Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Benefits of active participation in pedagogical reform

I'm now wrapping up my fifth year as an assistant professor at California State University, Fresno. For seven of those ten semesters (January 2014–present), I've been part of the DISCOVERe initiative at Fresno State. Our campus just today sent out a call for applications to be part of its fifth cohort of DISCOVERe Faculty Fellows, and here I'll reflect on the costs and benefits of my participation in this program. Although this is most directly applicable to Fresno State faculty, the general thrust is relevant to any teacher who is considering whether to invest time augmenting their courses with mobile technology.

The DISCOVERe Program

Our President, Joseph Castro, had the vision to create classes in which tablet technology was available to the instructor and to every student. The initial cohort of faculty fellows was nominated by College Deans. We were given a tablet and then received professional development on its pedagogical use in the classroom - although as the initial faculty cohort, we were ground-breakers and the first wave of faculty developing best practices for the use of mobile technology in the college classroom. These practices are mainly what I have been writing posts about on this blog.

For courses we designated as DISCOVERe courses, each student received funds to pay for the cost of the required tablet computer. Subsequently, those scholarships were discontinued, at which time Fresno State initiated a tablet loaner program, so that the technology cost would still be nonexistent for all students enrolled in DISCOVERe classes.

The main reason I accepted by Dean's invitation to join DISCOVERe was because I could imagine numerous ways I could improve student engagement when I was assured that every student in my class would have equal access to the internet and to a computer. Since then, main thrusts of my approach to augmenting courses with mobile technology have included:

  • creating authentic experiences for biology students (e.g. exercises that develop information literacy and quantitative reasoning skills using web-based data sources and tools)
  • eco-friendly (electronic instead of paper workflows, improving course management efficiency)
  • reducing the cost of instruction by creating my own course materials and also by using open-access resources instead of textbooks from for-profit publishers


From the faculty perspective, this program is unique because it:

  • is platform agnostic (we essentially take all comers: students can bring existing mobile devices or use school-provided ones)
  • is focused on pedagogy first: this isn't just technology for technology's sake. This is pedagogy driving appropriate use of technology in the classroom
  • allows faculty to decide how to use tablets in their classes. The faculty are the disciplinary experts, so there is no program-wide prescription of how tablets should be used in each DISCOVERe class
  • places emphasis on net cost-neutrality: we strive to offset the technology cost by supporting faculty in:
    • identifying open-access (free) educational materials
    • identifying free tablet apps to use in class, and developing their own educational resources to provide their students
  • Provides tremendous campus resources (including tech support and classroom audio/video services support) to facilitate use of mobile technology by all of the faculty and students involved in DISCOVERe courses
  • also emphasizes faculty alignment their course syllabus (particularly student learning outcomes) with tablet use, including with the SAMR model: to emphasize using tablets to Modify and to Redefine classroom activities to leverage mobile technology


  • Networking: I've made great cross-disciplinary connections with other faculty by being part of this campus-wide initiative
  • Leadership: as an ardent adopter of mobile technology, I've had a number of opportunities for becoming a leader in faculty professional development
    • Travel to present at conferences and to other universities interested in using mobile technologies in courses
    • Opportunities to serve on the DISCOVERe Taskforce and to be the DISCOVERe program Assessment Subcommittee Chair
    • Faculty Cohort Co-Chair in the California State University system's Course Redesign with Techonology program, which provided me with assigned time, professional development funds (including for purchasing technology, captioning videos, and paying for a teaching assistant for my technology-augmented course)
  • Because of my involvement and activities as a leader in the DISCOVERe program led me to receive Fresno State's Provost Award for Innovation in 2016
  • Subsequently, my application to be an Apple Distinguished Educator 2017 was accepted


The main drawback has been that my exposure to mobile technology pedagogy has led me to become more interested in improving my teaching skills and in performing pedagogical research, which has summarily led to my having less time for scholarship as a biologist. Fortunately, at Fresno State, both are valued; this may not be the case at other institutions.

Concluding Perspective

For me, the pros so greatly outweigh any cons that I would not even think twice about whether to join the DISCOVERe program. In general, the opportunity to join like-minded peers to build networks, to operate at the cutting edge of education (developing best practices), and hopefully to improve education for our students cannot be ignored. Beyond those benefits, even just the tangible benefits (improved classroom efficiency, development of resources to leverage in future semesters, professional development funding, professional development in pedagogy and technology, and assigned time) would have been enough to make me sign up again and again!

Now that I'm heading into my sixth year as an Assistant Professor (about to submit my promotion and tenure application), I'm convinced that the networking I've made with colleagues as well as Fresno State administration has undoubtedly strengthened my application, especially with regard to my ability not only to demonstrate my commitment and advances in teaching but also in service.

If you have any questions about getting involved in DISCOVERe at Fresno State (or just in integrated technology into classes), please feel free to contact me! E-mail me: jross (a) or contact me on Twitter: @rossbiology