The Colgate Scene
New technologies foster relationships and enhance teaching and learning on — and off — campus
|By Rebecca Costello, Timothy O'Keeffe, Caroline Jenkins, and Vicki L. Wilson|
Audio tours featuring commentary via iPod provide a fuller experience for patrons at the Picker Art Gallery. Viewers can look at the art itself while learning more about it, which is "far preferable to having people's eyes buried in a booklet," said Judith Oliver, who curated the first exhibition to offer an audio tour, "Plaster Doors of Pisa: Solving a Medieval Puzzle," with five of her seminar students. [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]
Remember that old telephone company jingle, "Reach out and touch someone?" It was a 20th-century example of how technology helped people to connect. As more technologies emerged, some experts believed that tools such as e-mail and instant messaging would serve to isolate people from each other.
But a new wave of innovations and adaptive uses of the Internet over the past few years seems to have turned the tables on that notion, at least to some degree. There are more ways than ever for people to use technology to engage with each other, some fun and frivolous, some potentially risky, and many that are meaningful and educational.
As hosts to the generation most open to embracing new tools, college campuses are deeply enmeshed in what is being referred to as Web 2.0 — a world where computers and other technologies have shifted from a means of one-way static communication to platforms for interaction and community building.
Shaped by user preferences, the interaction is personalized to an amazing degree, and it happens everywhere, from dorm rooms to classrooms.
Nothing will ever replace the essential dialogue between a professor and students in a classroom or lab, but technology does offer possibilities for new ways of learning and engaging with a much broader community.
Here are some ways in which this phenomenon is playing out at Colgate.
Dima Tkachev '08, one of many on campus who use Skype (a website that provides telephone/videoconferencing access), chats with his grandmother Ludmila in Moscow while sitting in the Coop lounge. "I also have a brother who's 2 years old," he said. "I can see him growing, and share a piece of myself with him over a distance of thousands of miles." Tkachev also uses his technical skills working for the Student Operated User Resource Center (SOURCe); each residence hall has an on-site student residential computer consultant to help with challenges on students' personal computers. "It's very rewarding when you can actually resolve the problem fast and make everyone happy," he said.
Between 40 and 170 prospective students and parents participate in a monthly online chat with current students and staff members. The chats have become particularly popular with international students who don't have the chance to visit campus — high schoolers from 32 countries have taken part so far.
"One student from Africa logged on from a cyber cafe in the middle of the night," said assistant dean Katryna Swartwout Ryan, who serves as the admission webmaster.
A monthly e-newsletter, which goes out to 30,000 prospective students, features helpful tips, articles by current students, and links to student blogs. She regularly updates the office's web pages, but she'll also go the extra mile for those with questions. "When someone responds with a particular question, I'll find the information they're looking for rather than saying, `go to our website,'" she said. "I get notes saying, `thank you for your personalized e-mail; a lot of schools would have just sent me a list of links.'"
The pervasive word-of-mouth information sharing that the web facilitates has also led to a new model in admission publications, said Karen Giannino, senior associate dean of admission — a deliberate shift away from traditional promotional editorial content.
"Our approach now is much more journalistic — featuring students and alumni sharing their own slice of the Colgate experience," she said. Some print pieces include a complementary web feature (check out www.colgate.edu/advice).
Although students may apply online (75 percent did so last year, up from 42 percent three years ago) as well as track their application status online, never will they be able to learn of their admission decision over the web: a hand-signed letter will always come in the mail, said Giannino. "Our personal touch seems to catch people's attention even more than it used to — because it's real."
Tech-savvy Jason Rand '07 calls himself an "early adopter" -- he was downloading MP3s in sixth grade before most people had even heard of them. The political science/art and art history double major's first blog critiqued the influence of the media, and he now blogs about his Colgate experience for the communications office (www.colgate.blogs.com/gatelife). Rand approaches his blog as a journal -- sharing everyday experiences and thoughts -- and also posts his videos and photography. He has shared a video of making s'mores around a campfire with his first-year Linksters at the Colgate quarry, and an arts piece he created for his seminar that was inspired by pioneering video artist Bill Viola.
"It's pretty open ended," he said. "I'm hopefully appealing to more than just prospective students -- my friends also read it."
