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Authors : Larry J. Easley, Stephen J. Hoffman, Joel P. Rhodes
Title: Warning! Technology Can Be Dangerous to Your Health: A Case Study from the Trenches
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
May 2005

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Source: Warning! Technology Can Be Dangerous to Your Health: A Case Study from the Trenches
Larry J. Easley, Stephen J. Hoffman, Joel P. Rhodes

vol. 8, no. 1, May 2005
Article Type: Article

Warning! Technology Can Be Dangerous to Your Health: A Case Study from the Trenches

Larry J. Easley

Steven J. Hoffman

Joel P. Rhodes

Department of History
Southeast Missouri State University


Digital media enliven students' experiences in the history classroom, but instructors who choose nontraditional, multimedia approaches must spend extra time learning hardware and software, and preparing lectures. If the instructor is untenured this extra time can be at the expense of conducting more traditional historical research that will guarantee tenure and promotion. The authors present a case study that explores these tensions between tenured and untenured faculty, and between traditional versus media-enhanced classroom presentations. They share the thoughts of both tenured and untenured faculty in the history department of Southeast Missouri State University, presenting materials that will help guide other history departments in conducting the evaluation of traditional and nontraditional scholarship and teaching in the tenure, promotion, and review process.

Teaching with Technology

One of the major problems with incorporating technology into teaching is that it takes a lot of time. The questions for academic historians are, does it take too much time given the current reward structure of the discipline, or at worst, is it downright dangerous for one's chances of tenure and promotion? In academia there is much anecdotal evidence, mostly in the form of horror stories, of promotions lost and tenure denied. These tales come from colleagues across campuses and from across the country. What can historians do to protect themselves? [1]

This case study presents three views, from faculty members at three very different stages of their careers at the same institution—a brand new assistant professor, a newly tenured associate professor, and a senior faculty member with almost thirty-five years teaching experience. This essay shares their experiences and talks about the steps they have taken in the Department of History at Southeast Missouri State University over the last several years to ensure that none of those horror stories come to pass, at least not in this particular department.

At Southeast, with technology packages in all the history department's classrooms, the department has encouraged faculty to take advantage of the opportunities for enhancing teaching that these technologies present. Not surprisingly, with few exceptions there has been a great deal of resistance from the senior faculty, and a greater willingness to experiment from more recent hires. Department members' involvement in technology, then, includes preparing computer-mediated slide shows ala PowerPoint, creating course web sites, posting assignments and materials online, using online grade books, conducting online discussion sections, and developing full-blown, web-based courses. This inclusion of technology takes an enormous amount of time, much more time than merely writing out lecture notes and delivering classes for fifty or seventy-five minutes a class period. Nonetheless, the rewards in enhanced student learning seem to us worth the extra time investment. [2]

Over the years Larry Easley and Steve Hoffman have taken their involvement in technology one step farther and have used the medium of the web to more fully engage their students in the craft of history by having them develop their research projects as web sites. [3] As a result, most of the time they spend, they spend in one-on-one contact with students. This is a benefit for the student in and of itself, although it takes its toll on the faculty. According to end of the semester surveys, students find the personal attention they get satisfying and helpful, and the instructors believe it helps make the course more enjoyable for their students. [4]

In order to reduce the cost of this time investment, for several years the history department has given a reduction in the number of students enrolled in these technology-intensive classes (from 35 to 25). Given budgetary pressures and increasing enrollments, combined with the new priorities of a new department chair, this student reduction was discontinued. This action was a truly unfortunate development from the instructors' perspective, and most likely means an end to the web project, at least in the survey courses.

The reduction in student load was an important recognition by the department of the extra time involved in the use of technology to enhance teaching, although it was not the only one. Other, and in some ways, more important rewards lay in the traditional arenas of merit, promotion and tenure. As a university committed to the “Teacher-Scholar Model,” scholarship resulting from work in the classroom, including work with technology, is supposed to count as scholarship, or, as termed at Southeast Missouri State University, “professional growth.” The key question, of course, is what is meant by the term “count”?

So, in addition to the intrinsic rewards faculty receive from working with students and seeing their excitement, the three authors have also been able to produce scholarly work based on what they do in the classroom, whether in the form of conference presentations, book chapters or journal articles. [5] Although not sufficient in and of itself, this work has been an important part of their record of service for merit, and in Steven Hoffman's case, his record of service for promotion and tenure.

