Cyberinfrastructure as Cognitive Scaffolding: The Role of Genre Creation in Knowledge Making

by Janet Murray, Georgia Tech

Originally Posted December 16th, 2007 

Professor Janet H. Murray is an internationally recognized interactive designer, the director of Georgia Tech’s Masters Degree Program in Information Design and Technology and Ph.D. in Digital Media, and a member of Georgia Tech’s interdisciplinary GVU Center. She is the author of Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (Free Press, 1997; MIT Press 1998), which has been translated into 5 languages, and is widely used as a roadmap to the coming broadband art, information, and entertainment environments. She is currently working on a textbook for MIT Press, Inventing the Medium: A Principled Approach to Interactive Design and on a digital edition of the Warner Brothers classic, Casablanca, funded by NEH and in collaboration with the American Film Institute. In addition, she directs an eTV Prototyping Group, which has worked on interactive television applications for PBS, ABC, and other networks. She is also a member Georgia Tech’s Experimental Game Lab. Murray has played an active role in the development of two new degree programs at Georgia Tech, both 0f which were launched in Fall 2004: the Ph.D. in Digital Media, and the B.S. in Computational Media. In spring 2000 Janet Murray was named a Trustee of the American Film Institute, where she has alsoserved as a mentor in the Enhanced TV Workshop a program of the AFI Digital Content Lab. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Harvard University, and before coming to Georgia Tech in 1999 taught humanities and led advanced interactive design projects at MIT. Murray’s primary fields of interest are digital media curricula, interactive narrative, story/games, interactive television, and large-scale multimedia information spaces. Her projects have been funded by IBM, Apple Computer, the Annenberg-CPB Project, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Information infrastructure is a network of cultural artifacts and practices.[1] A database is not merely a technical construct; it represents a set of values and it also shapes what we see and how we see it. Every time we name something and itemize its attributes, we make some things visible and others invisible. We sometimes think of infrastructure, like computer networks, as outside of culture. But pathways, whether made of stone, optical fiber or radio waves, are built because of cultural connections. How they are built reflects the traditions and values as well as the technical skills of their creators. Infrastructure in turn shapes culture. Making some information hard to obtain creates a need for an expert class. Counting or not counting something changes the way it can be used. Increasingly it is the digital infrastructure that shapes our access to information and we are just beginning to understand how the pathways and containers and practices we build in cyberspace shape knowledge itself.

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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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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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Remote Learning at a Residential College

by Steven Taylor, Vassar College.

Steven Taylor, EdD is the Director of Academic Computing at Vassar College, where he has been since 1998. Previously, he was Director of the Faculty Information Technology Center at Emory University. (sttaylor@vassar.edu.)

Background

Since shortly after the web was developed, colleges and universities have used it for conducting distance education programs. Leaders in the practice included public institutions, whose mission included serving a wide geographical area of non-traditional students, and large universities, which were challenged to provide alternatives to courses taught in huge lecture halls. The emergence of MOOCs in 2012 brought more attention to the practice.

It has not been obvious, however, how distance learning technologies could benefit small, private, residential, liberal arts colleges. Many have doubted that an online course could offer a better learning experience than a face-to-face course with a small student/faculty ratio. A 2011 report from the Pew Research Center found that four-year, selective private colleges were the least likely of any type of higher education institution to offer online courses.[1]

There have been some explorations, of course. Wesleyan, for instance, began offering MOOCs in 2013.[2] And while there were some indirect benefits to their enrolled students,[3] the initiative’s target populations were alumni and prospective students.[4]

Other liberal arts colleges have explored the use of online courses for more limited audiences. The Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) has founded the New Paradigms Initiative, through which students in its 16 member schools will be able to cross-register for online and hybrid courses, in order to “broaden and enhance academic offerings for students.”[5] Many of these courses are on topics that would not draw sufficient enrollment at any one school. In some cases, the instructor has a specialized knowledge not found in the faculty of the other schools. In effect, each of these schools is enhancing the opportunities of its own students by facilitating their ability to take courses offered by other schools.

At Vassar College, a recent experience has identified a use for distance learning technologies that borders on the ironic: a residential college connecting with its students when they’re not in residence; an institution known for small class sizes interacting with a student cohort of 670. We’re using online tools to enhance our summer common reading program for incoming students.

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The Collaborative Liberal Arts Moodle Project: A Case Study

by Joanne Cannon, Joseph Murphy, Jason Meinzer, Kenneth Newquist, Mark Pearson, Bob Puffer and Fritz Vandover

Joanne Cannon is the Assistant Director of Educational Technology Services and Manager, Interactive Services at Smith College. Joseph M. Murphy is Director of Information Resources at Kenyon College. Jason Meinzer is Senior Open Source Developer at Reed College. Kenneth Newquist is Web Applications Specialist at Lafayette College. Mark Pearson is Instructional Technologist at Earlham College. Bob Puffer is Academic Technologist at Luther College and the NITLE Moodle Liaison. Fritz Vandover is Academic Information Associate for Humanities at Macalester College.

