The Colgate Scene
November 1998
Table of contents
More perspective than I know what to do with
by Charles H. Holbrow
Charles A. Dana Professor of Physics
Professor Charles Holbrow in his Lathrop Hall office. His work 30 years ago with colleagues Thomas Brackett and Jim Reynolds led to the establishment of the college's first computer center, and later to a department of computer science.
Once upon a time
I began graduate work in physics at the University of Wisconsin in 1958. This was the year after the first general purpose programming language came into existence. It was called Fortran and I used it to write computer programs.

     After coming to Colgate in 1967, I learned that Tom Brackett in Chemistry and Jim Reynolds in Psychology also knew some Fortran. That meager knowledge made us Colgate's faculty experts in computing.

     We discovered that Colgate actually owned a computer, an IBM 1620. It had been acquired by George Schlesser in education, a gifted grantsman, and was sitting seldom used under a plastic sheet in the basement of Lawrence Hall.

     On this slender foundation, we began Colgate's effort to provide faculty with computing technology. We persuaded the National Science Foundation to give Colgate $250,000 (more than $1 million in today's money) between 1968 and 1972 to "introduce computing into a liberal arts college."

     The money set up academic computing at Colgate, founding the Colgate Computer Center, which led later to the establishment of the Department of Computer Science. The NSF grant funded fellowships that enabled us to learn more computer science than just Fortran and to introduce computer courses, including Colgate's first general education course on computing -- Computers and Society -- into the Colgate curriculum. The money paid for two six-week summer workshops that introduced 24 faculty to the use of computers in their scholarship and teaching. Colgate acquired a PDP-10 timesharing computer system and moved into the vanguard of academic computing.

     My professional career has run parallel to the development of computing in America. My first computer program was a thick stack of punched cards that had to be fed into the new IBM 704 that our nuclear physics research group was allowed to use between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. This large machine was housed in a Nash dealership garage some distance from campus, a building that the University of Wisconsin had taken over and converted to research use. In that simple age I and another graduate student would go into the darkened building, turn on the lights, turn on the computer, load the cards into the hopper of the card reader, push the start button, and eagerly scan the print-out as it came off the printer. If there were errors -- and there usually were -- we would desperately try to find them, correct them, punch up some new cards, and run them again before the next user arrived for his turn with the computer.

Changes and surprises
There have been some changes since the punched-card era. Now I sit (hour after hour!) typing on a keyboard, moving and clicking a mouse, reading from the screen. The 200 megahertz Pentium Gateway that sits on my desk is far more powerful than the room-filling IBM 704 of 1960. It comes with an array of remarkable computer programs already written and much more capable than anything I ever wrote.

     Today when I need to compute something, I use an existing package of programs available over Colgate's local network. When I need to do something ambitious but rather special, such as calculate the properties of a rapidly spinning, ellipsoidal atomic nucleus, I download from the Internet software written by specialists in my field at distant laboratories.

     Beyond computation, I use the connectedness of my computer for e-mail, to search the library catalog, to look up something in the Encyclopedia Britannia or the Oxford English Dictionary, to access large databases in my field, or to pick up a photograph or striking image to show my students.

     This connectedness is the biggest change and also the biggest surprise. Teaching "Computers and Society" to undergraduates twenty-five years ago and carrying to the faculty our enthusiasm for the curricular possibilities of computing at Colgate, we often tried to predict where computers would take Colgate.

     In one sense, we didn't do too badly. I confidently projected that it would revolutionize the sciences, that it would change the nature of the way physics was done. At that level of generalization I was safe. I also predicted the vast growth in numerical calculations and the future use of computers to control complicated experiments. That was pretty good. But I completely missed the possibility of creating entirely new fields -- such as chaos physics -- based on cheap, accessible computation. And I had no inkling of the possibilities of the Internet or the consequences of connectedness.

The technology is portable -- in this case to a tabletop at the Barge Canal Coffee Company in downtown Hamilton.
Categories and examples
In order to describe applications of computing in teaching, it helps to sort them into some categories. Of the many possible categories, I choose: (1) enhanced visualization; (2) novel mixes of print, images, and sound; (3) association and organization of large bodies of diverse data; (4) quick, easy access to distant sources of information; (5) the creation of new kinds of interactions among students and faculty, both locally and over great distances.

     Of course, some of the categories overlap and some of the applications fall into more than one category. Nevertheless you can see that the categories usefully distinguish among the five accompanying articles in which my colleagues describe their imaginative and ingenious uses of technology in their learning and their teaching and also among the five examples described below.

