Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings Contents ]

Implementing IT at an Australian university: Implications for university leaders

Lina Macchiusi and Suzanne Trinidad
Faculty of Education
Curtin University of Technology
    Growing pressure is being placed upon educational institutions as students, employers and government look at the economic, demographic and technological environments of the present, expecting them to have the answers for the future. Many institutions are turning to information technology for these answers. A major concern by these institutions is the lack of useful implementation models. This paper will discuss some of the preliminary results of the first phase of a Doctoral study which involved surveying the academic teaching population at Curtin University of Technology and identifying their use of information technology in their teaching and learning. University leaders who are attempting to turn to information technology for answers to the demands of future tertiary teaching need to be acutely aware of providing the most effective strategies to promote such learning environments. Listening to the needs and concerns of those directly involved in the process appears to be a crucial element in adopting information technology.
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It is well recognised that Australian society has now truly entered into the 'Information Age', an era characterised by the electronic transmission of information. Such technologies have brought to the forefront educational concepts such as 'flexible modes of delivery', 'open learning', 'lifelong learning', 'virtual classrooms' and 'institutions without walls'. Although traditional technologies such as print, radio, television still exist, newer technologies involving audio and video tapes, computers, computer based learning packages, interactive video and multimedia, audiographic communication systems and video conferencing, have now surfaced in our universities. Over the past decade teaching staff at Australian universities have been using information technology in a number of different ways. Such initiatives include word processing of course outlines and articles for publication, utilising spreadsheets as electronic mark books, communicating with colleagues via email, accessing online information resources and delivering courses via the Internet. A number of successful courses and projects using innovative information technologies have been developed by many universities, often through special funding (eg. CAUT, CUTSD).

Innovation uptake

One well known model concerning the diffusion of educational innovations has been based on the work of Rogers (1995). He identifies categories of innovation uptake from high level through to low level - innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Under this model for significant change to occur, a 'critical mass' of individuals need to have adopted and implemented a given innovation (Green & Gilbert, 1995; Deden, 1998; Rogers, 1998). This 'critical mass' occurs when enough individuals have adopted the innovation so that the innovation's further rate of adoption becomes self sustaining. According to Rogers (1998), the key category is the 'early adopters' cohort as this group can subsequently trigger the movement to a 'critical mass' of adopters. The literature suggests that this can be a slow and in many cases, a painful process (Candiotti & Clarke, 1998).

In addition to these 'critical mass' factors, the pedagogical forces that have driven the push for universities to adopt and incorporate information technologies include:

With such obvious pedagogical benefits the question must be asked: Why haven't these new and powerful technologies permeated to a greater extent? The literature reveals a variety of factors that have contributed to the lack of adoption and effective use of information technologies at the tertiary level by teaching staff:

University planning

Curtin University's attempt to come to grips with this problem, initially created an awareness of those changes that needed to take place in order to realign themselves effectively with the 'Information Age'. The major question however, facing most educational institutions such as Curtin University, is how can this best be achieved? Curtin University has embarked on this challenge by devising a comprehensive information technology strategic plan - Information Technology at Curtin 1998-2003: IT Strategic Plan, 1998 - to compliment the University's vision statement. The vision statement driving these changes specifically states the mission as follows:
The search for innovative applications of technology to educational purposes and other social needs, emphasising continuous improvement (Curtin Vision, Mission and Goals, 1999).

The study

One of the main purposes of the larger study on which this paper is based is to ultimately develop an effective model and associated strategies for implementing information technology into teaching and learning at an Australian university. The research is also attempting to identify and characterise the transformation processes adopted across a university. The focus of this particular paper is to share the results of some of the preliminary findings of the survey data of this larger study.

Preliminary findings of the survey data

The larger study comprised six stages of which some of the outcomes of stage two are reported here. A questionnaire (the Curtin University Information Technology Survey, CUITS) was sent to the teaching staff at Curtin University (N=715) with a return rate of 54%. The primary purpose of this survey was to establish baseline data with regards to the teaching staff's use of Information Technology (IT) in their teaching and learning. Table 1 represents the staff profile derived from this data.

Table 1: Summary profile of respondents (N=384)

Age30 - 39
40 - 49
50 - 59
Years at the
0 - 5 years
6 - 10 years
11 - 15 years
16 - over
IT trainingNone/self taught70.3%
PositionSenior Research Fellow
Associate Lecturer
Senior Lecturer
Assoc/Prof and Professor

The survey was made available in hardcopy as well as electronic form via the Internet [http://www.iinet.net.au/~humbert/survey.html (accessed 22 Dec 99)]. Table 2 represents the IT use by the teaching staff sample.

