Educational Technology & Society 2(4) 1999
ISSN 1436-4522

Discriminating factors in faculty use of instructional technology in higher education

Thomas H. Spotts
Assistant Professor
Department of Industry and Technology
Ball State University
Muncie, IN 47306 USA
Tel: (1)-765-285-5913


While technology and computers dramatically affect our lives, their growth in education for instructional use has been less dramatic. At the higher education level, technology use is frequent in administration and research, but less in instruction. During 1995/1996 faculty members at an U.S. midwestern university were interviewed and asked about their instructional technology use. The interview results indicate that a variety of factors are involved in a faculty member's decision to use or not use instructional technologies. The content factors mentioned (learner, faculty, technology, and environment) were not as important as a faculty memberís attitude and the value they perceived in technology use. To encourage the use of instructional technologies in higher education, technologies must be convenient and beneficial to the faculty member. They must provide a benefit to the faculty member that they have identified as important to them. The instructional technology must help the faculty member do a better job of what they define as important.

Keywords: Higher education faculty, Instructional technology use


Digital computers have been on college campuses now for three decades or more. With their arrival came the expectation that new instructional technologies would revolutionize teaching and learning in American higher education (Gilbert, 1994; Geoghegan, 1994b). The picture envisioned was one where the individual needs and abilities of the students would regulate the pace of the learning. The faculty members would be mentors rather than lecturers, students would learn by exploration and discovery, and access to education would be unlimited (Geoghegan, 1994b). Contrary to predictions and isolated examples of individual success with instructional technology in the classroom, technology is not being regularly integrated into instruction (Geoghegan, 1994b; Green, 1994; OTA, 1995). Why do some faculty members use instructional technology while others do not?

A trend toward technology in education is evident in higher education, as shown by the increased investments. Fueled by the great promise of computers and new technologies, higher education has made a large investment in electronics technology. In 1994 it was estimated that the total outlay for computer-related goods and services in higher education was almost $70 billion over the preceding 15 years (Geoghegan, 1994b). Of that amount, $20 billion was estimated to have gone to the support of teaching and learning: for hardware, software and wiring to support PC-based teaching laboratories and student "clusters," for classroom and residence hall networking, for individual and institutional purchases of computers used in teaching and learning (Geoghegan, 1994b). The predictions at the time were that American colleges and universities would spend $6 billion on information technologies alone, with $1.75 billion going to support the instructional mission (Geoghegan, 1994b). According to Green and Gilbert (1995), the money allocated was sufficient to connect 63% of all faculty and administrators in higher education to campus networks by the end of 1994.

While the investment in technology is there, faculty use in the classroom remains questionable. Data from the 1993 USC Survey of Desktop Computing in Higher Education suggested that while demand for technology resources was strong, campuses did not expand their investments to create the materials (Green, 1994). A survey of faculty members at a mid-sized midwestern university indicated few of the university faculty members actively used instructional technologies in their teaching. Fewer than 40% of the faculty surveyed had good to expert knowledge of or experience with newer instructional technologies and less than 20% suggested they used them weekly (Spotts & Bowman, 1995a). In a report published by IBM Academic consulting, Geoghegan (1994a) suggests only a small portion (less than 5%) of courses taught at the time of the report use information technology. Albright and Graf (1992) suggested that while faculty members are becoming more comfortable with using microcomputers, instructional use of computers remains minimal. In spite of attempts to introduce technology into our education system, little change in the basic acts of classroom teaching has occurred (Snider, 1992). While technology is an integral part of daily life, higher education classrooms do not appear to reflect these phenomena.

The Problem

Despite the greater availability of technology at reasonable prices, a growing familiarity with technology by faculty, and what seems large investments in technology for student and faculty use by the colleges and universities (Geoghegan, 1994b), instructional technology is not being used in the classrooms of higher education at the level of early expectations (Albright & Graf, 1992; DeLoughry, 1994; Geoghegan, 1994b; Green, 1994; Spotts & Bowman, 1993a).

This paper summarizes the results of a series of interviews with faculty at a mid-sized university in the Midwest during the 1995/1996 academic year. The interviews were conducted to help understand why, with technology seemingly available everywhere and embedded firmly in the universityís environment, some faculty members used it in classroom teaching while others did not. Faculty members were asked a series of questions about use of technology in their teaching. The questions were based on a model suggesting five variables (the learner, faculty, technology, environment, and perceived value) influence a faculty memberís use of technology in the classroom. It was hoped this would provide information beneficial for faculty development offices encouraging greater use of technology.


