The Colgate Scene
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Keeping current in the information age
Chief Information Officer Karen Leach's answers to frequently asked questions provide the lowdown on high tech at Colgate
Chief Information Officer for Information Technology Services Karen Leach
Access to high technology has become so important to college students today
that Yahoo! Internet Life magazine annually compiles a list of the
nation's "100 Most Wired Colleges."|
Knowing how to tap the information on the World Wide Web, how to communicate in an electronic world, how to make the most of technology to organize the routine and simplify the complex, are important elements in the preparation of college students today.
While computers were once the province of students in the sciences, they have now become essential tools for students in virtually all disciplines.
Keeping pace with advances in technology is an expensive proposition and one
of the major drivers of college budgets. As chief information officer for
information technology services, Karen Leach oversees Colgate's fastest-growing
area. Her answers to the following questions give a sense of how Colgate (which
is second on the Yahoo! list) is responding to keep its students and
faculty current in the information age.
Describe the growth of staff and budgets in Colgate's information technology
services over the past decade.
Of course it takes people to support all of these initiatives. New staff members were hired to manage the network, troubleshoot computing problems, develop the Colgate website, provide training, and work with faculty and students on effective applications of technology.
What philosophy guides the development of the college's resources in
Improving things means leveraging technologies that positively impact the teaching and learning process, enhance services to students or employees, or reach out to the broader Colgate community by connecting alumni and prospective students. The goal is to contribute to the fundamental strengths of the college overall.
Saving money means making Colgate a more efficient place. Efficiencies
achieved through technology result in more money, time and resources being
available for other things. I don't think anyone would say that technology has
always made his or her job easier. However, most people will likely admit that
it has enabled them to do more.
How does information technology at Colgate stack up with the resources of other
liberal arts colleges?
We do have some things that are a little different than other schools. For example, compared to some, we have more departmental computing clusters. We put these in because they often run software specific to a discipline -- in chemistry, or psychology or geology, among others.
We also put them in because we believe in investing our money in ways that bring students and faculty together. Students come here to work side by side with great teachers and active researchers. A recent example of a new cluster is in sociology. Adam Weinberg was working on a complex project with some students. At his request, we put two computers in a little room near his office so that the students could just walk down the hall to discuss their progress and brainstorm solutions with him.
Dierk Hoffmann has done extensive experimentation in ways to teach German.
How is technology changing the way members of the faculty teach?|
For some members of the Colgate faculty, technology has been a part of their teaching and research for more than two decades. If you follow technology, in a mere twenty years the focus has evolved from calculating to computing to information storage and access. Many Colgate faculty members were willing to adopt the new functionality in each of those technology phases, always searching for better ways to engage students, present materials and promote critical thinking.
Pioneers continued to appear in the 1990s, concurrent with the advent of the network, the web and new software. For example, Roger Rowlett in chemistry used modeling software to help students better understand molecular structures. Jun Yoshino in psychology had students in two courses -- one focusing on demographics and AIDS, and one on tobacco and marketing -- address unresolved research problems. They then created websites with information that is valuable far beyond the immediate Colgate community.
A grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided funding for faculty to experiment with technology in foreign language teaching. Alice Nakhimovsky in Russian and Sasha Nakhimovsky in computer science wrote multimedia software, called MANNA, that lets students watch foreign film clips, see the dialogue in translation, and connect to grammar and pronunciation materials, all in one location. Dierk Hoffmann has done extensive experimentation in ways to teach German, including bringing German authors to campus via the video conferencing system to talk with students about their writings.
These faculty members were innovators and in many cases served as mentors or role models for others. The list of effective and creative ways in which Colgate teachers have used technology is actually extensive. The price in time and effort that those early adopters had to pay made us sometimes wonder if it was all worth it. But that's all changing very fast.
What we are seeing today at Colgate, and in education as a whole, is a huge wave of faculty who are embracing technology. More and more faculty are providing course materials on the web and engaging their students in new ways. The floodgates are being opened by advances in the technology itself and a higher comfort level among students and professors with using the technology. Also, people are seeing that some of the more basic tools can be used in creative ways. The ideas spread and build upon one another.
Many are using electronic discussions outside of regular class times and using technology to engage students in group work. For example, Charles Holbrow in physics uses new word-processing features to ask students to edit each others' papers, including constructive comments about their work. Students are making important online contributions. Community Service: Theories and Applications, taught by Delores Walters, director of the cultural center, created a reference website on cultural considerations for medical practice.
