Faculty Response, Hampshire College


Questions for Faculty:
What is the course content and what are the pedagogical approaches for
which you want to draw on technological resources? Map out the range and
variation, including both the content and the kinds of resources you encounter
and need.

Technological resources should be of relevance to all courses
in the social sciences:
(1) At the simplest level, new technologies can facilitate communication
and save time and resources. It is, for example, more convenient and efficient
to post course materials, and to have students share reading responses
or essays in an electronic forum, than to produce and distribute multiple
copies on paper. More important, however, "asynchronous conferencing" expands
the time and transforms the emotional and intellectual climate of "class

Once participants overcome any initial resistance to the medium,
the system produces very satisfying results in the classroom and in interdisciplinary
faculty seminars. Overcoming resistance is essential: Some people evince
a dislike for computers out of simple ignorance and pigheadedness. Others
may have more justified reasons for discomfort. In either case, we must
address the complaint. See, for example, Paula Lackie, "The Paradox of
Paperless Classes," Social Science Computer Review, 16 no. 2 (Summer 1998):

(2)More important still is student research: Our curriculum stresses
individualized inquiry and a solid understanding of concepts and methodologies
over mere acquisition of content. In the age of the Internet, it is all
the more important that students know not only how to locate, but how to
discriminate between, sources (various media and degrees of intellectual

To offer a more concrete illustration drawn from my field, history:
New media and communications systems are putting unparalleled resources
at the disposal of students and faculty. No longer does one have to travel
to another continent or even another town to view an important document
or a work of art. Students need, however, to understand the selection or
filtration process: e.g., Not all sources will be converted to the new
media. The absence of a source from the digital realm does not deprive
it of value. The most recent source is not necessarily the best. Contrary
to what some might expect, the new information environment makes librarians,
like teachers-as advisers, rather than gatekeepers-more rather than less

(3) The ultimate goal is to enable students and faculty to become
active shapers as well as wiser users of new technologies, which can be
used in the classroom and beyond. In the first phase of the introduction
of a new technology, the tendency is simply to appropriate or transfer
forms familiar from the old one. Ultimately and ideally, however, a technology
must develop genres appropriate to the medium. Effective use here entails
taking full advantage of the possibilities of hypertext by combining multilayered,
textual and graphic, primary and secondary materials in a package that
allows both searching and copying.

I thus work with two basic principles in mind:
1) Students must be conversant with new information technologies
if they are to live comfortably and wisely in our world.
2)Being conversant should imply understanding as well as familiarity.
This means (a) understanding the nature (functions, strengths, and weaknesses)
and context of a given technology; (b) being able to historicize it. Students
and faculty alike should come to see our new information age or digital
revolution as a point on a continuum rather than as a sharp departure.
Critical reflection on our sources and systems of information, no less
than on our methodologies, should be part of every sound education.

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

As an interested amateur (but no expert), I try to keep abreast
of new developments. In order to apply them judiciously in the classroom
and on faculty projects, I work closely with our Internet Coordinator and
Systems Manager.

What goals do you have for collaboration in this area?

I myself collaborate fairly frequently with colleagues in other
areas of the College, and from other schools in the consortium, on projects
that apply new technologies (web, CD-ROM) in teaching.
Paradoxically, perhaps, my division of the College is the one
least familiar with and least interested in new technologies. The reasons
are unclear, but certainly include run-of-the-mill fear, ignorance, and
laziness or overextension. Arguably and more serious, however, this group
also displays a certain self-satisfaction and inertia; it lacks intellectual
energy and cohesiveness.

Still, I have seen some remarkable transformations, and the reason
is simple: If we can demonstrate to people that a new resource is useful,
many will in fact come to use it. Not surprisingly, new faculty are generally
more open to or conversant with new technology. My hope is that a core
group of interested faculty, working closely with computing staff, can
(a) educate the rest of our division; (b) develop a set of resources that
will make the application of new technology both worthwhile and convenient.

What resources are you considering devoting to its future development?

I hope to be able to use grant money from existing initiatives
in order to encourage efforts that will bridge our miniature version of
the digital divide. We should create interdisciplinary courses on media
and communications. More important, perhaps, we should see to it that components
dealing with these issues are incorporated into courses in other fields.

James J. Wald Hampshire College
Associate Professor of History School of Social Science
Project Director, Amherst, MA 01002-5001
Hampshire Center for the Book