Faculty Response, Vassar College


Q. 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.

Vassar social science faculty use information technology in two ways:
(1) for teaching and assignments, and (2) to teach on information technology
as a subject of empirical inquiry. These entail two different sets of needs.
For (1), which is widespread among the social sciences, faculty
access the Internet for databases, existing research, and search engines
to supplement their lectures and discussions. Increasingly faculty require
students to use these on-line resources for their own assignments, which
often entails pointing them to (and therefore knowing beforehand about)
the URLs where they can find data. (For example, in my Urban Theory course,
I might have them analyze the class bias of Jane Jacobs' planning perspective
in _The Death and Life of Great American Cities_ by having them retrieve
demographic data about her 1960 Greenwich Village research site from the
US Census or, more likely, another researcher's website.) Along these lines,
faculty needs are generally content-based: a conveniently centralized portal
for databases and instruction on how to use on-line research resources.

Several IT technologies are also useful in teaching social science
methods beyond the usual statistical packages that are standard in economics
and political science departments. For example, scanners and optical character
recognition (OCR) software that can transform text and images into electronic
characters are valuable for electronic archiving and analytical manipulation
(e.g., the sociological method of content analysis, which is currently
taught in Vassar's sociology methods course). Also, digital cameras can
be very useful in teaching visual anthropology and sociology. Along these
lines, faculty needs are first infrastructural in nature, entailing department
or college access to scanners, digital cameras, and computers with OCR
and graphics software installed (my sense is that college-wide access to
this equipment is not sufficient when a whole classroom of students has
been assigned to use these technologies). Faculty could also benefit from
staff or others who could instruct students about how to use these technologies.
For (2), which is a much more limited phenomena, faculty teach
the social organization and consequences of the Internet and other information
technologies. For example, in my "High-Technology and Society" course,
I access the Internet for websites by IT firms, research consortia, government,
public-private partnerships, and other entities engaged in the production
of information technology and the economic development of companies/regions.
An anthropologist is teaching a course on "Technology and the Music Industry"
and has obtained a technology grant to set up a sound recording lab that
students will use for their own projects.

Since these entail teaching students a technology "literacy"
informed by faculty's individual research and methods, faculty's needs
along these lines are idiosyncratic and mostly infrastructural. Most generally,
this means having access to classrooms with laptop projectors. Faculty
with more specialized technological needs (e.g., in the "Technology and
the Music Industry") generally apply for individual teaching or equipment
grants, either through Vassar's Computer Information Services or academic
foundations like the Mellon Fund.

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

As stated above, faculty with specialized technological needs
(e.g., in the "Technology and the Music Industry") generally apply for
individual teaching grants for the purchase of these technologies. Several
faculty also turn to the Vassar library, Instructional Media Services,
and Computing Information Services for workshops on how to learn about
and subsequently teach this IT literacy, although it is uncertain how this
training filters down to other faculty and subsequently department's curricula.

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

Several Vassar faculty are currently launching a Media Studies
Development Project (MSDP) to investigate the development of an interdisciplinary
Media Studies program by 2001-2002. For the next year, the MSDP's plans
are to convene a faculty seminar, with regular guest lecturers and periodical
workshops on course development. Currently, the MSDP's agenda appears to
be shaped largely by (1) Computer Science faculty whose pedagogical interests
are largely straightforward and (2) humanities faculty who are increasingly
interested in teaching "cyber-literacies" quite literally. By contrast,
guidance by social science faculty in this Media Literacy Development Project
has, to my knowledge, been minimal so far. There seems to be no consensus
or common directions on how social science faculty can use information
technology to qualitatively transform their teaching beyond classroom exercises
and teaching.

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

See above for Vassar's pending Media Studies Development Project, probably
the most important effort along these lines. While faculty with specialized
technological needs generally apply for individual grants to purchase technologies,
department-wide technology initiatives appear to be less common. As many
faculty still use antiquated versions of Macintosh computers, there is
much anticipation for Computing Information Services' new "cycle year"
initiative, whereby computer upgrading will be consistent within departments.
The new Computing Information Services initiative has also sparked some
interest in other department-wide technology procurements. For example,
I recently submitted grant proposals (as of yet unanswered) on behalf of
the sociology department to purchase a scanner, digital camera, and OCR
software for the pedagogical purposes described above.

Leonard Nevarez
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Vassar College