The skepticism of higher education faculty to new technology is by no means a new phenomenon or restricted to university level. Aversion to change or resistance to the adoption of technology has a long history in education. Even the medium of writing was resisted when it was introduced to the educational system of ancient Greece (Carey, 1991). In the 'Republic', Plato argues forcefully for banning poets from society and in favor of the written word in the then oral-based education system of Greece. Plato referred to the poets we picture--the artists of rhythmical and metrical language of feeling--but also the bureaucracy that maintained the oral system of education and knowledge (Carey, 1991) which was resisting change to the long standing system of oratory dominance (Havelock, 1964). At other times, questions were raised about the use of the abacus and the slide rule weakening the mind, much as some people question the use of calculators and computers (Snider, 1992).

The use of new instructional technologies is a multidimensional problem, as is the introduction of any innovation to education. It encompasses the possible use of new or revised materials (curriculum, resources), the possible use of new teaching approaches (teaching strategies, activities), and the possible alteration of beliefs (pedagogical assumptions and theories underlying new technologies) (Fullan, 1991). Rogers (1995) suggests multiple areas that influence the adoption of innovations (technologies in this case) including social system, the innovation, and communications channels. Survey data also supports the suggestion that a faculty memberís decision to use technology in teaching is influenced by many variables (Spotts & Bowman, 1993, 1995).

The interview questions used for this paper were based on the premise that five primary areas (variables) influence the process by which a higher education faculty member becomes aware of, evaluates, and decides to use or not to use a newer instructional technology. Survey research and the literature reviewed suggested that these factors are influential in determining technology use in the classroom (Evans, 1982; Fullan, 1991; Rogers,1995; Spotts & Bowman, 1993, 1995). This does not suggest these to be the only influential factors, but to develop the questionnaire, these five items were used.

Adoption or hesitation to adopt new instructional technologies by faculty involves a complex system involving multiple variables, as represented by these five. Each use scenario has a different combination of the components that may account for level of use. For example, in a large class this decision may be influenced by the professorís technology experience, the receptivity of the students, the availability of resources, the technical support, compatibility of the technology with the subject matter, and the ease with which the technology may be used. Whether any individual faculty memberís situation involves one or many factors is dependent on the faculty's individual and organizational context and holds the key as to the outcome of the use of technologies. Like Fullan's (1991) observation about the reality of educational change, the reality of instructional technology use is in the relationship between the new instructional technologies and the faculty member's individual and organizational contexts and their personal histories.


The interview questions asked were categorized by the five primary areas mentioned earlier; learner, faculty, technology, environment and perceived value. In addition to the five areas, general demographic questions were asked at the beginning and summary questions at the end of the interview. A structured interview approach was used with open-ended opportunities for response. This provided an approach to analyze individual faculty members' accounts of their perceptions of factors related to instructional technology use. Their own words describe how they interpret events, their attitudes and beliefs, and suggest motivation for their actions.

The faculty sample interviewed was selected from the 760 full-time teaching faculty members at a mid-sized midwestern university. The university is a public, Carnegie classification Doctorate-Granting I institution enrolling approximately 26, 000 students with approximately 25 per cent at the graduate level. The participating faculty members were respondents to a 1995 Office of Faculty Development survey on faculty use of instructional technology that consented to follow-up interviews. They were classified into three groups: high, medium, and low-level users of instructional technology, based on the survey responses.

Participants were interviewed and responses recorded. The responses were reviewed for similarities and patterns, seeking information or differences that may indicate why some use technology more than others. Responses to questions from each area were grouped by similarity of topics mentioned and the frequency of the similar responses was tallied. Frequently mentioned items were also coded positive or negative to assist in reducing the data and searching for patterns. The responses to questions in each area including the introductory and summary questions were then evaluated, seeking any indication of differences between the levels of users.


The interview data was collected from a limited population sample and interpreted in a qualitative, non-statistical fashion. Coding and frequency counting, though, was used in searching for patterns while interpreting the interview responses. Qualitative research typically permits a deeper understanding of why behavior or action may occur, but it does not permit making inferences of broad applicability from limited cases. Because the interview responses were collected from faculty members at a single Midwestern university during a specific time, the circumstances and general atmosphere of the university influenced the perceptions of these factors by those interviewed. Factors unique to this university and time make this study atypical and caution is warranted when making any generalizations, no matter how limited.

Though the data is from a limited population, it helps describe what is occurring with instructional technology use in higher education. With so much technology seemingly available, why are some faculty resisting using it? The information can be used by those who design instruction about technologies for faculty and also be helpful trying to bridge the gap between the early adopters of technology in the classroom and the mainstream faculty who have not yet totally embraced the use of technology in the classroom.