Hoffman was successful in his bid for promotion and tenure. The college committee voted 9 to 1 in favor of his promotion, with the one voice questioning whether Hoffman's scholarship, much of which is devoted to pedagogical uses of technology rather than to history and historic preservation, merited promotion. Although unanimous decisions are better for the ego, we should win all our battles nine to one. In part, Hoffman credits his successful bid for promotion and tenure to the strong climate both within the department and the college, both in support of the teacher-scholar model and in integrating technology and teaching.

A Story after Thirty-Five Years in the Department

Looking at the issue from a slightly different perspective, after thirty-five years of teaching at Southeast, Larry Easley tells his story.

When I arrived on campus in 1967, the teaching technology was crude and hard to use. I believed then and continue to believe today that illustrative materials such as photographs, charts, maps, music, and video enhance the learning process. For the first twenty-five years of my teaching I was forced to use slide, opaque, transparency, and film projectors, videocassette recorders, and any other machine I could find to project the sounds and images I wanted to use. Finding these materials and putting them into a format I could use in the classroom was a real challenge. We did have a center that transferred photos to slides at no charge to the department. As a result I developed a massive slide collection. Although several others in the department used slides and 16mm films, no one else was interested in multimedia.

Over the years I was the butt of many snide remarks in a very traditional, lecture-oriented department as if, somehow, using illustrative material watered down the subject matter. When I received a small grant to transform one of our rooms into a multimedia classroom modeled after a state of the art facility I had seen at Fort Belvoir, faculty members grumbled about the inconvenience of having all that equipment in the back of the room and the control center built into the lectern at the front. My philosophy was that if I could make multimedia materials available to my colleagues and provide the equipment so it would be relatively easy to use, I could hook them on technology. It frankly never worked.

One of the reasons I had the luxury to pursue this passion revolved around the expectations for faculty at Southeast during the sixties and seventies. Travel, publication and professional presentations were applauded but not really expected or supported. The fact that I was spending massive amounts of time developing teaching materials instead of pursuing more traditional faculty development pursuits was not a problem. Faculty members were often promoted to full professor with minimal publication records. Once promoted there was little pressure to continue scholarly activities.

That certainly began to change by the mid-1980s with the development of more rigorous standards for promotion and tenure. A merit system was imposed to pressure faculty to continue developing professionally. At that point, those of us who were spending large blocks of time on teaching were forced to make difficult choices about how we spent our time. For younger faculty the problem was exacerbated by the need to gain tenure and then promotion.

I still dreamed of being able to use the perfect multimedia platform, perhaps somehow tied to a computer. That did not really become a viable reality until the early 1990s. I tried to use one of those early Kodak LCD panels, but the resolution was so poor I went back to slides and transparencies. Around the time Steven Hoffman arrived on the scene I was finally able to purchase an early In-Focus projector, laptop, and scanner using grant money from outside the department. After hours of discussion, and seeing what the new technology could do, by the end of his second year here, Hoffman was hooked and our collaboration took effect the next fall. That next semester, Hoffman regularly sat in on my American History II class, which by that time featured computer-mediated presentations. By the end of the semester there was no turning back.

At the time all he could see was that it was an effective way to teach and he liked the flexibility it gave him in the classroom. I think Hoffman came into the department at an especially good time. Our department chairperson was very supportive, the Center for Scholarship in Teaching and earning (CSTL) was diving into the technology of teaching in a big way, and we had enlightened leadership in the provost's office. This leadership was demonstrated not only by support for the CSTL and purchase of computer equipment, but also through substantive support of pedagogical research.

With Hoffman's successful promotion, the future seemed secured. We had proven that if faculty took the time to enhance their teaching by using technology, opportunities existed to pursue legitimate scholarship that would help bolster a junior faculty member's bid for tenure and promotion. The situation in the department was good, and seemed likely to only improve. Four retirements from among the ranks of the most resistant seemed to augur a new age.

New Faculty Hires and Teaching with Technology

In its search for replacements, the department was able to include in its position announcements, for the first time, a statement indicating a preference for faculty willing to use technology in their teaching, and was quite encouraged with the response of new hires. In the first week of classes, the number of faculty consistently using computer-mediated presentations jumped from three to six. It looked as if the department had turned the corner in terms of its support for faculty getting involved with technology, and had laid a framework for turning that involvement into scholarship points so that the reward would be worth the time investment.