Visualization has become a major tool of chemists. Last year Ernie Nolen of the Chemistry Department illustrated his colloquium with computer-generated models of three-dimensional structures of organic molecules. He generated the images of these complicated molecules on his computer and then projected them onto the auditorium screen. Then using his computer he rotated the images and moved them around to show how the key molecules fit together to explain the reactions that he and his students were studying.

     It is a common sight now to see a class of organic chemistry students examining the details of molecules and their reactions as the teacher steers them through their complexities using computer-generated images projected before the entire class.

Mixing media
Professors Sasha and Alice Nakhimovsky have collaborated in using a remarkable piece of software developed locally by Tom Myers and Sasha. Their program, called Manna, enables language instructors to display on the computer screen a running movie in a foreign language along with its soundtrack while at the same time displaying the script of the movie in a frame at the side of the screen. Thus, a student can see a movie, hear the dialogue in the original language, and see it in print. The student can select any hard to understand part and watch as the movie plays just that part again and again until it becomes clear. Pointing and clicking let the student go to a glossary, to comments on the grammar, or to interpretative remarks.

     The first uses of Manna have been to teach foreign languages -- Russian, German and Japanese, but Alice has also used it in her core course to give her students who are reading The Odyssey a unique experience. She recruited Robert Garland from the Department of Classics to read parts of the epic in the original Greek. Students can view on their computer screens parallel texts, one in Greek along with a transliteration, and several different English translations, which they can compare, while they see and hear Professor Garland read the Greek. They directly experience this great poem as part of an oral tradition as well as a written one.

From computers in the Cooley Science Library and other locations across campus, students can connect to learning and communication resources at Colgate and worldwide.
Access to information
The technologies are revolutionizing the library, and the revolution is far from over. The consequences are so great that the topic deserves an entire article of its own. Every faculty member can now access the library catalog from his or her office; many can do this from home. Faculty can access catalogs of the holdings of more than 27,000 libraries in 64 countries, a staggering 33 million bibliographic records in 400 languages. More than seventy-five indexing and abstracting services are available on line (sometimes at a staggering price).

     But beyond this, the library is intimately involved in teaching students and faculty how to use computers as tools for accessing information from all over the world and as tools for presenting and managing courses. Dozens of Colgate courses now have web sites or virtual classrooms using course management software.

     Most of the faculty that I know who have involved students in extensive use of computers or computer-based resources in their courses acknowledge the enormous, ongoing assistance that they get from Mary Jane Petrowski, Debbie Huerta or Peter Tagtmeyer. The increased involvement of library faculty in cooperative curricular enterprises is a striking consequence of the new technologies.

Online at the geography lab
Revealing associations of data
The possibilities of associating and connecting data in interesting ways have been exploited in the social sciences from the first days of computing. But there are new applications that seem to break through to levels that are qualitatively different from earlier times.

     Adam Burnett in the Geography Department has led an effort that has brought to Colgate a mapping package called GIS (for geographic information systems). This software manages large volumes of geographically referenced data representing both physical and social characteristics. With it you can make maps of almost anything, a capability that was demonstrated recently when a group of Colgate students as a course project used data from the U. S. Census Bureau, the Madison (NY) County Planning Office, the U. S. Geologic Survey and the SPOT satellite imagery system to create a GIS database to assist the Town of Hamilton in its long range planning. The project involved students in many levels of research and learning and concluded with very impressive presentations.

     The ability to draw together diverse data and present it in ways that facilitate sensible decision making is at a level qualitatively different than ever before. Such a project provides Colgate students with an educational experience that prepares them to function with the effectiveness that the 21st century will demand. Soon to come are software and hardware that allow students to gather location data with GPS (Global Positioning System) and feed it directly into GIS to create maps on their own.

From the Remote Collaboration Facility on Colgate's campus, Professor Ross Ferlito taught Italian to a class at Hamilton College.
Connecting people
The ability to connect people in new ways is exciting. Last spring the Colgate Department of Physics and Astronomy launched a project jointly with the Williams College Department of Physics. We used our distance learning classroom, a facility for teleconferencing established with the assistance of the Mellon Foundation, to create a "Long Distance Journal Club."

     The journal club is a tradition in the sciences. A group of people with a common interest in some specialty read papers related to the specialty and then meet to discuss them. Unfortunately in small colleges there are seldom enough scientists sharing a common specialty to make a journal club possible. We realized, however, that Colgate's three physicists interested in atomic physics could use teleconferencing to link up with four or five physicists at Williams who shared this interest.

     We arranged for the first of these discussions to talk about a paper on the sci-fi-sounding subject of "quantum teleportation." The paper was written by a group based in Innsbruck, Austria, and described an experiment that has exciting implications for breakthroughs to new levels of computing power and also quantum cryptography.

