header image

chair’s report on 2010-11

Posted by: Leonard Nevarez | May 24, 2011 | No Comment |

May 24, 2011

To: Jon Chenette, Dean of the Faculty
From: Leonard Nevarez, chair of Committee on Academic Technologies
Re: annual report of Committee on Academic Technologies

It’s my pleasure to report on the activities of the college’s Committee on Academic Technologies (CAT) for 2010-11.  In this academic year, our members were:

Andrew Tallon (Fall 2010)/Nick Adams (Andrew’s leave replacement for Spring 2011): faculty, Division I

Leonard Nevarez: faculty, Division II

Cindy Schwarz (resigning in August 2010) / David Esteban (joining in October 2010): faculty, Division III

Michael Walsh: faculty, multidisciplinary programs

Carol Lynn Marshall: librarian

Steve Taylor: Computing and Information Services

Aashim Usgaonkar: student representative

Shifting emphases in CAT’s activities

CAT was established in 2009-10 to replace the prior Committee on Computing and Educational Technologies. To contextualize our activities this year, a brief discussion of what we did in 2009-10 is in order, particularly since CAT didn’t produce an annual report that year.  The college’s 2010-11 Governance describes CAT as follows:

A. The committee on academic technologies shall consist of four elected members of the faculty, one from each division including the multi-disciplinary programs; up to two faculty members appointed jointly by the Dean of Faculty and the Dean of Planning and Academic Affairs, in consultation with the Vice President for Computing and Information Services; a representative from Academic Computing Services; a professional librarian appointed by the director of the libraries, and a member of the student body. Elected faculty shall serve a three-year term and may not be elected to more than 2 consecutive terms. Appointed faculty shall serve for a length of time established at the time of appointment but typically no less than a year and no more than three years. The committee shall select a chair annually from the faculty members on the committee.

B. It is the responsibility of the committee to develop and recommend policy related to academic and educational technologies; to gather information from faculty and students about instructional technology needs and initiatives and serve as advocates for those needs; and to solicit ideas from and inform faculty and students of new initiatives related to instructional technology. It shall consult regularly with the Classroom Committee, the Library Committee, Computing and Information Services (especially Academic Computing Services), and other relevant groups as needed to carry out these duties.

C. The Dean of the Faculty, the Dean of Planning and Academic Affairs, and the Vice President for Computing and Information Services shall consult regularly with the Committee on Academic Technologies on technological needs and initiatives related to the educational mission of the College. They shall attend meetings of the committee at the committee’s request.

Approved by the faculty April 15, 2009. (pg. 60)

In 2009-10, the first year of CAT’s existence, the committee pursued an active agenda of procedural reform and technological development in those areas where the college supports faculty duties.  Through consultation with administrators, we pushed College Relations to complete roll-out of the Cascade content management system through which departments and faculty maintain their Vassar websites.  We encouraged CIS to expedite maintenance of computers and instructional software in the college’s classrooms.  And we requested the Registrar to rationalize the procedure for requesting classrooms in order to best allocate the rooms with Smartboards and other special technologies.  This year, CAT shifted the emphasis in our agenda from policy-making to facilitation of and reflection on faculty and students’ uses of technology for teaching and research.  We did this in part because we concurred that the most urgent reforms identified last year had been satisfactorily addressed.  In other part, we did this because we explicitly sought a less administrative and more intellectual approach to our duties, if only to make our regular meetings more interesting.

This shift also drew from our discussions with FPCC and the Committee on Committees, which in 2010-11 asked all college committees to assist in the Governance revision.  Specifically, we concurred that the Governance language’s focus on “instructional technology” conceives CAT’s domain too narrowly, since the contexts in which technology intersect with teaching and research regularly transcend the college’s classroom, computing labs, and online networks (like Moodle), thanks to the proliferation of wi-fi and mobile computing devices.  In this environment, the issues that CAT take up regularly touch upon the pedagogical approaches and classroom policies that faculty individually adopt.  This year, we viewed our most effective and appropriate roles to involve gathering information, fostering campus dialogue, and recommending practices.  While CAT remains open to developing and proposing college policy, that task wasn’t primary in 2010-11, as a review of this year’s activities will indicate.

Activities in 2010-11

Emblematic of this shift in emphasis, the issue that CAT took up the most this year was the question of how students use laptops, smartphones, and other mobile technologies in the classroom.  This issue came to our attention after reviewing reports indicating that student adoption of these devices has rapidly increased in recent years.  National surveys of college students indicate that in 2006-09, laptop ownership (either a full-sized laptop or smaller netbook) increased from 65.4% to 88.3%, while desktop ownership dropped from 71.0% to 44.0% (ECAR, 2010).  Vassar College is at the front of these trends; notably, Bret Ingerman reported that 97% of this year’s freshman class arrived with their own laptop computers.  In this context, we heard concerns and even requests for policy regarding the proper usage of laptops and mobile devices in the classroom.  Accordingly, CAT facilitated dialogue on this issue through a Misc column in September, a student-faculty panel in November, and a faculty dialogue on the new listserv.  At a December faculty meeting, I briefly reported on the student-faculty panel and shared the consensus item among panelists and guests: the request that faculty make explicit their own policies about laptop usage in their syllabi and at the first class meeting.

