IT Response, University of Massachusetts


Q: What technologies could enhance student and faculty research/teaching/learning?

Network delivery of materials opens up opportunities for students
The Web (and other TCP/IP-based network services) are making
it much easier to get materials into the hands of students when and where
they are most receptive to learning. This not only makes possible "distance
learning" opportunities for non-traditional students with special geographic
and scheduling limitations, but also enhances the learning of the resident
student who may have a learning style that works best outside the traditional
limitations of building hours, classroom schedules, and daylight.
Network-based communication tools can move interactions beyond
the classroom.

The variety of ways people can exchange text-based messages over
networks is transforming the way students and faculty communicate. Email,
bulletin-boards, chat rooms, and instant messages all create opportunities
for group collaboration, critical thinking exercises, and discussions outside
the context of a classroom. At our office we work a great deal with email
distribution lists and course-management tools such as WebCT.
Interconnected Internet-based resources provide simpler access
to related materials.

The nature of the Web now makes it possible to interconnect content
and resources instantly. This makes it possible to create a context or
viewpoint for related materials and provide the students a framework on
which to hang their understanding. Students can even add to these collections
of materials. The challenge is educating the students (and faculty) to
question and review the credibility of online information sources.
Software and hardware is making it easier to create increasingly
complex teaching materials.

The variety of creative desktop software and hardware available
these days allows anyone with a minimum of technical training to create
teaching materials that were once too expensive to produce. Color images,
graphic diagrams, audio, video and even interactive computer programs can
be produced and distributed to students relatively easily.

One challenge of this is training the producers of these materials
how to make them effective and high-quality enough to be credible to today's
media-savvy students. The other challenge is making the creation process
accessible enough and convenient enough that faculty will feel comfortable
(even enthusiastic) about adding this to their long list of teaching tasks.
At our office we are currently focusing on the creation of Web
pages using WYSIWYG-ish Web creation software. We also provide support
in the use of Photoshop, Illustrator, Powerpoint and similar software.
In the near future we will begin offering faculty support in the creation,
editing and distribution of digital video on the Web. The data analysis
group in Academic Computing provides services related to using computers
in statistical data analysis. We offer consulting on all aspects of statistical
data analysis including the preparation of data, choosing an appropriate
analytical technique, choosing and using statistical software, and interpreting

On-the-fly assessment tools can provide feedback on instructional
goals to students and faculty.
Online quizzes, self-tests, and other tracking mechanisms give
important information to faculty and students on which messages are getting
through and which pedagogical goals are being met. This allows faculty
to make adjustments in class if key concepts are not being grasped by the
students. This also gives students feedback if they personally need to
make adjustments in their studies. We use WebCT to provide these tools
to our client faculty. Other areas on campus are using homegrown solutions
such as OWL or DUCK.

Q: What roles and responsibilities do you currently assume regarding
the use and instruction of technology?

As an evangelist, I prepare materials and presentations that
encourage faculty to begin to use technology in the classroom, or consider
new applications.

As a planner and navigational designer, I consult with faculty about
their specific topic and help them discover the best ways to structure
the content and which technological tools would be most appropriate for
their audience and their pedagogical goals.

As a graphic designer, I help faculty (who do not have the skills or
time) create visual designs that are appropriate to their topic and that
can capture the attention of their (media-savvy) student or peer audiences.

As a project coordinator, I help faculty find the resources that
they need to complete projects: technical training, access to equipment,
students who can help with production work, and people with special skills
who can help make their wild ideas into concrete learning tools.

As a trainer, I help give faculty the skills they themselves need to
use the specific technologies and produce materials. My key goal in this
role is to give them the confidence to be self-sufficient and excited about
using the tools. I also train the students of faculty who want them to
have a certain level of proficiency with a tool being used in the class.

The Academic Computing unit within OIT at UMass takes the role
of supporting faculty as they incorporate technology into their teaching.
We provice one-on-one consultation, workshops, project support, student
training, and research into new technologies and their pedagogical implications.
The Office of Information Technologies (OIT) at UMass, in addition
to services provided through its Academic Computing unit, supports and
maintains a good deal of the technological infrastructure at the University
of Massachusetts. This includes: internet connectivity, local networks,
web servers, email servers, specialized servers, help desk support, computer
labs, software support, hardware support, special projects, administrative
databases, and the entire phone system for the university.

Q: What goals do you have for collaboration in this area?

The best service I can give to the faculty I work with is to
know what is available and what is possible. Connecting with people in
related areas at UMass, the Five Colleges and other institutions helps
me give my clients a more complete view of what is possible and who is
available to help.

Our office tends to work with newcomers to technology. I am looking
for ways to connect with the faculty who are more experienced with using
technology. Creating partnerships with experienced faculty will provide
greater challenges to our office and improve our service to the newcomers.
We have begun to set up forums in which the experienced faculty present
their work to curious colleagues.

Our office is having the common problem of hiring qualified full-time
technical staff. We rely a great deal on students for our technical and
production work. Sharing ideas about attracting and developing relationships
with the best students (and finding and hiring good technical staff) is
of great interest.

In order to remain up-to-date and excited about this topic, I
look for opportunities to exchange ideas (and war stories) with others
who do the same job. Talking about common challenges and new ideas with
colleagues is the best way to stay involved.

Our office is taking part in an UMass-wide Instructional Technology
Council that is coordinating the many areas on campus that provide similar
and complementary services.

Q: What resources are you considering devoting to its future development?

We currently spend approximately three-fourths of our time supporting
use of current technologies and one-fourth looking at upcoming technologies
and new applications. We would like to increase the amount of time we spend
looking to the future and find ways to make our support processes more

We will be soliciting proposals from faculty and their departments
to provide them with direct assistance with forward-thinking projects and
prototypes. Assistance will range from help planning projects to giving
direct assistance in the design and production of teaching materials.

We will be developing our capabilities to deliver digital video
over the Web. We are currently ordering the necessary equipment and committing
time for staff training and experimentation. Our area will collaborate
with the other video-oriented services on campus to provide faculty with
the training and assistance they need to edit and produce their own digital

We will be evaluating and promoting software that makes it easy
for faculty to produce and post materials on the Web. These range from
simple form-based tools that create simple Web pages to course management
tools such as WebCT that make it easy for faculty to add bulletin boards,
quizzes, and other special learning tools to their course Web sites.

We will be developing ways to make intensive development tools
such as WebCT easier and more convenient to use. We have been working with
the software company and faculty who currently use the software to find
ways to clarify and streamline the processes.

We will be continuing to evaluate software and train faculty
in its use. These programs are in constant flux as new tools are developed.
We recently began replacing Claris Home Page web development workshops
with Macromedia Dreamweaver workshops. We will also be introducing workshops
that emphasize specific uses of specialized software: e.g. Macromedia Flash
for animation and Adobe Illustrator for information graphics and diagrams.

We will continue to research the pedagogical aspects of these
technologies. We have already collected quite a bit about copyright, effective
online communications, and the best use of online quizzes. Future topics
include visual information design, writing for the Web, understanding interactivity,
and appealing to different learning styles. We present the results of this
research through our workshops, special presentations and a series of online

We will continue to develop our data analysis group. In addition
to staying current with the frequent updates to the most popular software
that we support (SAS, SPSS, Minitab, SYSTAT, and JMP), the most exciting
developments are focused on integrating statistical software and Web technology
to create dynamic, Web-based databases. We are also concentrating on improving
the visualization of data through collaboration between the data analysis
and the graphic design specialists on staff.

Fred Zinn
Multimedia Applications Designer
University of Massachusetts