educating the sons and daughters of Connecticut. Our enrollment demographics reflect a student body that is 70% CT students, 30% out-of-state and/or international students.

Nine years ago, through a monumental effort of administrators, faculty, students, parents, the governor and legislators, the university was authorized to spend 1 billion dollars over ten years to rebuild a campus infrastructure that had been seriously deteriorating for some 20 years. Simultaneous to what became known as UCONN 2000 funding, we embarked on a strategic plan to redefine and restate the mission and goals of the institution, providing a framework to spend this significant windfall. Last year, as both the building projects funded by UCONN 2000 and the significant changes to the quality of our academic programs, including the high quality of the students attracted to our campuses became evident, the legislature authorized an additional 1.3 billion dollars, dubbed 21st Century UCONN, to be used to continue the goal, set in 1995, of making UConn the top public research institution in the country. While the bricks and mortar have been important to our recent success, as have been the wonderful successes of our women and men’s basketball teams, of equal weight is the notion, grand as it has seemed to all of us involved in this remarkable renaissance, that we in fact can be in a league with the Michigan’s and UC Berkley’s of the world if we simply strive, each and every day and year, to do so.

An overlong answer thus far, but I’ll conclude by describing where UCIMT has fit into the big picture described above. Essentially, we sold our administration on reinventing the teaching and learning processes of the institution, working in concert with the Institute for Teaching & Learning, our faculty and other support services. First, we decided to put state-of the-art teaching facilities in place that supported the stated goals of the strategic plan: an enhanced undergraduate experience for all of our students.

We renovated or built 84 high-tech classrooms, 75 thus far at the main campus in Storrs, affording faculty and students access to the WWW, video and data projection, light control…a full range of instructional support devices. All new classrooms built with 21st Century UConn funding will be similarly designed and built. We upgraded our distance learning facilities in order to better service our 5 regional campuses and to extend our reach across the nation and the globe. In short, we rebuilt an aging infrastructure into what I think, perhaps immodestly, is one of the finer instructional environments in the country.

Dr. Barker:
The Institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL) was created in 1996 with a full-time Director and substantial financial support. Currently the Institute comprises the UCIMT, Teaching Assistant Programs (TAP), the Instructional Resource Center (IRC), and the Instructional Design and Faculty Development (IDFD) group. Our slogans over the last few years have been “Seamless Instructional Support” and “Pedagogy before Technology”. The former message emphasizes the cooperation and collaboration between all the units to provide instructional and technological support to all members of the University community including our regional campus locations. Compartmentalization would be counter productive and a positive leadership attitude to encourage all members of the ITL to work together has been of paramount importance.

The newest group of ITL is the IDFD, growing from a single member in 2001 to six in 2004. The accomplishments in bringing a fresh and gradually pervasive attitude to curriculum design and a desire for personal faculty development have been significant. Instructional Design now has a much broader understanding at the University and the requests for help and support range from a single visit that confirms a faculty member’s approach to his or her course to proposals to redesign a full course sequence. The unit has completed an on-line Masters course in Accounting, five recently finished General Education on-line courses, and multiple elements for blended courses. Funding has come from the central budget as well as outside sources and we have no shortage of clents. Dr. Saba:
What are some of the projects that you consider as noteworthy, if not stellar?

Mr. Gorham:
Well, spending some 20 million dollars to put the technologies, infrastructure and facilities in place that we thought would afford faculty and students the best environment in which to teach and learn has been fun, no doubt. To be sure, we need to invest more in our IT infrastructure, but that will perhaps always be the case.

More importantly for me, and certainly more satisfying, has been the collaboration between the faculty and staffs within ITL and UCIMT to really improve basic instruction and find innovative solutions to identified problems. I’m proud of our work in developing the online Masters in Accounting degree, but more proud of the instructional design and technology support team members who worked directly with the School of Business and Accounting faculty to make this dream a reality. Their work was stellar! The introduction of WEB-enabled courses, of “blended” courseware that take advantage of varied learning styles, the gleam in the eye of instructors when they finally say “I enjoy teaching this way, I enjoy using technologies that are effective,” all of that is satisfying after some 29+ years at this institution. More so, I truly believe, in the not to distant future, that all the technologies we currently deploy and employ will simply become transparent, expected rather than celebrated, and we’ll continue to concentrate on good pedagogy. That is still my ideal; that technology becomes but one more tool in the box of solutions for providing learners with learning experiences that are truly life changing.

Dr. Barker:
As Dick observes, the joy in working in a support area is the pleasure of seeing others being successful, of turning a corner in their understanding, and coming back for more. We have provided many with a strong pedagogical understanding of how to develop instructional material and it is with great delight that we hear of them applying sound principles in subsequent coursework.

In the delivery area of new ‘hi-tech’ or ‘smart’ classrooms we have seen significant changes in faculty attitudes. The teaching environment is changing and simple didactic delivery is either not acceptable to current students or is seen by the instructors as less than appropriate with the available technology. So faculty are experimenting – and enjoying it. Those with no or basic technological backgrounds are learning things that they never would have imagined. New faculty are starting their careers with great instructional expectations for themselves, knowing the challenges of balancing research time with teaching, and older colleagues are taking up the classroom challenge in a truly admirable way. Our lunchtime seminars are almost always oversubscribed and those pertaining to technology use are often offered twice a semester. Our instructors have bought into the technological possibilities. Our job is to help them use the technology properly and at the right times.