(Originally Posted September 9th, 2009)

What is CLAMP?
The Collaborative Liberal Arts Moodle Project (CLAMP) is an effort by several schools to support continued and sustainable collaborations on Moodle development at liberal arts institutions. Moodle is an open-source learning management system designed with social constructivist pedagogy as part of its core values. With highly-customizable course pages, faculty can organize course material by week or by topic and add modules, resources and activities that help students meet learning objectives by encouraging collaboration and interaction. While the lack of licensing fees initially attracts many campuses, the flexibility of working with an open source tool also becomes a real advantage, allowing for additional customization to meet the specific needs of the institution.

Moodle is well-supported through its core developers and the large community at moodle.org, but CLAMP has a different focus: the issues and challenges unique to four-year liberal arts colleges using Moodle. By creating a smaller network of Moodle users with a tighter focus on the liberal arts, we are able to undertake development projects which none of us could accomplish alone. CLAMP develops community best practices for supporting Moodle, establishes effective group processes for documentation and fixing bugs, and better connects our institutions to the thriving Moodle community worldwide. Put briefly, by partnering programmers and instructional technologists across multiple institutions, CLAMP lowers the practical barriers to supporting and adapting this open source software.

To better understand CLAMP, it is helpful to look at the lexical components of the acronym:

Collaborative: True participatory collaboration between member institutions is the motor of the project through a consensus process. Artifacts collaboratively produced from online and in-person gatherings are significant, benefiting all liberal arts Moodle institutions.
Liberal Arts: While the liberal arts educational model is almost exclusively represented by institutions in the United States, we believe that the core values of this model–“critical thinking, broad academic interests, and creative, interdisciplinary knowledge” are embraced by many educational institutions worldwide.1 They are also critical for the Moodle community. Indeed, a cursory dig into the support forums of the moodle.org developers, users, and managers mother site exposes rich seams of liberal arts values in the strata of developers, users, and managers. Here you find core characteristics of a liberal arts education reflected in both the outcomes and the artifacts of CLAMP activities (such as the Moodle Liberal Arts Edition, bug fixes, documentation) and the process by which they are produced.
Moodle: As the premier open source learning management system, Moodle is a model of the open source sharing, cooperative and empowering collaborative ethic. And for CLAMP, the relationship with the larger Moodle community is symbiotic and synergistic–all bug fixes are reported back to the Moodle tracker for inclusion into the core, the Moodle Liberal Arts Edition is made freely available, and CLAMP members take an active role in voting on issues raised in the development community.
Project: While the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) has nurtured CLAMP for the past year through the NITLE’s Instructional Innovation Fund, the universal approach of CLAMP broadens its appeal to campuses beyond NITLE and even beyond the confines of North America. It is important to note, however, that our focus is exclusively on liberal arts educative goals. While we certainly recognize K-12 concerns, research university needs and distance education imperatives, these are not addressed through this project.

The technical culmination of these efforts over the last year is the Moodle Liberal Arts Edition distribution. It includes all third party modules and add-ons commonly used by our institutions; bug-fixes of critical importance to our schools; functions that simplify the user’s experience; and backend tools to give Moodle administrators better information about how their systems are being used. Although all CLAMP bug-fixes are contributed back to the Moodle core project, this distribution gathers the collective work and wisdom of the institutional network, simplifying the job of finding and installing each vetted patch or module.

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Digital Projects and the First Year Seminar: Making Blended Learning Work at a Small Liberal Arts College.

Authors

Pete Coco is the digital learning strategist at Wheaton College in Norton, MA, where his work focuses on faculty development with a technological bent. He holds an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an M.S.L.I.S. from the University of Illinois.

Leah Niederstadt is assistant professor of museum studies/art history and curator of the Permanent Collection at Wheaton College in Norton, MA. An anthropologist by training, she holds postgraduate degrees from the University of Michigan and University of Oxford. Her research focuses on expressive culture in Ethiopia and on the management and use of academic collections.

Coco_Niederstadt

Photo credit: Jack Brotherton, Wheaton College Class of 2017.

Executive summary

To blend her first-year seminar at Wheaton College, Assistant Professor Leah Niederstadt collaborated closely with Digital Learning Strategist Pete Coco and other technology and library staff to deliver a course focused on digital projects. As the seminar explored the concept of cultural property, students spent considerable time on two digital projects tracing provenance, the chain of custody for cultural objects, and repatriation, the process by which misbegotten cultural objects are returned to their rightful owners. By altering the goal of blended learning away from reduced seat time and toward enhanced seat-time, Niederstadt and her students were able to succeed in creating two ambitious digital projects without losing class time for other important uses. These included student-focused discussions, training relevant to the course’s core digital projects, field trips, and workshops led by a variety of staff, all covering content germane to the course topic and to the process of adjusting first-year students to college.

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