However, one of those new hires included a new department chair. His first semester included discussion on how scholarship should be defined, and it became obvious that he supported a very narrow definition based solely on a traditional definition of scholarship within the discipline and relegating scholarship of teaching and technology to the category of teaching or weekend hobby, but not scholarship. Apparently not all the resisters had retired, and, empowered by the strong voice of a new chair, previously quiet voices urged a return to a more traditional interpretation of what should be considered appropriate activity for a historian.

This was a division that split the department almost in two, and for several months passions ran high. This did not mean that faculty could not pursue increased use of technology in their teaching, or were being discouraged from doing so, but any hope of milking scholarship points from the increased investment in time called for seemed to be in danger, a situation that had not seriously existed in the department since before Hoffman arrived.

Ultimately, faculty worked out a compromise that left the department with a stronger statement in its promotion and tenure guidelines—a statement that this kind of work would be rewarded.

The original language, listed as the second item of Section A under the category of “Professional Growth” said:

2. Refereed articles published in national or international journals. Articles about pedagogical research may be included here, but also may be more appropriately considered in evaluating teaching effectiveness instead.

The new language under category A, section 2 says:

2. Articles in journals and chapters in books. Articles and chapters which have not had the benefit of rigorous peer review are not appropriate to this category.

a. Articles and chapters resulting from the process of historical research. b. Articles and chapters resulting from scholarship consistent with the teacher-scholar model embraced by the university, including articles on teaching, service, outreach and/or historic preservation/public history. Candidates should be cautioned that although we embrace a broad definition of scholarship consistent with the teacher-scholar model and assert that scholarship in keeping with this model will be recognized and rewarded, a recommendation for promotion will not normally be made in the absence of publication resulting from research using the historical method, category A2a listed above.

The importance of this development is clear. The only way to ensure that technology will not be dangerous to a faculty member's health is to have clear written statements, and even then, changes in key players like chairs and deans can be critically important. The Department Guidelines addressed the issue of content. Issues related to the electronic nature of scholarship were addressed in guidelines adopted at the university level suggesting ways in which promotion and tenure committees could evaluate such scholarship using the traditional lens of peer review. [6] The foundation for a new world order, or at least a department one, seemed to be firmly in place.

A Story from a New Faculty Member

But what does this mean in the real world? Viewing this all from the ranks of the untenured, Joel Rhodes tells a different story:

As the untenured rookie in this discussion, my uses of technology-related activities in the classroom, and my perceptions of their integration into the traditional evaluation criteria of teaching, research, and service, are governed principally by pragmatism and the immediate need for self-preservation. Long before coming to Southeast I had been interested in multi-media presentations in the classroom to make history more relevant; and make its sound and fury come alive with images, computer graphics, and audio. Yet, even though I had attempted this in my own limited and primitive way, I had never taught at an institution with the technological resources to integrate technology in my classroom in any meaningful way (and consequently never encountered a debate regarding technology's place in tenure and promotion criteria). Upon arriving at Southeast in the summer of 2001, for the first time I had at my disposal classrooms equipped with computers, projection units, presentation software, a library of scanned historical images and photographs, a graduate student dedicated to expanding that library, and two faculty members more than willing to show me the way. For me, the decision to integrate this technology in the classroom to enhance my teaching was really no decision at all, just as an annoyed Harry Truman had explained to interviewers for the umpteenth time about his “decision” to use the atomic bomb. “I wasn't not going to use it.”

From my first week on campus, I spent a great deal of time converting survey lectures to computer-mediated slide shows, with decidedly varying degrees of sophistication. Again, my limited and modest goals reflected my practical assumptions about technology during my first year. I wanted to create a slide show for every lecture so in the coming years I could polish the presentations, making them more multi-media, more interactive, more graphic, and eventually incorporating a web site. In this way, for me the use of technology is not an ideological or paradigmatic issue, instead it is a means to an end, a self-evident truth that fulfills a very practical need to enhance and supplement my classroom teaching on a daily basis. Apparently this conception was quite shortsighted of me and naive. I naturally assumed that because it was available, technology would be widely used in our department and in terms of the bigger picture of tenure and promotion, would be duly noted and rewarded.