"I'm on Facebook and MySpace, but I don't let it take over my life," said Jason Rand '07. "And I don't think it makes people more antisocial — just the opposite."
Technology pervades student social interaction, agrees Dima Tkachev '08. "Everyone is using AIM [instant messaging]; even some professors and deans use AIM and have Facebook accounts," he said. "I think it gives people who are shy more opportunities to express themselves. Sometimes, it's a nice way to break the ice." (For more on Facebook: Brittany Messenger '10 shares her experience.)
Recognizing students' propensity for communicating online, Colgate created a special Class of 2010 website through the university portal, to help incoming first-years get a jump on starting college. It facilitated live chats with students and staff members, walked them through e-mail signup, and contained downloadable information packets, links to departments, and forums where students could introduce themselves to classmates and post questions. Working with Beverly Low, dean of first-year students, Tkachev was a facilitator.
"The message board was the most helpful," he said. Students asked about course registration, cell phones, and cars, among other things. "At the beginning of the summer, I would receive tons of e-mails with the same questions. This way, you can answer it once, and everyone can read it."
For Maria Kryachko '10, who is from Voronezh, Russia, these technologies helped make coming from abroad much easier. "I e-mailed with the admissions staff about traveling and arrival issues, and with professors about courses. I signed up for Facebook and met many people there, and I checked out my room and my roommate information on the Colgate portal. So I wasn't frightened about coming, because Colgate people seemed friendly and helpful." Now, Kryachko said, Facebook is a way to confirm friendships. "It's like saying, `I like you; I'd like to continue our conversation."
Social networking does come with pitfalls, given the kinds of information that students reveal about themselves on their personal profiles. Young people don't always consider who may be looking at Facebook and MySpace pages when posting their latest party exploits, for example, and as Barbara Roback, associate director of career services, recently told the Maroon-News, "We've been speaking to students about it."
A survey done on behalf of CareerBuilder.com found that 26 percent of hiring managers used Internet search engines and 12 percent used social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to research potential employees.
Roback recommends that students consider carefully what information to share — whether they would be comfortable not only with their parents seeing it, but also discussing it in an informational or employment interview. "That's usually when we see the students understand the significance," she said.
And because nothing replaces person-to-person communication, Jane Jones of counseling and psychological services is concerned about the prevalence of communicating via computer.
"It's nice that you can share in writing with someone that you're mad, for example, but are you learning how to develop healthy confrontational skills that are verbal?" she asked. "I wonder about how much technology is helping or hindering that process." Consistent with the principles of the university's residential education mission of building life skills, the message Colgate staff members strive to convey when coaching students is, when you need to work something out, better to close your laptop and have a face-to-face conversation.
Maria Kryachko '10 is one of a cadre of student videographers who shoot and edit videos for the Colgate website (www.colgate.edu/video). She says it's a great job that has given her important skills and creates many opportunities for interaction. "Our boss, Ray Nardelli in media services, is very helpful; he taught us what we needed," she said.
She is most proud of her outdoor education video. "I went on a backpack overnight trip and shot some video of it. It was a lot of fun, and the interesting thing was that there were students of different years -- seniors, freshmen, and sophomores all together." When the videos are posted to the website, they are shared with all involved. "The people in the videos get excited, too," she said. "They send the links to their families and friends, which is also a way for people to interact."
AlcoholEdu is a confidential, interactive, online alcohol education program that first-years complete before arriving on campus (The federal government requires that all incoming students in higher education complete an alcohol education program). Students answer a survey, and their responses generate information and alcohol education personalized for them.
"They can log in at 3 a.m. if that works better for them," said Jones, who is coordinator of alcohol and drug education. "That's an important advantage in getting people to finish the program." She said AlcoholEdu received a favorable response from the Class of 2009; 70 percent found it helpful and 73 percent indicated they would recommend it to others.
They also use the "Core Survey," an online alcohol and drug assessment instrument, to get a sense of alcohol and drug issues on campus, as well as the eChug and eToke screening programs. Students fill them out online, but like AlcoholEdu, neither replaces face-to-face counseling. For example, with eChug or eToke, Jones says she can "have a student come in, take part in a survey online, and get back a printed handout. I walk them through it and we look at issues, and they can take the handout home with them."
