By Dr. Pelham Mead, D.Ed.
My job listing at Colleges and Universities is called an Instructional Technologist. Originally, the
job was called a Staff Developer in the 1990’s. The demand for more technology created a void
of people to be able to both repair desktop and laptop computers and to be able to teach
educators how to use the software.
Early on Universities learned that you cannot just buy new computers and drop them in
Professors laps and expert them to learn how to use them and the software contained in the
computers. Hence, the development of the Instructional Technologist like myself who can show
Professors how to use their computers in classroom instruction and research and understand
how the various software programs work.
I was fortunate to have worked at several colleges and universities over 12 years that received
Federal funding grants for staff and technology improvement. The majority of the faculty at St.
Johns University, The College of Mount Saint Vincent, and New York University where I worked
funded by grant programs were in the 60’s and 70’s and one in his 80’s.
One faculty member of the Biology department of St. John’s university taught 100 Freshman
non-Biology students on an adjunct professor status. The pass/fail rate in his classes were well
below average for the University. He was recommended by the Biology Department chairmen
to me in the Faculty Training Lab which I was the Senior Instructional Technologist sponsored
by a 2.5-million-dollar five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
When I first met this professor, I was surprised to learn the he was 83 years old and could speak
five different languages. As a standard procedure when I begin working with Senior Faculty
(Over 60) I interview them to determine their needs and technical ability, so I can plan an
individualized tutorial program to match their needs. This Senior Professor was a very likeable
man, but he had no concept of technology. He taught all his classes with chalk and blackboard
in a lecture hall designed for two hundred students. Students at the back of his classes must
have had binoculars to see the writing on the blackboard. He never took any questions in his
class and when the lecture was over he left immediately. I could see this situation was going to
be a challenge. I set up a schedule for us to meet twice a week at 10:00 a.m. I gave him a new
Lenovo Laptop with his name and password on it which I showed him how to use.
The first lesson he forgot to bring his laptop so we used another laptop instead. I tried to show
him how to open the Microsoft Powerpoint program which most younger professors used to
lecture their classes. Powerpoint is a slide show where the Professor can include titles and
information against a graphic or table. He had never seen Powerpoint before, so I showed him
how it worked. We made ten slides and I showed the small show we developed on the
electronic screen we had in the Faculty Development Lab. He was amazed, but thought it was
too entertaining and not educational. I gave him an assignment for the next lesson to make a
small five slide show based on part of any of his Biology lectures and he agreed he would try.
The second lesson the Senior Professor was late to his lesson. He was very late in fact by 30
minutes. I thought he forget his lesson and decided to go to the bathroom while I waited for my
next professor in a few hours. When I entered the men’s bathroom I was shocked to see the
Senior Professor hiding behind the bathroom door. Professor I exclaimed! How are you? Did
you remember you had a technology lesson with me today? Timidly he admitted that he was
afraid to come to his tutorial because he was too old and too stupid to learn computers and
software. It was then that I realized the greatest deterrent to Professors learning computer and
software was FEAR. Professors in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s had skipped the technology
generation. Their strength was in the old-fashioned ways of chalk and blackboard for lectures.
I encouraged the Senior Professor to come to his lesson and I would go slowly with him. He
agreed and followed me back into the Faculty Development lab.
From that point on I was especially sensitive to the age of the Professor in their tutoring
Another Professor who was 72 at the time and taught Latin at St. Johns and was Director of the
Student Honors Program right next to the Faculty Development Lab was enrolled with 12 other
faculty in a “Technology Summer Camp program.” In this program which I created and
organized the professors gave up a week of their time to learn technology on a more
concentrated approach. They came in before 9:00 every morning and coffee and treats were
available for them. On the electronic white board in the background was several samples of
methods of animation in Powerpoint for lectures and how to create educational games during a
lecture to involve student participation. At 12:00 every day we had a catered lunch and social
interaction as I floated around working individually with every professor. By 3:00 everyday they
were done with various projects, games, animation, podcasts, etc. The 72-year-old professor
suddenly burst out the second day of the Technology Summer Camp and began screaming and
shouting he could not do this or that and it was all too difficult. Everyone turned to me to do
something. I tried to escort the 72-year-old professor out of the room to get him to calm down.
After much discussion, I managed to get him to go out into the hallway where we sat down in
two study chairs. “What is going on Professor? I asked.” “This is all really too hard for me. I am
too old. I cannot remember things as well as I used to,” he said. I responded, “You don’t want
to tell the University that or they will retire you on the spot. Everyone is different I told him and
no two people learn the same way every time. This Is what I am going to do for you Professor.
I am going to let you take an hour off to calm down and get yourself together and then during
the lunch break I am going to work with you in your office instead of the lab and slowly walk
you through the projects.” He thanked me on the edge of tears.
That day during lunch time I excused myself and went into the 72-year-old professor’s office to
work on the assignments. I was most grateful. This special approach worked and the next
morning he was early and eager to get started. His project was to create a game where his
students had to identify in Latin, graphics or pictures of something from the Story of Ulysses.
When the last day came for all the Professors to show off their projects, the 72-year-old
professor had the best Powerpoint slide show with full blown graphics of Greeks and historical
aspects of Greek stories in Latin. The entire room clapped when the 72-year old’s slide show
and class game came to an end. Everyone loved trying to identify the graphic or pictorial clue
with the Latin name. I made a life-long friend that week of that 72-year-old professor. He
learned to love technology he asked if he could teach in the Faculty Learning Lab in the morning
three times a week with his Latin classroom. At first I was about to say no because it would
overlap with my teaching schedule at 9:00. As it turned out his class was at 8:00 am and there
was no conflict. I told him I would ask for approval from the Provost and she agreed that it
would be fine, so he began to teach in the Faculty Learning Lab. Wow, did he put on a show?
When the students arrived each morning, he had classical music playing in the background. He took my suggestion to use a U-shaped table arrangement so that he could walk up and down the middle of the U shape to engage students face to face. His laptop provided a slide show or