In April, CAT rolled out a new listserv, facultytalktech@vassar.edu, in order to provide faculty a college-wide forum for discussions about technology and learning.  We developed this listserv to promote CAT’s mandate of gathering information from faculty about their instructional technology needs and informing faculty of new initiatives related to instructional technology.  We were also mindful of the recent HERI faculty survey data indicating that lack of discretionary time is a significant concern, and keeping up with technology an important source of stress, for Vassar faculty.  Accordingly, CAT thought it important to provide a flexible forum for discussing teaching and technology that can be accessed at faculty’s convenience (unlike technology workshops and presentations) and can be modulated by a simple listserv settings website.

CAT discussed the college’s steps to create online access to college committee information and materials (e.g., on the forthcoming URL http://committees.vassar.edu). Recognizing that different protocols and hierarchies of access are appropriate for different colleges, we used our own committee to develop two different models of online access.  First, we rationalized the Committee on Academic Technologies Moodle, creating public sections for meeting minutes; reports and data; archives of our correspondences to other college offices, administrators, and committees; and special sections for materials like audio transcripts of our student-faculty panel in November.  The CAT Moodle also contains restricted sites where we can access non-public materials (like Fergusson grant applications). Second, in November CAT created its own blog, http://pages.vassar.edu/cat/, where all internet users can access our committee announcements, summaries of meeting minutes (starting with February 2011), and other reports such as this one.

Like other college committees this year, CAT consulted with FPCC and the Committee on Committees to revise our committee description (stated above in “Shifting emphases in CAT activities”) in line with the actual work.  We found this activity useful in helping the committee reflect on its purpose and most effective methods of advancing the college’s mission and concerns where technologies for teaching and research are concerned.  Regarding specific proposals for revising the committee description, we noted that CAT has yet to have “up to two faculty members appointed jointly by the Dean of Faculty and the Dean of Planning and Academic Affairs, in consultation with the Vice President for Computing and Information Services.”  We suggested that FPCC and the Committee on Committees might reevaluate that provision, if only because we’ve found it difficult to get four faculty members across the four divisions to serve on CAT.

CAT joined CIS staff in reviewing applications from faculty and staff for the Frances D. Fergusson Faculty Technology Exploration Fund.  We do this twice a year, for two rounds of applications accepted in the fall and the spring.

Looking toward 2011-12

The domain of CAT’s responsibilities and influence overlaps the spheres of other committees and administrative offices, an important reason why CAT’s activities should include meetings and collaboration with representatives from these groups.  Speaking personally, I think CAT could have done a better job initiating those meetings, a shortcoming of our 2010-11 agenda that I take responsibility for as chair of the committee this year.

In April, we met with Shay Foley, the newly hired Assistant Director for Library Technology and Head of Digital Initiatives Program.  The Digital Initiatives Program promises to alter substantially the ways that faculty develop teaching materials and research documents, and the questions of what materials should be archived and made publicly accessible are multifaceted ones deserving serious consideration.  CAT looks forward to further consultations with Shay Foley and the Committee on the Library next year to discuss the protocols for incorporating digital materials into the Digital Initiatives Program.

In convening our November student-faculty panel on laptop use in the classroom, CAT learned too late that this was an issue separately being pursued by the Learning Teaching and Research Center.  We missed opportunities to synergize our efforts on such campus events, which we discovered require calendar coordination and incentives like catered food to attract a sizable audience.  More generally, CAT recognizes that many of our interests in technology’s dynamic impacts on teaching and research overlap with the interests of the LTRC, and we look forward to meeting with its representatives and collaborating with LTRC more frequently.

CAT concluded our year with an engaging discussion about identifying standards of “technological literacy” that are appropriate for liberal arts students today.  Should our students graduate with specific competencies in making Powerpoint presentations, creating/managing blogs, using online collaboration tools, digitizing materials, creating/editing video, critically evaluating online search results, etc.?  We anticipate continuing this discussion and bringing faculty, students, and the broader college community into the dialogue in 2011-12.

At the end of this year, our student member conveyed to us an interest expressed in the Vassar Student Association about access, evaluation, and enhancement of the library’s new Digital Media Zone and the After-Hours Study Space.  We anticipate taking up this issue in the coming year.

Closing remarks

In conclusion, I’d like to express my deep gratitude to my colleagues for contributing their time, energy, and intellect into the work of CAT.  I found our agenda quite interesting and our discussions enjoyable, and I hope my colleagues did as well.  Certainly, their collegiality helped make our meetings enjoyable.  As exceptionally enthusiastic and generous as the specific members of CAT were this year, I think this dynamic might also be a natural outcome of the questions and activities that CAT takes up.  By examining cutting-edge developments in technologies for teaching and research that make their impacts felt across the breadth of the college, CAT undertakes exciting and stimulating work.  Quite possibly it’s one of the most vibrant of college committees, and I encourage all members of the college to get involved with CAT at some point.

As I head into a full-year sabbatical over 2011-12, I have to cut short my 3-year term on CAT.  I offer best wishes to next year’s CAT members: returning faculty members Michael Walsh and Andrew Tallon, returning staff members Carol Lynn Marshall and Steve Taylor, new faculty members Saul Mercado (Anthropology) and Marc Smith (Computer Science), and our new student member to be announced by VSA in the fall.

under: annual report

Leave a response -

Your response:

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.

Categories

Social Widgets powered by AB-WebLog.com.