Cyberinfrastructure: Leveraging Change at our Institutions. An interview with James J. O’Donnell

by David Green, Knowledge Culture

Originally Published December 16th, 2007

James O’Donnell, Provost of Georgetown University, is a distinguished classics scholar (most recently author of Augustine: A New Biography), who has contributed immensely to critical thinking about the application of new technologies to the academic realm. In 1990, while teaching at Bryn Mawr College, he co-founded the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, one of the earliest online scholarly journals, and while serving as Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he was appointed Penn’s Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing. In 2000 he chaired a National Academies committee reviewing information technology strategy at the Library of Congress, resulting in the influential reportLC21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress. One of his most influential books, Avatars of the Word (Harvard, 1998) compares the impact of the digital revolution to other comparable paradigmatic communications shifts throughout history.

David Green: We’re looking here at the kinds of organizational design and local institutional evolution that will need to happen for liberal arts (and other higher-education) institutions to take advantage of a fully-deployed international cyberinfrastructure. How might access to massive distributed databases and to huge computational and human resources shift the culture, practice and structure of these (often ancient) institutions? How will humanities departments be affected–willingly or unwillingly? Will they lead the way or will they need to be coaxed forward?

James O’Donnell: I think the issue you’re asking about here boils down to the question, “What problem are we really trying to solve?” And I think I see the paradox. The NSF Cyberinfrastructure Report, addressed to the scientific community, could assume a relatively stable community of people whose needs are developing in relatively coherent ways. If wise heads get together and track the development of those needs and their solutions, you can imagine it would then just be an ordinary public policy question: what things do you need, how do you make selections, how do you prioritize, what do you do next? NSF has been in this business for several decades. But when you come to the humanities (and full credit to Dan Atkins, chair of the committee that issued the report, for saying “and let’s not leave the other guys behind”) and you ask “what do these people need?” you come around to the question (that I take it to be the question you are asking of us) “Are we sure these people know they need what they do need?”

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Three Stars and a Chili Pepper: Social Software, Folksonomy, and User Reviews in the College Context

by Joseph Ugoretz, Director of Technology and Learning, Macaulay Honors College–CUNY

Originally Published June 9th, 2006

The “future history of the media,” EPIC, presents a fictionalized retrospective, from the year 2014, of the history of media, news, and information. “In the year 2014,” the “Museum of Media History” tells us, “people have access to a breadth and depth of information unimaginable in an earlier age. Everyone contributes in some way. Everyone participates to create a living, breathing mediascape.” While we have not reached the point predicted there, and only time will tell if we’re going to be there by 2014, there have, of late, been some significant steps in that direction. One of these steps has been the development of a constellation of online tools that can be (at least loosely) tied together in the broad category of social software.

Social software includes many communication media, but the new tools which are the subject of this essay all fit three broad descriptions. These tools are interactive, with the content created and structured by a wide mass of contributors. These tools are also interconnected, with user-provided searchable links structuring and cross-referencing that content. And finally, these tools are bottom-up and communitarian, with the users of the tools providing and benefitting from associations, reputations, and authority within a many-to-many community. The various tools of social software are an increasing presence in the online world, as well as the offline lives of their users. Four brief vignettes demonstrate this.

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Review of “Connecting Technology & Liberal Education: Theories and Case Studies” A NERCOMP event (4/5/06)

by Shel Sax,  Director of Education Technology at Middlebury College’s Center for Teaching Learning and Research.

Originally Published September 26th, 2006

On April 5, at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, NERCOMP offered a SIG event on “Connecting Technology and Liberal Education: Theories and Case Studies.” Examining the description of the event on the NERCOMP web site (http://www.nercomp.org) made two things immediately apparent. This was a workshop looking at a very broad topic and all of the presenters came from an academic background rather than a technological one.

The flow of the day went from the most general, with Jo Ellen Parker beginning the proceedings with a discussion of the various theories of liberal education and their impact and influence on institutional technology decisions, to specific case studies offered by faculty from Emerson, Hamilton, Mt. Holyoke and Hampshire Colleges.

Session 1: What’s So “Liberal” About Higher Ed?

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Cyberinfrastructure = Hardware + Software + Bandwidth + People

by Michael Roy, Middlebury College

Originally Published September 25th, 2006. A report on the NERCOMP SIG workshop Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished; Setting up Centralized Computational Research Support, 10/25/06

Introduction
Back to the Future of Research Computing

As Clifford Lynch pointed out at a recent CNI taskforce meeting, the roots of academic computing are in research. The formation of computing centers on our campuses was originally driven by faculty and students who needed access to computer systems in order to tackle research questions. It was only years later that the idea of computers being useful in teaching came into play. And once that idea took hold, it seemed that we forgot about the research origins of academic computing.

Lynch argues that the pendulum is swinging back again, as campuses nationwide report an increased interest in having libraries and computer centers provide meaningful, sustainable and programmatic support for the research enterprise across a wide range of disciplines.