Table 2: Summary of Information Technology use

Computer useHome
Frequency of computer use Frequently - home
Frequently - work
Internet accessHome
Frequency of Internet use Frequently - home
Frequently - work
Email accessHome
Frequency of email useFrequently - home
Frequently - work
29.9% (37.8% not at all)

One of the questions involved asking the respondents to rate the degree to which they had integrated IT into their own teaching and learning practices, based on Rogers' (1995) categories. Figure 1 reflects this rating.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Individual rating within school/department

These percentages are quite similar to those outlined in Rogers' (1995) model. He found in general that, the spread of the population when adopting any particular innovation was: laggards (16%), late majority (34%), early majority (34%), early adopters (13.5%), and the innovators (2.5%).

In order to determine an accurate and more detailed account of their IT use, the respondents were also asked to indicate the type of software they used to prepare for their teaching, that they used during their teaching and the software they expected their students to use (Table 3).

Table 3: Types of software and their uses

Types of software To prepare for teachingDuring teaching sessionsExpect students to use
Wordprocessing 95.1%18.8%74.2%
Spreadsheet 50.8%12.5%32.3%
Database 11.2%2.6%6.5%
Statistics 18.8%6.5%16.7%
Communication - email 67.7%10.2%45.1%
Communication - video conf 6.5%3.6%2.3%
Web browsers 73.7%15.4%51.3%
Internet tools 21.9%7.0%14.1%
Presentation software 56.0%34.4%23.7%
Desktop publishing 10.7%3.6%3.9%
Compilers 6.0%2.1%5.5%
CD-ROMs 34.4%10.2%19.3%
Courseware 4.4%3.1%3.1%
FTP 14.3%2.9%6.3%
Other 9.4%7.0%8.3%

Figure 2 addresses the question of how individuals rated the issues of technical support, Internet access, integrating IT into teaching and learning, development of online courses and replacing aging hardware/software.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Technology issues currently confronting staff at work

Other data obtained by the survey provided more detailed insights into the respondents' thinking on these matters. For example, Figure 2 shows technical support to be the most important issue confronting staff (30.5%) and the more detailed response reflected in Table 4 shows that the statement I'd be likely to use technology more in my teaching if I got more technical support, was strongly supported by 29.7% (S/Agree 29.7%).

Table 4: Attitude toward technology issues

I'd be likely to use technology more in my teaching if I: AgreeS/Agree
Got more technical support. 32%29.7%
Had access to more up to date equipment. 25.8%22.4%
Had up to date information on best usage in my area. 36.7%22.1%

Other important issues identified through this key attitude question are noted in Table 5.

Table 5: Attitude toward technology issues

I'd be likely to use technology more in my teaching if I: AgreeS/Agree
Had more time to learn about using technology effectively. 31%43.21%
Received more technology training. 31%20.8%
Was given some incentive to do so. 26.3%22.7%
Had access to more computers in my classes. 23.2%23.2%
Felt more comfortable with the technology itself. 23.4%16.7%
Saw a proven need for technology in my teaching area. 24.2%20.1%

The teaching staff were also asked whether they had any personal goals regarding integrating IT into their teaching, and if so what were they. Sixty-five percent of the respondents said that they had personal IT goals and stated them. This paper doesn't allow the scope to comment specifically on those individual goals, however, what is pertinent here were the responses to how the University could help achieve these goals. The top five responses in order were:

  1. Access to better and up to date equipment.
  2. The need for more time to learn and practise new IT skills.
  3. Information technology support.
  4. Time release from teaching and other administration duties.
  5. Availability of free IT courses.

Implications for leaders

Overall the survey data revealed that the teaching staff at this university reflected those proportions found in the innovation uptake categories of Rogers' (1995) model. Being able to identify teaching staff in these categories within the university provides a valuable insight into the process of developing strategies that will encourage a 'critical mass' to occur. As previously mentioned, the earlier adopters can 'trigger' such movement to a 'critical mass' of adopters. One key strategy to assist this goal would be to target this group and encourage them to share their ideas and skills with others in their teaching area.

The research to date shows that university leaders need to have planned strategies in place to assist in the challenge of adopting and integrating technologies into their teaching and learning environments. Importantly, university leaders need to provide:

The preliminary results of the survey indicates that the teaching staff at Curtin University have adopted IT for many tasks on a personal level but have not utilised it to anywhere near the same extent in their own teaching. Given the view that organisations do not make change - people do (Fullan, 1991, Farmer, 1990), university leaders who wish to share their particular vision with others, need to involve and listen to the needs of those who are directly involved with the change.


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Please cite as: Macchiusi, L. and Trinidad, S. (2000). Implementing IT at an Australian university: Implications for university leaders. In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/macchiusi.html

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