A few years ago, a faculty member may have used presentation software such as PowerPoint to show the outline of a lecture. While PowerPoint did allow lectures to be easily modified, one could argue that it is not really much better than handing out a piece of paper. Now a PowerPoint presentation includes audio, video, Internet materials and links to special digital resources provided by the library. Materials collected in presentation software or a web page are immediately accessible. The faculty member may not be actually planning to use a given piece of material, but if the conversation in class goes off in a new direction it will be easily reached.
The timing for all of this could not be better. With a robust infrastructure, access to hardware, software and network services as well as support mechanisms, Colgate faculty and students are well positioned for success.
Karen Harpp, assistant professor of geology, has students watch films as part of her CORE course on the advent of the Atomic Bomb. Then, students participate in online threaded discussions outside the class period. They relate the film contents and themes to the course material and their personal knowledge (e.g., family histories), demonstrating that students will become a resource to their classmates if given the opportunity.
How do you see electronic communication changing the sense of community on
campus and beyond?|
I am fascinated by how communities work and how people communicate in general. The new area of online communication is an interesting one. So many people, including me, are asking, "Is it a good thing?" At the same time, we know new kinds of communities are rapidly forming that are only possible because of communications technology. That phenomenon creates tremendous opportunities. People with the same interests can collaborate as never before. They can talk across time and distance. We have seen this at Colgate in a course that Rich April taught last year. Students in Sweden and here exchanged soil samples for testing and then compared and discussed results. This kind of collaboration shows that new voices that would not otherwise be heard can be connected, perhaps providing new opportunities to solve problems.
Colgate is experimenting with forms of online discussion, especially threaded discussions, through the Asynchronous Learning Project. Volunteer members of the faculty are carefully looking at whether online discussion can augment and further strengthen faculty-student and student-student interaction. Use of these tools here, and elsewhere, sometimes shows that more students participate, students become resources to each other, the class can address additional materials, and students engage more deeply in the course overall. We want to find out what the effects are at Colgate. The idea to pursue this investigation is the brainchild of President Charles Karelis. The impact of online discussion really has not yet been explored in the liberal arts setting.
New communities go well beyond Hamilton. Electronic communication has the potential to bind alumni more closely to the college. For example, Karen Harpp, a faculty member who is teaching a course on the atomic bomb, is going to have some alumni who were active in World War II participate in online discussions next fall. It's a great opportunity for alumni to engage current students and for current students to learn from those who have gone before them.
The Collaboration for Enhanced Learning members, front row from left: CEL Director David Baird, Assistant Science Librarian Peter E. Tagtmeyer, Head of Library Instruction Mary Jane Petrowski, Director of Technology Education Judith A. Doherty '85; back row from left: Instructional Technology Specialist Ray Nardelli, Systems Librarian Cindy Harper, Director of Technology Planning Richard Grant and Director of Instructional Technology Darryl Simcoe [Zoom]
How does information technology relate to the library, and what shape will that
relationship take in the future?|
I don't want to oversimplify the answer because it is complex. Let's start with a basic assumption: fast computers, Internet access to and from every corner of the world, and the rate at which material is being digitized has sent the average person into a state of information overload. Now, let's look at the primary roles of these two organizations: librarians are the people who are expert at finding, organizing and managing information, and the information technologists are the people who are expert at distributing digital information. Judy Noyes, the university librarian, and I are not alone in recognizing that our missions are definitely intertwined in an increasingly digital world.
While alliances were forming naturally as the two organizations worked on projects, the relationship was formalized this past year with the creation of the Collaboration for Enhanced Learning (CEL). Librarians and ITS staff serve as a resource for faculty who want to use technology and think creatively about how they convey materials and engage students. This may include such things as using technology to overcome thorny teaching and learning problems, special projects that might provide for more hours of intellectual interaction, international or cross-cultural collaborative activities, or online projects and problem-solving activities. CEL was started with grant funding from the A.W. Mellon Foundation and we recently obtained funding to continue and expand the project from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation.
In the future we will continue to develop the library/IT collaboration to more
areas, capitalizing on synergistic opportunities. Within the next five years we
hope to build an addition to Case Library to house the ITS staff and provide
space for joint activities and programming. The students will benefit by
consolidating the computer labs with the traditional and digital library
resources. All of the support expertise will be in one place. Students and
faculty will also have an enlivened central place on campus to gather, study,
work and create, contributing to keeping Colgate on the leading edge of
residential liberal arts colleges.
Describe the scope of Colgate's website: What's the volume of traffic? What are
the most popular areas? How is it kept current? What's planned for the future?
