Trapped by fear of new technology

14th June 1996 at 01:00
Fear of computers and technology haunts most college lecturers and prevents them from supporting their courses with the latest software developments, researchers believe.

Staff feel the techniques they were familiar with have been superseded and lack the confidence to learn new ones.

Their fears emerged at the first of 15 regional information technology workshops at Hammersmith and West London College. The Further Education Development Agency, organised the workshops to uncover problems and devise a national staff development programme.

An estimated Pounds 85 million was identified by Professor Gordon Higginson's committee of inquiry earlier this year as the minimum cost of upgrading computer management and curriculum support systems in colleges.

But the workshops have revealed dangers in focusing on technology before training. "The danger of stepping up our technology programme is that we could put in the world's fastest gizmo and no one would know how to use it," said Stephen Reid, head of IT at Westminster College, London. "There are the technology wizards who storm right in, but the bread-and- butter teachers get left behind."

Lecturers are also nervous that if they get sucked into the world of technology, courses will be taken over by computer programmes to such an extent that they will be redundant, said IT managers.

"Teachers are worried that their role would be pointless," says Susan Clayton, professional development officer at Brighton College of Technology.

It was accepted that students' computer skills are often more advanced than those of their lecturers, who are frightened of experimenting with new technology.

But the extent of the fears of unfamiliarity and the redundancy threat were more fundamental than suggested in the Higginson report.

The lack of resources for staff to try out new resources only encouraged resistance, managers said. Howard Lincoln, senior programme officer at the National Council of Educational Technology says that unlike staff, students are keen to try out software, where it is available.

"Students say they like using computers because they allow them to study at their own pace, in their own time and they never get angry if they ask to go over a subject again."

An overwhelming majority of IT managers attending the workshop said their college's highest priority would be for all staff to have basic technology skills.

"Lecturers should be made to use computers on a daily basis to boost their confidence," says Mr Lincoln.

The national staff development programme will be financed by the FEFC top slicing college money and is the first of the Higginson recommendations to be put in place.

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