The interview results did not suggest the differences between the levels of users that one might expect. The following summarizes the responses of the different level users.

High level users. High users showed important factors by the frequency with which they mentioned specific topics. Starting with the general introduction and demographic questions during the beginning of the interview, interest in technology was the most frequently mentioned topic. In the questions about learners, students were mentioned frequently, but high users talked more about students overall than they did about their specific skills. When talking about themselves, high use faculty members talked most about their teaching style and technology use. Attitude and time were the most frequently mentioned topics for high users in the technology category, while support was in the environmental category. In the summary category, E-mail was the most frequently mentioned topic by the high level users. Of all the frequently mentioned topics, only time had a negative value.

Medium level users. Medium users frequently referred to students during the general questions. Like the high users, medium users talked a lot about the students and focused on general aspects. In the Faculty category, medium users talked the most about teaching style, followed by personal style and technology use. Again, attitude and time were the most frequently mentioned topics in the technology category. Like high users, support was the most frequently discussed topic for the medium users in the environment category. In the summary category, politics and learners were the most frequently mentioned topics. For the medium level users, of all the frequently mentioned items student general topics, time, support, and politics were all mentioned in a negative context.

Low level users. Low users mentioned students and availability most frequently in the general category. When discussing students, the low-level users, like the others, also mentioned students overall most frequently, more than specific skills. When answering the questions in the faculty category, technology use was the most frequently mentioned topic by the low-level users. During the technology category questions, low level users discussed attitude most frequently. When discussing the working environment, low level users mentioned support and politics most frequently. In the summary category, low level users spoke the most about time and E-mail. Of all the frequently mentioned topics above, low level users were negative about availability, attitude, politics, and time.

The influence of the selected interview areas (learner, faculty, technology, environment, and perceived value) was not as important as expected. The following summarizes the results.

Learner. There were very slight and subtle differences between high and low userís perceptions about learners. Few faculty members mentioned changes in the learners over the past five years that influenced their technology use.

Faculty. There were very few differences between high and low user perceptions regarding their status and role as faculty members. Faculty members at all levels of technology use talked about interaction and discussion, getting away from strictly lecture-based delivery and involving the students more in the classroom, but little was said that differentiated high and low users. Most of the faculty members, at all levels of technology use, were encouraging more student participation in the learning process.

Technology. High and low users had few differences in their perceptions about technology, but differences in attitude toward support were the most obvious. Though this is an environment or working condition, it was a factor in shaping attitudes toward technology. Attitudes influenced how readily faculty members considered using an instructional technology. The major difference seen between high and low level users concerning technology was that even when frustrated, high level users appeared to maintain a more optimistic attitude about technology.

Environment. There were some differences between high and low users' perceptions about their working environment. One factor in the environment is the policies of the university that affect the promotion and tenure decisions of departments and colleges. This affects how faculty members must spend their time and what they perceive as most valuable to them. This can then affect time and effort that goes toward trying new instructional technologies, especially if efforts in this area are not recognized in promotion and tenure reviews. If a faculty member does not think they will be rewarded for working on starting new technologies in instruction, they will be less likely to work on them.

Other areas in the environment include physical and emotional support. Typically, high users perceived better support and had less dissatisfaction with conditions than low users. If faculty members do not get support and equipment to simplify instruction with new technologies, they will not use them.

Perceived value. The most evident factor differentiating high from low users was the perceived value or benefit from using instructional technology. It was the one consistent thread running throughout the different sections of the interview. While the other areas represented the appropriate content to examine in the interviews, responses by faculty failed to indicate readily evident reasons to differentiate high users of technology from low users. It was the perceived value faculty attached to the areas that provided a way to differentiate users. High users, though negative about some of the same issues that discouraged low users, always seemed to perceive enough benefit to justify using a technology or to find an area of interest to them where technology was beneficial. While low users talked about benefits that may be offered by technology use, it was frequently not enough to overcome barriers to use that resulted from factors in the component areas.

Those faculty members using technologies were ones motivated to because they saw value in doing it. Whether it saved them time, improved communications with students, or allowed them to do something they valued, they perceived a benefit to using it. Sometimes it was implied that time savings allowed them to do more research, which is what they had to do as a junior faculty member. In the end, it was what the technology offered them.

Changing to the use of an instructional technology requires some effort by the faculty member to make it work. Generally, a faculty member will not consider change unless it is a better way of doing something. Many faculty members have the attitude that it must be better than what I am currently doing for consideration. It is this perceived value that is necessary if a faculty member is going to overcome any inhibiting factors that may be present.