Colgate's website is composed of thousands of pages that represent nearly every academic, administrative and student organization. They are maintained by hundreds of users across the campus. Colgate's main web servers deliver 13 million page views per month -- up from one million in January of 1999. So you can see how so much traffic is converging to the web. The most popular parts of the site are the links for students considering admission, such as the academic departments and programs, and student life. The web pages devoted to athletics get a lot of traffic, especially from alumni. The online campus calendar is a hot spot for people here, and more and more course materials are being mounted online.
Many service functions, such as registration, have also been completely automated because of the web. Students can register for courses themselves any time of the day or night during the enrollment period. The biggest advantage is that they can quickly and easily find alternatives when courses are full. We have fewer complaints about class availability because it's so easy to search the database. The Colgate libraries saw the same phenomenon when the library catalogue was automated. People had complained about the Colgate book collection. Once they could iteratively search the catalogue online they realized we actually had many of the resources they were looking for, or excellent alternatives. The technology puts people more in control of the process and many people feel satisfied by that.
Following industry trends, the present focus is on delivering personalized information to the Colgate community. The textbook ordering process through the bookstore is a good example. Students can log on and see the courses they are taking that semester and the books that are needed for those courses. They can order online and then just pick up the box at the bookstore. We also have a "Faculty Toolbox" page for each faculty member that shows the courses he or she is teaching and the names of the students in those courses, with a picture of each student. The page also provides their advisees' schedules and a myriad of other useful features.
One of the 45 servers
What are the biggest challenges you face?|
There are several areas that come to mind. First, helping faculty think about the best way to incorporate technology into their teaching. There are so many opportunities, and we have only just begun to tap them. We want to do it right and that takes a lot of time and effort.
The second is the much more pragmatic issue of keeping everything running reliably. Technology tools are so essential to all of the work we do now and the evolution of technology just hasn't made it perfect yet. Faculty members can't afford to waste the precious class time they have with their students. If they are going to use technology in the class it has to work every time. If the network is down, the campus comes to a complete halt -- both the business functions and the academic functions -- costing the college in quality and money. Fortunately the network is up and running more than 99.5 percent of the time. We have done much to improve the reliability of the network and individual PCs, but the nature of technology means that there are so many things -- hardware and software -- that can go wrong, that we still find it frustrating when things don't work.
Third is the issue of timing and resources. When do we implement and what can we afford? Can our network withstand another semester or must something be done now? What about that new software -- should we upgrade now or later? Should there be a scanner in every department, or is it sufficient to provide central high-end workstations that support scanning? We must anticipate the need and implement it at just the right time or we run the risk of a premature failure, wasted resources and a frustrated user community.
And finally, it is hard to get people in the IT field these days, given the
demand. We are fortunate to have a group of incredibly talented and hard
working people. They are the ones that really make all this happen.
What are the trends that will be important to Colgate in the next few years?
Many of the technology projects currently in development at Colgate are geared to capitalize on these trends. We are working in new streaming media formats. We are already upgrading our local network to switched gigabit speeds. We are working with vendors in the Hamilton region to assure adequate service to this area for the exchange of these materials. Rural areas can be at a disadvantage when it comes to communication services.
In the future I predict we will see more projects in the curriculum that revolve around international collaboration, because it is now truly possible. One of our challenges will be to provide around-the-clock service in a globally connected environment.
Students on the Moscow Study Group with Assistant Professor of Russian Ian Helfant stayed connected to campus through privileges at an Internet café, arranged by Karen Leach, with Mellon funding. [Zoom]
Has any aspect of the growth in technology caught you by surprise?
Just how much we use and depend on technology in general. People are rightfully concerned about the expense of technology and also the social implications of people connected in a virtual way. But wow, ask them to do without their technology, even for a short time, and they get pretty upset! Our overall technology traffic has grown more than I ever imagined. Bandwidth needed to connect to the Internet seems to be doubling every year, with no end in sight. As a small example of how the world has changed, I can give you a personal anecdote. During 1999 I sent out an average of 500 e-mail messages a month. I have no idea how many I read -- probably five times that many. This year I am averaging 750 sent e-mails per month. If I am away for a couple of days, there are easily 200 messages to be read or responded to. It's not that I necessarily have more work; it's just the way the world works.
The world is experiencing tremendous changes through technology and that makes it an exciting time for all of us, but in particular for education. An institution like Colgate is innovative in so many ways, and we are well positioned for innovative uses of technology as well.
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