Dr. Saba:
How do you see the role of Uconn, regionally, and nationally? Is distance education going to the project the university beyond its current sphere of influence?

Mr. Gorham:
Our approach to distance education has, thus far, been a nuanced one, targeted at the needs of our students and faculty. We have been engaged in some form of DL for some 30 years. Fred, you produced telecourses, live, for simultaneous delivery to our 5 regional campuses, when you were on staff at UCIMT in the 80’s. Our efforts today are influenced by the demographics of our State and the realization, even with 2.3 billion dollars in capital and enhanced scholarly funding, that we perhaps can’t ever build facilities to meet the increasing demands for access to our campuses and programs. As but one example, we house 75% of our students on campus, the highest residency rate in the country for like institutions. But this fall, we were still short of space. Likewise, we desperately need, and will build, more classrooms, but that is a zero-sum game at some point.

I don’t think we have, or ever will, engage in DL activities simply for the sake of saying that we can. Rather, I think we’ll continue to look at opportunities that make sense in the context of realizing the institutions core mission. Further innovation, applying a blended approach to in-class and on-line experiences, may well continue to define our approach.

I do think that UConn has the potential to have a national and international reach, but that reach should be determined by a better understanding of whom we want to serve and why.

Dr. Barker:
I think that we will continue to expand our quality on-line activities but over a wider range of disciplines. Currently we span from Fine Arts through Liberal Arts to Business but there are huge opportunities in the areas of Agriculture and Engineering. I foresee a greater expansion in the undergraduate programs but more exploration into the graduate niche markets. We will not compete just for the sake of having a product in a certain area but will support the needs as they arise – as in the expected case of expansion into high school coop programs – and promote the expertise of the faculty outside the University.

In this vein, we plan to increase our television studio capabilities, link then into appropriate classrooms and theatres and feed a new uplink to provide a UConn presence for discipline-specific forums and University-wide outreach.

Dr. Saba:
What are some of your future plans for technology development, instructional design and distance


Mr. Gorham:
I’ll defer to Keith, as I will retire from UConn in late June, grateful to have had a career that has been, at once, delightful and ever challenging. I trust that we will continue to invest in our instructional design program and in engaging faculty in the art and science of teaching. I remain both intrigued and excited by the technologies we use today and those that we will deploy tomorrow. That said, I was similarly intrigued some 35 years ago by the emergence of video disc systems and other technologies that now take up space in museums! This profession, one that I love, has always been about people; students, faculty and administrators who share the common goal of striving for excellence in all that we are charged to do. That, I trust, will never change.

Dr. Barker:
Technology in all aspects of University life is becoming more pervasive. We expect to be delivering communication and instructional components through a wireless environment throughout much of the campus and I expect more technologies to converge and to be more transparent and easier to use by all. Faculty will need to become more proficient and conversant with newer technologies, willing to build them into sound pedagogies, and be more flexible and versatile in delivery methodologies. There will have to be accepting of the larger role of partners such as teaching assistants and adjunct professors and a willingness to break away from the constraints of 50-minute classes and 14-week semesters. Blended approaches will become commonplace and, again, the classroom straightjacket has to be broken.

With the increasing use and provision of technology there is an inherent need for respect for that which is provided. No support system comes without cost and if it is perceived to be free then it is often treated with disregard. Student expectations, with an increasingly technological background, are going to expect more access and involvement with technology. This, again, comes with a cost to the University in infrastructure, staff, technician, and faculty time.

Our slogan “Pedagogy before Technology” comes back to mind. We are educators foremost and providers of the technology secondly. If the technology fails at times, and it will, all instructors need to have a strong pedagogy on which to base a recovery – overnight or on the spot.

Dr. Saba:
Thank you for sharing your insights with our readers.

Dr. Keith Barker is the Associate Vice Provost, and Director of Institute for Teaching & Learning at the University of Connecticut. He recieved his B.Eng. and Ph.D in Electronic and Electrical Engineering from Sheffield University, England. He joined the faculty at the University of Connecticut in 1984.

Dr. Barker began his innovating teaching by constructing a self-paced set of modules for student learning, and using computer- aided assesment to provide immediate feedback to his computer science students. He has also been involved in course and curricula reform both at University of Connecticut and at the national level. As reflected in his numerous awards, Dr. Barker is viewed as an outstanding teacher, a teaching mentor, and a teaching innovator whose ideas have been implemented at a national level.

Mr. Richard L. Gorham served as the Director of the University Center for Instructional Media and Technology since 1986. During his tenure the Center developed as the academic support agency for the University of Connectinut. The mission of the Center is to afford the faculty, staff and students access to information technologies that will support and enhance their ability to teach, learn, conduct research and provide service to the citizens of Connecticut.