In summary, the interviews did not indicate characteristic differences in how the frequent and infrequent users of technology in instruction reacted to the variable areas questioned. However, the interviews did indicate differences in attitudes, as reflected by the positive and negative statements. The faculty memberís attitudes and perceived value or benefit to using a technology were the major differentiating factors that came out of the interviews. The questions on the areas of learner, faculty, technology, and environment though, provided a useful way to reveal some of these attitudes and perception.


If instructors are expected to use instructional technologies they need support, whether it be technical support for the equipment and facilities or training support and time allowance for implementing what they have learned. Equally important is recognition by the academic community and promotion/tenure processes that effort expended toward instructional technology use is important. Some key points that came from the interviews include the following:


Instructors need support in equipment availability and facilities. Many faculty members interviewed expressed desire to use presentation software, but were unable to obtain equipment or facilities to take full advantage of the technology. If equipment had to be transported or obtained for use in the classroom, it was often considered not worth the effort or additional time necessary. As one faculty member mentioned, "the university encourages you to use the technology, and then there are only three classrooms on campus where you can utilize the presentations you have developed." Another faculty member mentioned similar problems. She stated "I have to borrow a laptop and LCD panel from another faculty member, set it up, and then if there is a glitch, I have to look for the faculty member." When asked what would encourage her to use more instructional technologies, she said, "If it were easier, . . . more support." Most faculty members will not use equipment or materials unless they are readily available and therefore easy to use. If an instructor has to spend two hours to arrange for, transport, set up, and take down equipment for one 50-minute lecture, they are not likely to use the technology. However, if equipment is readily available to develop instructional material and classroom facilities are available for using the material, an instructor might be motivated to use the technology. Going into a class with just a disk is easier than having to set up a computer and projection unit for 10 minutes of your lecture.


Instructors need greater support in training also. Courses are offered that introduce a technology or software, but it is typically just the mechanics on how to operate the software. Instructors need help in using the technology effectively in teaching, not just directions on how it works. One faculty member expressed their frustration with the training by mentioning " Iíve gone to those (university training classes offered on technology use) for years, . . . they were very simplified . . . you just couldnít solve your problems there." Another faculty member expressed that the training did not necessarily address what the instructors needed, "I only want to know what I need to know . . . donít tell me extraneous stuff . . .let me grow in to it." Knowing the basics of a technology does not insure effective use in instruction. Instructors need help to see how to use it in the classroom or in their working situation.


Recognition for work using instructional technologies in developing instructional materials is important. One point that was evident through out the interviews was that if a technology was to be used it must be perceived as of benefit or value to the instructor. Promotion and tenure considerations determine this for many faculty members. If an activity is not recognized for tenure and promotion, it is of little use to some faculty, especially in terms of job security. Many faculty members implied that their time could be better spent pursuing the things the university emphasized as necessary for tenure or promotion. Untenured faculty members especially stated that time was better spent on research and publications than in trying to create and implement new instructional materials using instructional technologies. As one high user, a tenured full professor, said, "Theyíre busier than I am (referring to new faculty members) . . . theyíve got to get instruction ready, theyíve got a research agenda for tenure . . . public service . . . what theyíre doing in the department . . . they canít be floaters . . . and expect to get good reviews." His implication was that newer faculty must address the things the university emphasizes as important for promotion and tenure if they expect to keep their position. Promotion and tenure review boards often do not recognize instructional excellence or development and implementation of instructional materials utilizing new technologies as important. Because of the demands on a newer faculty member it is hard to justify time for training with new technologies and development of new instructional materials using these technologies. A medium level user, again a tenured faculty member, was more blunt by implying that it would be stupid for new faculty members to do anything other than work on research and publications. Until university promotion and tenure review processes recognize work with instructional technologies in developing materials, there is little immediate benefit or value for faculty members seeking tenure or promotion.


Time is an important issue to all people. Throughout the interviews, references to time were made and how important it is that people have time to do some of these things with instructional technologies. Time is needed to train with new technologies, develop new instructional materials with technologies, and implement technologies. Most people seem to guard their time and are reluctant to give up more time than they have already. One faculty member emphasized this in reference to training by saying " the university never says this is important enough that weíre going to take you out of this instructional role for this period of time and give you the training . . . Industry does it all the time . . . university always looks at it as to do on our own time . . . in addition to what we are doing already." In addition to time for training, faculty members need time to experiment with new technologies, share what they have learned with others, and work the bugs out of their materials once they implement them. Other faculty members marveled at the time saving potential of newer instructional technologies but were hesitant to take the time to learn the new software or process. Again, time relates to what the value or benefit is derived from using the technology. If a faculty member sees a benefit they are more likely to invest the time.