     This kind of connection is valuable. But the potential for even greater value was realized when Colgate physics professor Shimon Malin suggested that since we were teleconferencing we should invite the principal author of the paper to join us. There followed one of those delights of modern communications. I e-mailed him in Austria to ask him to join us. He replied from Amherst, Massachusetts, where he was visiting briefly and from where he could read his e-mail in Austria, that he would be delighted to join in, but he would be in Oxford, England on the scheduled day. So we made a three-way bridge of Colgate, Williams, and Oxford and were rewarded by a stimulating and helpful discussion.

     We held another journal club meeting of just Williams and Colgate and realized that there were some extremely interesting possibilities for including the new materials and ideas in our courses. However, we needed the particular technical expertise of a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He joined us in a three-way hook-up at our third meeting. Now the Williams and Colgate physics faculty are planning a joint proposal to the National Science Foundation to fund the development of some novel instructional materials in the quantum physics of entangled states.

As director of technology education, Judy Doherty '85 helps students, faculty and staff keep pace with advances in learning and communication resources.
A few dark thoughts
It would be incomplete and misleading not to mention problems that the new technologies create. There are important general issues of intellectual property rights. Anything put up on a public web site is a publication. This means that extracts or images that would be considered "fair use" in the limited forum of a classroom will be copyright infringement on a website.

     There is also the question of who owns a faculty member's syllabus. In law there is a presumption that the intellectual products of employees produced with employer resources belong to the employer. This often does not make any sense in academia, and many universities explicitly waive their claims and place the property rights in the hands of the creators.

     There are questions of liability. Even in limited-use websites or intra-institutional networks, courseware in which students interact with each other and with the teacher produce permanent records of discussions and evaluations that formerly would have been ephemeral. Will there come a time when some professor's WebCT course records are subpoenaed?

     But a more immediate concern may be the cost. The technology is expensive. What is more, it has a rapid rate of obsolescence so that the capital expense is recurring. We have seen Colgate's capital and operating budgets for information technology rise very rapidly to a total in excess of $3.5 million per year. Colgate now has more than thirty employees who spend most of their time acquiring, installing, maintaining, planning and teaching the use of instructional technologies, campus business systems, high-speed networks, the campus web site, student computing from residence halls, and special media services. So far these expenses are not offset by any increases in productivity.

     The consequence seems to be a richer education, a set of learning experiences different and beyond anything imagined earlier, but most faculty can not supply these experiences without the support of the additional personnel. All the advances come at additional cost.

     There is also a question about the substance of the changes. Many computer applications do not add new substance to education; they add better production values -- fancier formats, colored images, lectures given smoothly and with glitz in PowerPoint. Web sites provide a new way of communicating among the members of the class but the maintenance of the site requires faculty and students and staff to spend time -- often much time -- learning software packages, editors, operating systems.

     Most faculty will tell you that they are now their own secretaries. There is certainly empowerment from learning to use the new technologies. But is this the best use of a faculty member's or a student's time?

     A lot of us spend a lot of time applying computers to our teaching because we are enticed by a belief in the potential of the technology; a lot of what we do is inspired by the pleasures of playing creatively in a new medium; a lot of what we do is motivated by keeping up with the competition. It is not clear that all this makes us better teachers or better learners, and in many important areas where the benefits to the educational enterprise seem to me undeniable and extraordinary, the costs are additional. Anything that forces up the real-dollar cost of higher education has to give us pause.

Interesting times
There clearly is a revolution underway in higher education. It is exciting; it is rich with promise. What do such changes portend for higher education? For liberal arts colleges? For the profession of teaching? For Colgate? The answers are left as an exercise for the reader.

     My earlier predictions were pretty good on the small scale, but they never came close to imagining what has happened on the larger scale. Thirty years ago I realized that the development of rapid transfer of large amounts of data would grow and make feasible cheap, fast exchange of images, but I never imagined what that would mean to the humanities. That Colgate would one day have access to the contents of most of the libraries of the world never occurred to me. I did not expect the humanities to become a frontier of technological innovation. The rush of change, the accelerating revolution, the wave of innovation now rising in the humanities is fascinating.

     Yes, there are some bad omens and dark portents, but I find the oncoming changes to be exhilarating. Wasn't the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times!"? So far it's not so bad.

Computing in the classroom
More perspective than I know what to do with
by Charles H. Holbrow, Charles A. Dana Professor of Physics

Joint learning across the ocean
by Dierk Hoffmann, Professor of German
A tale of two classes and the Web
by Jun Yoshino, Associate Professor of Psychology
Computers and classical archaeology
by Rebecca Miller Ammerman, Associate Professor of the Classics
Ecrire La Fontaine: technology for teaching literature
by John Gallucci, Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures
Enhancing student presentations
by Michael Haines, Professor of Economics

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