Key features contributing to the Instruction Support Lab Four key features that have led to these successful web courses, initiatives, and students are, first, the previously-mentioned integration at ASU of academia and computing; second, a university-wide policy of decentralization with regard to computing resources; third, a lab mission that includes many levels of support as well as research and development; and fourth, an openness in the lab itself to real-world methods. The previously-mentioned change in the nature of Information Technology is the first key feature affecting the Lab. At its inception the IS Lab replaced a modest lab where faculty came for tasks such as printing. The new academic focus made it possible for representatives of Information Technology who understood the needs of faculty to reach out to the Colleges; improved access for faculty members to IT; and allowed IS Lab staff members to advise faculty on good instructional design. In the past, no web course support had been offered other than to one law professor who had come to the faculty lab to learn HTML. Now that same professor was offered instructional design support; help with graphics that were carefully crafted to enhance instruction while simultaneously following the rules of good web design; and interactivity. An invitation to collaborate in research could also be extended since Instruction Support now had researchers to evaluate major projects and present the results at academic conferences, or publish them in scholarly journals.
The second key feature affecting the Lab's success is that, as ASU Provost Milton Glick (1999) has stated, Arizona State University is a decentralized campus with regard to computing resources. We in Instruction Support feel it is inappropriate to mandate technology solutions across the board where instruction is concerned, just as it would be inappropriate to mandate that all professors use the same instructional strategies regardless of academic discipline. In 1999, solutions for instructional problems are still being developed; no one solution can be relied on to take care of all needs, whether it is a web course management system, an instructional strategy, or a particular platform. In keeping with this position, ASU has allowed differing support structures to arise. Currently there are three primary support structures for web courses. ASU professors desiring support can work with Information Technology's Instruction Support, with the College of Extended Education, or with a new entity, the Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence. Each has a different focus; faculty members can use more than one if they desire. Instruction Support offers an individualized approach that allows/requires the faculty member to participate in development. Extended Education is our distance education arm at ASU; faculty using their services may supply a course already developed by the professor, supply only the content and have the graphics developed, or experiment with “canned” content. The Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence is expected to serve as a bridge between the two, focusing on faculty development but familiar with the changing offerings of other support areas.
The stated mission of the Lab is the third key feature influencing the success of the Lab. Its tenets derive from the atmosphere of academic freedom that arises where a campus is decentralized with regard to technology, and where Information Technology has an academic flavor. The primary mission of the IS Lab is to help integrate technology into instruction. A faculty member might still ask for help with printing, but others have asked for help in planning the simultaneous premiere of a new work of classical music on the web from nine locations; in finding the way for a department to rearrange itself into a team in order to publish an online as well as a print version of a scholarly journal; and in rewriting a piece of software so that a professor of communication can create a web course without with maximum opportunities for communication. Beyond this, the Lab constantly conducts its own investigations into new technologies, so as to be prepared with advice when faculty approach us with instructional problems as well as to help drive the evolution of these technologies in the directions we as academics need them to evolve.
Finally, a fourth key feature contributing to success is the use of real-world development methods, always tempered and enriched by the academic viewpoint. Like labs on many other campuses, we have experienced the heady feeling of having the best of two worlds, academia and the commercial “real” world. In the academic tradition we have the freedom to conduct research and the luxury of supporting worthwhile projects. In common with the commercial world we have the realization that we are fortunate to live in a time in which our shared intelligence can find solutions and new directions almost as often as we need them. Developers who are in the forefront of web design, digital artists, and many of the best instructional design minds all share their insights with us through online conversations and collaboration.