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Anne Dalke's picture

                                                                                            Sunday, March 28, 2010

On March 25-26, three members of the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program – Alice Lesnick, Howard Glasser, and Maggie Powers – attended the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education’s Summit, or NITLE Summit, titled “Advancing Towards Liberal Arts 3.0” including the half-day invited session "Liberal Arts Colleges Connect: Curricular Collaboration via Advanced Networks." As part of this conference, we presented a poster on some of our exploratory work involving technology in teaching, research, communications, and other initiatives and collaborations. The poster took the form of a blog located at the following link.

Poster and possible collaborators

Reactions to our poster were positive as we spoke with people about the work we have undertaken and additional hopes and directions we might pursue. Additionally, we sought their ideas and insights into activities occurring at their institutions and organizations. Through these conversations we learned about experiences and hurdles others have encountered and received a lot of interest regarding our work. Since returning, we have emailed the people who recorded their contact information on a sign-in sheet located beside the poster, inviting them to contribute feedback and continue dialoguing with us. 

These exchanges, as well as ones from other conversations and talks during the Summit, have provided us with ideas for possible collaborators and future directions, as well as names of individuals and groups with whom we might continue to correspond or learn about. Some examples include:

·      Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning (CIEL), as described in their description for the half-day session, “is a self-supporting consortium of 12 colleges and universities whose mission is to explore and implement progressive collaborations in higher education. Our goal is to have multi-campus dialogues anchored in academic work and disseminated via new technologies.”

·      Skidmore College has been part of a six-college consortium funded by the Teagle Foundation that focused on “High Performance Computing at Liberal Arts Colleges” and we could pursue additional dialogues with them around this topic or other related endeavors.

·      Stetson University is developing a virtual repository of information for selected disciplines and had students work with faculty, as part of a course, to develop a mobile application for the institution. This application, iStetson, is downloadable from the Apple Store and provides some ideas for ways mobile applications could be useful at Bryn Mawr or among the tri-colleges.

·      Occidental College has a Center for Digital Learning and Research, with several programs, services, events, and courses that aim to help faculty and students integrate their work with emergent technologies.

·       SUNY Geneseo is also involved in some initiatives, including working with a partner institution in Ghana. Similarly, our Education Program is pursuing collaborations with a new school in Ghana and there might be exciting areas of overlap between these two projects.

·      Bryan Alexander, NITLE’s Director of Research, delivered an opening plenary session entitled “Emerging Technologies on the Liberal Arts Campus” which raised different ideas about the directions and implications of technology at institutions like Bryn Mawr. We hope to continue following him on Twitter and other media to remain abreast of developing projects and ideas.

·      Ed Webb, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Dickinson College, also spoke with us about different uses of technology in teaching and raised the idea of collaborating on future projects. He has been appointed to NITLE’s Advisory Board and his profile at Dickinson College states that one of his interests is “in pedagogical applications of new technologies, including simulations, games, and social media.”

Ideas and resources

We were introduced to Lifesize, which is a division of Logitech, during the half-day session and also learned more about Cisco’s Teleprescence. We learned that such videoconferencing has become more affordable and is expected to continue to decrease in price and the speaker, Ann Doyle of Internet2’s Arts and Humanities Initiatives, emphasized ways in which this technology, like others we have explored, can afford access to and between remote people, experts, and content, including oral history archives of material whose reach is limited by time and distance. We also came away with questions about these resources including limitations on their pedagogical-flexibility, their compatibility with different operating systems, and their current difficulty with picking up audio unless speakers were located in a relatively small space. The overall quality of these technologies is impressive but other technological resources could possibly achieve similar goals with less cost and maintenance.

In an invited session in which we exchanged projects and ideas with a group of liberal arts colleagues, the themes of sustaining innovation and continuing to focus on dialogue and exploration as both means and ends of liberal education were emphasized. The need for clarity about the value of and skill in facilitating conversation online as in face-to-face classrooms is clear.

We also gained insight into additional uses of technology and Web2.0 tools that are being used in courses and might prove useful at Bryn Mawr (and perhaps Swarthmore and Haverford, as well). Such technologies include things like mobile applications (e.g., iStetson mentioned above) and Confluence, which provides ways to share and collaborate, Wimba, which can be integrated directly into Course Management Systems (CMS) such as Blackboard or Moodle, Digsby, a resource that allows people to chat and communicate with people from various services from one application, and location-based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla, which could have benefits for a variety of areas including teaching, admissions, and student activities.

Next steps

·      We plan to continue developing our blog and engaging more campus voices in these discussions.

·      Moving forward, we wish to explore some newer resources that were noted at the summit and consider different collaborative opportunities and conversations with people and groups with whom we met.

·      We are intrigued by the idea offered by Bryan Alexander and Eric Jannsen, two of NITLE’s leaders, and sounded by other participants, that technological innovation has “debundled” function and device, so that function -- the purpose of media for human goals -- can be imagined as, in a sense, multiply situated.  (One simple example is that a camera is no longer a stable, bounded object, but is a function of desktop computers and phones.) Participants discussed ways new technologies can enable liberal arts institutions to maintain, and continue seeking to realize, their values while modifying the forms and contexts of their enactment through making use of new technologies. These technologies could allow for greater interactivity, collaboration, and customization, and re-situate individual institutions as part of webs of interaction. Stetson University, mentioned above, spoke specifically about how they were originally very hesitant about asking faculty and students to engage in online learning situations, which seemed to break away from their commitment to provide interactive and personalized classes. Yet after exploring the idea more fully, they began offering online summer courses which they feel “bring the same personal attention and the same LIVE interactivity among classmates and professors for which Stetson is known nationally.”

·      Several colleagues from other institutions expressed the hope that technology could help address budget constraints and at the same time help our colleges be more responsive and flexible.  The challenge of balancing the preservation and innovation urges is great.  In our ongoing explorations we plan to continue considering how various resources can enable us to meet goals -- some well-established and some more recent -- in new and exciting ways.