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TLT/Collaborative Change: 
Low Threshold Applications (LTAs)

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Definition:  A Low Threshold Application (LTA) is a teaching/learning application of information technology  that is reliable, accessible, easy to learn, non-intimidating and (incrementally) inexpensive. Each LTA has observable positive consequences, and contributes to important long term changes in teaching and/or learning.  "... the potential user (teacher or learner) perceives an LTA as NOT challenging, not intimidating, not requiring a lot of additional work or new thinking. LTAs… are also 'low-threshold' in the sense of having low INCREMENTAL costs for purchase, training, support, and maintenance."  - Steve Gilbert, President, TLT Group, in AAHESGIT-96  

Thresholds: There are many kinds of “thresholds.”  Some are more concrete:  What technology is accessible to those involved?  And some are more abstract: With which applications of technology are those involved really comfortable, confident?  Whether a threshold is “low” or “high” ” depends on a variety of local conditions and personal attitudes.  Edward Hallowell has suggested that fear is the greatest learning disability.  Fear may be the greatest barrier to change, the highest threshold of all.

Underlying TechnologyEvery LTA is based on some technology that is either “almost ubiquitous,” available commercially at low-cost to teachers and learners, or available from “open source/open course”  collections  of instructional and professional development resources.   The latter collections require little or no payment but encourage users to contribute to the development of the resources.

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Background:  A new imperative for many colleges and universities is to engage “almost all” of the faculty in improving teaching and learning with information technology.  For the last several years, most colleges and universities achieved a reasonable beginning and a balance in supporting their local “pioneers” or “early adopters” of instructional uses of information technology.  The pioneers and the support professionals found ways of working together.  But support professionals are neither numerous nor well-prepared to enable the much larger numbers of mainstream faculty members and students to use technology in teaching and learning.  Budgets available for this purpose are quite limited. 

Recent experience suggests that this new, much larger cohort of mainstream faculty members is much more likely to be receptive to what they perceive as only modest changes that require them to reconceive only a little their identity, their roles, and their workload.  They tend to resist the kinds of workshops and dislike the risks and quirks often associated with the most innovative educational uses of information technology.  They rightfully resent implications that their work of past years or decades has been inadequate or incompetent.  Many of them have much to offer and welcome opportunities to contribute to the overall change process – within reasonable limits. 

Consequently, a new approach likely to succeed in meeting this new imperative is needed.  We begin by helping a few faculty leaders, faculty development professionals, librarians, technology professionals, et al. from participating institution to build tailored collections of Low Threshold Activities (or Advances or Applications) = LTAs.  We will launch a series of activities, share related professional development models, and help structure and build supportive resources to help them find, create, assemble, share, and use these collections to enable their faculty colleagues to move ahead more comfortably, quickly, and cost-effectively.  We anticipate depending and building on the skills and efforts of faculty development professionals, librarians, technology support professionals, and librarians (and faculty leaders and other academic support professionals). – Steve Gilbert, President, TLT Group

Characteristics:  [Note:  Each LTA has some technological components and some components that are techniques of teaching and learning.]

1.  Low Incremental Cost : Low hardware, software, technological infrastructure incremental cost;  [Low dollars, time, stress, ...] based on using technology applications that are:

  •  “Already almost ubiquitous”

  •  Already essential for the academic discipline

  • Inexpensive

2.  Easy to Learn and Access:  Based on using technology applications and teaching/learning techniques that are already known or easy to learn -- and easily accessible to faculty and students involved.

3.  Not Intimidating:   Faculty and students do NOT perceive the LTA as requiring major re-adjustment in their roles or in their lives.  The LTAs are based on technology applications and teaching/learning techniques that do not intrude into the classroom OR that are already familiar within or outside of usual course work.

4.  Observable Positive Consequences Anecdotal testimony from some peers and colleagues of the faculty and students confirm desirable results from similar efforts.  Or formal studies show that positive outcomes are associated with the activity.

5.  Reliable : Teachers and learners can rely on the technology underlying a particular LTA. LTAs work as expected most of the time, especially when used during class time that cannot easily be extended or re-scheduled. NOTE: This reliability may depend as much on the quality and robustness of the technology infrastructure of the particular college or university as on the LTA technology itself.

6. Precipitates, Facilitates Important Long Term Changes: Stories, evidence or compelling reasoning suggest that after a few years, the LTA is likely to precipitate, facilitate – or at least contribute to -- changes in how teachers and learners think and act in those roles."

Categories of LTAs:

1.  Almost Ubiquitous Technology:
Apply the concept of “sunk costs” by using technology applications that are already almost ubiquitously accessible within the institution

2.  Commercial Products:
Use commercial (for profit or non-profit) technology applications or resources that require very little incremental expenditure by the institution or the faculty and little or no additional training or support for faculty and students.

3.  Open Source / Open Course Resources:
Use items from “Open Source” style collections of instructional and professional development resources.  These collections should require little or no payment from individual faculty members and should encourage users to contribute to the development of the resources. Here is more information on Open Source/Course Resources.

Resources/Examples:  

Here is an extremely useful  Compilation of Resources about Low Threshold Applications by Charles Ansorge, of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.  

Here are some additional examples of LTAs submitted by subscribers to the TLT-SWG (formerly AAHESGIT) listserv.

To submit your own examples of LTAs fill out this form

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