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Capturing the Visible Evidence of Invisible Learning

by Randy Bass and Bret Eynon

Randy Bass is Assistant Provost for Teaching and Learning Initiatives at Georgetown University, where he is also Executive Director of Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) and an associate professor of English at Georgetown. In 1998-99, he was a Pew Scholar in the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and from 2000-2008, he served as a consulting scholar with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Dr. Bret Eynon is Assistant Dean for Teaching and Learning at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) and the executive director of the LaGuardia Center for Teaching & Learning. With CUNY’s American Social History Project from 1983-2000, he wrote acclaimed textbooks, produced award-winning documentary videos, and founded and led for 6 years ASHP’s national New Media Classroom program. A national faculty member for the Association of American Colleges & Universities, he recently founded LaGuardia’s new, FIPSE-funded initiative: the Making Connections National Resource Center on Inquiry, Reflection, and Integrative Education.

Originally Posted January 7th, 2009

Note: This is a synthesis essay for the Visible Knowledge Project (VKP), a collaborative project engaging seventy faculty at twenty-one institutions in an investigation of the impact on technology on learning, primarily in the humanities. As a matter of formatting to the Academic Commons space, this essay is divided in three parts: Part I (Overview of project, areas of inquiry, introduction to findings);Part II  (Discussion of findings with a focus on Adaptive Expertise and Embodied Learning);Part III (Discussion of findings continued with a focus on Socially Situated learning, Conclusion). A full-text version of this essay is available as a pdf document here

Here, in this forum as part of Academic Commons, the essay complements eighteen case  teaching, learning, and new media technologies. Together the essay and studies constitute the digital volume “The Difference that Inquiry Makes: A Collaborative Case Study of Learning and Technology, from the Visible Knowledge Project.” For more information about VKP, see https://digitalcommons.georgetown.edu/blogs/vkp/

Déjà 2.0 
Facebook. Twitter. Social media. YouTube. Viral marketing. Mashups. Second Life. PBWikis. Digital Marketeers. FriendFeed. Flickr. Web 2.0. Approaching the second decade of the twenty-first century, we’re riding an unstoppable wave of digital innovation and excitement. New products and paradigms surface daily. New forms of language, communication, and style are shaping emerging generations. The effect on culture, politics, economics and education will be transformative. As educators, we have to scramble to get on board, before it’s too late.
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From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments

by Michael Wesch , Kansas State University

(Originally Posted January 7, 2009)

Knowledge-able
Most university classrooms have gone through a massive transformation in the past ten years. I’m not talking about the numerous initiatives for multiple plasma screens, moveable chairs, round tables, or digital whiteboards. The change is visually more subtle, yet potentially much more transformative. As I recently wrote in a Britannica Online Forum:

There is something in the air, and it is nothing less than the digital artifacts of over one billion people and computers networked together collectively producing over 2,000 gigabytes of new information per second. While most of our classrooms were built under the assumption that information is scarce and hard to find, nearly the entire body of human knowledge now flows through and around these rooms in one form or another, ready to be accessed by laptops, cellphones, and iPods. Classrooms built to re-enforce the top-down authoritative knowledge of the teacher are now enveloped by a cloud of ubiquitous digital information where knowledge is made, not found, and authority is continuously negotiated through discussion and participation.1

This new media environment can be enormously disruptive to our current teaching methods and philosophies. As we increasingly move toward an environment of instant and infinite information, it becomes less important for students to know, memorize, or recall information, and more important for them to be able to find, sort, analyze, share, discuss, critique, and create information. They need to move from being simply knowledgeable to being knowledge-able.

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The ERIAL Project: Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries

by Andrew Asher, Lynda Duke and David Green (Originally Posted May 17th, 2010) 

About the Authors

  • Andrew Asher is the Lead Research Anthropologist for the ERIAL project. Asher holds a PhD in sociocultural anthropology from the University of Illinois and has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Poland, Germany, and the United States.
  • Lynda Duke is Associate Professor, Academic Outreach Librarian in The Ames Library, Illinois Wesleyan University. Duke is the Lead Research Librarian for the ERIAL Project IWU Team.
  • Dave Green is Associate University Librarian for Collections and Information Services in the Ronald Williams Library at Northeastern Illinois University. Green is the Project Manager for the ERIAL Project.  

Introduction Librarians and teaching faculty often think they know how students conduct their research and many have specific ideas on how students ought to conduct their research. However, with the increased ability to access information online and the corresponding changes in libraries, the question of what actually happens between the time a student receives a class assignment and when he or she turns in the final product to a professor is especially compelling, and one that is not as straightforward as it first appears.

Two years ago, five Illinois institutions (Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), DePaul University, Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU), University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS)), began working together to investigate this issue. The Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) Project was organized around the following research question:

What do students actually do when they are assigned a research project for a class assignment and what are the expectations of students, faculty and librarians of each other with regard to these assignments?

The primary goal of this study is to trigger reforms in library services to better meet students’ needs. Traditionally, academic libraries have designed library services and facilities based on information gleaned from user surveys, usage data, focus groups, and librarians’ informal observations. While such tools are valuable, this project employed more user-centered methods to form holistic portraits of student behavior and needs, directly resulting in changes to library services and resources. Continue reading