But like many departments, the Department of History at Southeast is in flux regarding the use of technology in the classroom and as such is currently negotiating the relative value and appropriateness of technology-related activities in relation to the tenure and promotion process. Tenured faculty like Easley and Hoffman seek to change the culture of resistance to technology in the department by promoting the integration of technology in the scholarly activities of their colleagues and minimizing the negative impact the use of technology-related activities can have on a new faculty member's evaluation for tenure and promotion. I, on the other hand, have again chosen a very pragmatic course in this debate that reflects not only my practical application of technology, but moreover, my primary concern for securing my own tenure and promotion.

In the larger departmental debates regarding the relative value and appropriateness of technology in the evaluation criteria of teaching, research, and service, I have remained personally ambivalent and publicly silent. Being so close still to the research university atmosphere that bore me, my conceptions of scholarship are fairly orthodox and narrowly defined to include work employing the historical method in one's chosen field of specialty. By training and inclination, reinforced now by circumstances inherent in our tenure and promotion policies, I am going to pursue scholarship in its orthodox definition “researching, presenting, and publishing” in my field. As a postwar American historian, that is what I do, and I feel comfortable with it. Yet, since hearing both sides of the debate regarding technology-related activities in relation to the tenure and promotion process, I have developed an appreciation for a more inclusive definition of scholarship. In principle I believe in rewarding faculty who work to incorporate technology into their classrooms, and who choose to make its integration a scholarly endeavor by examining the pertinent pedagogical issues involved. I find it quite appropriate and natural to fairly value this work in the areas of technology and pedagogy within the traditional research criteria for tenure and promotion. If we are to err in designing promotion and tenure criteria in this liberal arts department of twelve faculty members, we should do so on the side of inclusiveness, supporting our colleagues in their scholarly endeavors, not limiting or restricting them.

But as an untenured faculty member, I do not feel I have the luxury of engaging in these debates or risking my own tenure and promotion by straying too far from the “company line.” Of course, I would like to be rewarded for everything I do, including using technology in the classroom, but for the next six years I have got to take the practical route and tailor my research agenda to meet a traditional interpretation of the departmental criteria for scholarship. While I can appreciate the need to integrate technology into the traditional evaluation criteria in a meaningful way, at this point in my career it just not prudent to be a trailblazer and devote too much energy integrating technology-related issues of pedagogy into my research agenda. In my opinion, these battles are more appropriately fought by tenured and senior faculty.

Still, regardless of my determination not to pursue the integration of technology as a scholarly endeavor, I am going to continue to incorporate technology into my classroom because, quite simply, it is an unparalleled tool for improving my effectiveness as a teacher. Recent studies of exemplary college teachers have shown that both students and teachers consider “clarity and understandability” and “teacher preparation and organization” to be the two most important classroom characteristics of effective teaching. [7] I believe that the use of computer-mediated slide shows has a strong correlation to my classroom performance in these two key areas that ultimately should manifest itself in stronger teacher evaluations. Therefore, even under a traditional interpretation of our evaluation criteria for teaching, research, and service, while technology may not benefit me in regard to scholarship and research, it is my hope that its use in my classroom will be a direct and tangible advantage for me in the area of teaching effectiveness.


Given the uncertainties of the promotion, tenure and merit process, Rhodes' decision to focus on more traditional aspects of historical research and to avoid spending time trying to earn scholarship points for innovating in the area of teaching and technology is probably a wise one. In advancing Hoffman's own case for tenure and promotion, he made sure that anything he did under teaching and technology would be extra, and that he had enough "traditional" scholarship to satisfy the most traditional of historians. He knew if he hitched his plow solely to scholarship on teaching, learning and technology, he would not be successful in his bid for promotion and tenure. As several colleagues in the same situation would often joke, we needed to be sure we were pushing two plows. Yet Easley and Hoffman believed, naively it turns out, that their success would pave the way for those that followed and that they might not feel the same strains of the two-plow approach. Although at Southeast we hope we are being successful in changing the culture so that faculty will be rewarded for their work in teaching and technology, it remains the case that untenured faculty had better not do too much, not if they want to stay healthy in their bids for promotion and tenure.