Conclusion: Perceived Value

Faculty members need to realize an advantage or value to using an instructional technology. Even if equipment and facilities are available, these will not be used if faculty members do not see a benefit to using the technologies. Administrations must recognize and reward outstanding instruction and the development of instructional materials. If the faculty members perceive no value, such as recognition in promotion and tenure, instructional technology use will be limited. Faculty members are only going to use what works for them, does not usurp their authority, and is productive. Technologies that are perceived as improving student learning, enhancing instruction, or making the instructorís job less demanding will be considered by faculty if barriers to use are not insurmountable. If it is not better than what they are doing currently, faculty members will likely not consider an instructional technology. Faculty members will embrace what solves problems for them.

Training programs need to encourage faculty members to bring in ideas and show faculty members how improved delivery, easier record keeping, or new communications can enhance learning and help make them more efficient and effective faculty members. Faculty development programs and training should not only focus on the equipment or software, but also on helping faculty members develop materials and effectively use the technology. Programs need to show faculty members how they can potentially benefit from using instructional technology. If they cannot see direct application that is benefiting them, the lesson is lost. If a university wants to encourage instructional technology use they should have a clear plan to support this with training on use and effective implementation, equipment, technical support, and recognition of the work.

Survey research and the literature reviewed indicated that learners, faculty, technology, and environment should be influential areas in determining instructional technology use. After assessing the study interview data, it was found that changes in these components did not adequately differentiate high and low users based on the study model. Attitude seemed more influential in technology use.

These areas did though, provide a means of assessing positive and negative attitudes of the faculty members. However, positive and negative views are developed so many different ways that it is hard to track why or how a faculty member came to feel the way they do. Something different is needed to assess attitude. Future research should focus on identifying factors that are influenced by attitudes, such as actions or behaviors. How faculty members perceive certain factors, both the direction (positively or negatively) and degree (how positive or negative), may provide an assessment of attitude. This attitude assessment may provide a measure of disposition toward technologies and may then indicate likely use.


  • Albright, M. J. & Graf, D. L. (1992). Instructional technology and the faculty member. In Albright, M. J. & Graf, D. L. (Eds.) Teaching in the information age: The role of educational technology, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 7-16 (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 51).
  • Carey, J. (1991). Plato at the keyboard: Telecommunications, technology, and education policy. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 514, 11-21.
  • DeLoughry, T. J. (1994). EDUCOM Conference focuses on ways to improve teaching. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 9, A21.
  • Evans, R. I. (1982). Resistance to innovations in information technology in higher education: A social psychological perspective. In B. S. Sheehan (Ed.) Information technology: Innovations and applications, San Fransico: Jossey-Bass, 89-103.
  • Fullan, M.G. (1991). The new meaning of educational change (2nd ed.), New York: The Teachers College Press.
  • Geoghegan, W. (1994a). What ever happened to instructional technology? Reaching mainstream faculty, Norwalk, CT: IBM Academic Consulting.
  • Geoghegan, W. (1994b). Stuck at the barricades: Can information technology really enter the mainstream of teaching an learning. AAHE Bulletin, 47 (1), 13-16.
  • Gilbert, S. W. (1994). If it takes 40 or 50 years, can we still call it a revolution? Educational Record, 75 (3), 19-28.
  • Green, K. C. & Eastman, S. (1994). Campus Computing 1993: The USC National Survey of Desktop Computing in Higher Education, Los Angeles: University of Southern California.
  • Green, K. C. & Gilbert, S. W. (1995). Academic productivity and technology. Academe, 81 (1), 19-25.
  • Havelock, E. A. (1963). Preface to Plato, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.), New York: The Free Press.
  • Snider, R.C. (1992). The machine in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan, 74, 316-323.
  • Spotts, T. H. & Bowman, M. A. (1993a). Faculty use of instructional technologies: A survey report. Unpublished report to University Computing and Media Services, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
  • Spotts, T. H. & Bowman, M. A. (1993b). Increasing faculty use of instructional technology: Barriers and incentives. Educational Media International, 30, 199-205.
  • Spotts, T. H. & Bowman, M. A. (1995a). Faculty use of instructional technologies: A 1995 survey report. Unpublished report to University Computing and Media Services, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
  • Spotts, T. H. & Bowman, M. A. (1995b). Faculty use of instructional technologies in higher education. Educational Technology, 35,(2), 56-64.
  • U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (1995). Technology & Teaching: Making the connection, OTA-EHR-616. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.