Technology also plays a role in helping get the message out about social norms. Students often aren't aware that the majority of their peers are making the right choices about drugs, alcohol, and other issues, so statistics such as "67 percent of Colgate students surveyed drink 10 or fewer drinks per week" are important messages to deliver to help combat perceived peer pressure. Last year, the office organized "Tricky Treating," a treasure hunt where clues and answers dealing with social norms were sent via e-mail. More than 90 teams signed up, racing all over campus carrying their cell phones and laptops. "Students loved it," Jones said.
Cary Peppermint's Digital Studio I and Theory and Practice classes exhibited their art technology mixes — net.art 2.0 experiments, network performance actions, digital video constructions, digital sound occupations, and recombinant digital musings — at the Paul J. Schupf Studio Arts Center in early December (check out http://blogtest.colgate.edu/mt/blogs/arts/).
The academic e-arena
For example, in Cary Peppermint's mind, technology isn't just a way to create art — it is art.
The assistant professor of art and art history is using computers and the Internet as media for artistic expression and creative inquiry in his Digital Studio I and II classes. Students create digital art — movies, images, and otherwise — using QuickTime, Macromedia Flash, Logic Audio, and Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator software, and then post their work on personal blogs created for the classes. They also share their reflections and reactions to readings, lectures, and events on their online journals.
The purpose, said Peppermint, is to get students thinking about art in ways that are exclusive to the web. "The Internet and the blogs in particular provide a dynamic space where ideas can circulate with a real-time presence that energizes dialogue both within and outside of the classroom," he explained. "The question is, how can we look at the Internet and make art there that can't be made anywhere else? They end up using their blogs the way a traditional artist would use a sketchbook."
"I hadn't even considered the computer and Internet as media in which to produce something other than commercial art," said Stephanie Tanguay '08, who took Digital Studio I last fall. "The class opened my eyes to the amazing and constantly changing technology that is accessible to us, and how it only makes sense that this `new media' should be an artistic outlet and break from art that has been previously produced. I'm very interested in digital art as a result."
Other members of the faculty recently shared examples of how they are using technology in ways that enhance interaction. Don Duggan-Haas (education) used Apple's iChat (videoconference software) in his math and science methods course to have a Miami University of Ohio mathematics education professor as a guest speaker on the use of math manipulatives. "He was on the big screen, and my students were `with him' in his office on his small screen. We were able to carry on an interesting conversation, and he also directed us to web resources through text chatting." Duggan-Haas is also using many technologies such as Skype in his NSF-funded program for Earth science teacher professional development; participant Sarah Miller MAT'05 created a model virtual geological field trip of Norwich.
In November, Michael Johnston (political science) used the videoconference facility in McGregory Hall to teach classes live in Manila, for a graduate-level anti-corruption course sponsored by the Philippines Development Academy and funded by Philippine government sources and the USAID. For the World Bank, he presented a paper on measuring reform via videoconference from Washington to a workshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh. "I even stayed awake during my own lecture, even though it started after midnight," he quipped, "way past my bedtime!"
Some professors are increasingly requiring students to create websites rather than write papers to share original research. The website that Amelia Thompson '07 created on the AIDS epidemic in Jamaica, for Jun Yoshino's Critical Analysis of Health Issues: AIDS course, recently became the first website to earn the prestigious Core Scientific Perspectives Writing Award. This fall, Carolyn Hsu had her students create websites on their collaborative research projects, complete with annotated bibliographies, on topics ranging from food to Tiananmen Square for her first-year seminar on China. The expected rigor of inquiry and writing is the same, and the added visual and interactive dimensions enhance the presentations, giving students valuable skills — and attractive portfolios of their work that they can share more widely.
With online references and web-based instruction available at any time of day or night, independent e-learning may be gaining ground in many circles, but as the examples above show, and Lyle Roelofs, provost and dean of the faculty, argues, "the idea of a classroom of one person interacting with the whole universe takes something critical out of education. Students will always get so much more through traditional close engagement with scholars who spend their lives immersed in an area of expertise."
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