1. Deborah Lines Andersen, ed. Digital Scholarship in the Tenure, Promotion, and Review Process (ME Sharpe, 2004) is the most comprehensive, most recent review of this issue from a national perspective. See for an earlier discussion of the issue by Dennis Trinkle, as well as the American Association for History and Computing, “Suggested Guidelines for Evaluating Digital Media Activities in Tenure, Review, and Promotion.”

2. Larry Easley and Steve Hoffman, "Reinventing the American History Survey," in Essays in Teaching, Writing and Researching History, Dennis Trinkle, ed.(Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2001): 62-71.

3. See .

4. In end-of-the-semester surveys of over five hundred students, seventy-one percent thought the out-of-class instruction made the project easier, although twenty-two percent believed it made no difference, and six percent that it made the project more difficult.

5. Articles and Book Chapters: Easley, “The Enhanced Lecture: A Bridge to Interactive Teaching,” in Writing, Teaching, and Researching History in the Electronic Age: Historians and the Computer; Easley and Dougan, "Introducing Clio to the Computer: The Southeast Missouri State University Experience," OAH Council of Chairs Newsletter (October, 1993), 8-10; Easley and Hoffman, “Creating the Electronic Classroom: A Practical Guide,” Journal for Social Education (Spring/Summer 2000): 80-93; Easley and Hoffman, "Reinventing the American History Survey," in History.Edu: Essays in Teaching, Writing and Researching History, Dennis Trinkle, ed. (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2001), 62-71.

Conference Presentations: Easley, “Computerized History Instruction,” Mid-South Instructional Technology Conference, Mufreesboro, TN, April, 1996; Easley, “Historians and the Computer Revolution,” Mid-America History Conference, Topeka, KS, September, 1996; Easley, “Computers, the Web, and the Enhanced Lecture,” Cincinnati Symposium on Computers in History, Cincinnati, OH, April, 1997; Easley and Hoffman, “Students, Family Memory and the Web,” American Historical Association annual meeting, San Francisco, CA, January 2002; Easley and Hoffman, “So They Can Make Web Pages, Now What? Integrating Curriculum, Professional Practice, and Training to Continue Making Meaningful Uses of the Web,” Mid-South Technology Conference, Murfreesboro, TN, April 9, 2001; Easley and Hoffman, “So They Can Make Web Pages, Now What? Integrating Curriculum, Professional Practice, and Training to Continue Making Meaningful Uses of the Web,” American Association for History and Computing conference, Indianapolis, IN, February 1, 2001; Easley and Hoffman, "American History II Revisited: A Two-Year Retrospective," American Association for History and Computing conference, Waco, TX, April 15, 2000; Hoffman, Starrett, et al., “Instructional Technology and Promotion, Tenure & Merit: Development of University Guidelines,” Mid-South Technology Conference, Murfreesboro, TN, April 11, 2000; Easley and Hoffman, "American History II Revisited: A Two-Year Retrospective," Mid-South Technology Conference, Murfreesboro, TN, April 10, 2000; Hoffman, Starrett, et al., “Instructional Technology and Promotion, Tenure & Merit: Development of University Guidelines,” American Association for Higher Education, New Orleans, LA, February 5, 2000; Easley and Hoffman, "A Practical Guide to Creating the Electronic Classroom," American Association for History and Computing conference, Philadelphia, PA, April 23, 1999; Easley and Hoffman, "Creating the Electronic Classroom: A Practical Guide," Mid-South Technology Conference, Murfreesboro, TN, March 30, 1999; Easley and Hoffman, "Reinventing the American History Survey," American Association for History and Computing annual conference, Cincinnati, Ohio, April 25, 1998.

6. Southeast Missouri State University Information Technology Faculty Roles & Rewards Action Team, “Information Technology Promotion, Tenure, and Merit Guidelines,” available at: See Gerald Zahavi and Susan L. McCormick, “Digital Scholarship, Peer Review, and Hiring, Promotion and Tenure,” in Digital Scholarship in the Tenure, Promotion, and Review Process, Deborah Lines Andersen, ed. (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2004): 116 ff. for a good discussion of the importance of peer review in the evaluation of digital media.

7. Nira Hativa, Rachel Barak and Etty Simhi, “Exemplary University Teachers: Knowledge and Beliefs Regarding Effective Teaching Dimensions and Strategies,” Journal of Higher Education 72:6 (November/December 2001): 702.