Blog Post

Educause 2007 and Academic Technology

So I'm hanging in the Seattle airport thinking about my Educause experience this year and wondering about the future of Academic Technology, that strange hybrid entity emerging out of web design, data management, librarianship, CS, education and the work of various academic misfits--including myself. Instructional Computing has turned into a thing in it own right, with the more advanced course management systems attempting to model collaborative pedagogical principles and to incorporate the most widely adopted tools under the umbrella of university authentication and authorization schemes. Meanwhile, all the Systems and Infrastructure people in the Academic Technology world are working to build environments that can take the bandwidth and space demands of a never-throw-anything-out-even-the-minor-changes digital culture. (Mac OS 10.5, Leopard, highlights this trend with its new Time Machine.) And meanwhile again, in the faculty-dominated world, Digital Humanities Centers and groups are starting to spring up--a welcome antidote to the insularity of staff-based initiatives in that they are better equipped to dig deeply into the content areas in dialog with the technology, usually in the service of exciting new research.

And yet, how do we --the big we -- make deep inroads into everday knowledge-production across the curriculum? I keep thinking it is through academic authorship, through digital media writing, the work that we do that translates ideas into reasoned, articulated, even polished communications. Just because digital work is subject to endless revision, recursion, remediation, and recoding doesn't mean we are off the hook for quality, virtuosity and coherence. To put it in terms of the classroom: when are we going to start judging the product as well as the process? True maturity for our digital interventions into the classroom requires something beyond the "I know it when I see it" school of critique, or just happiness that students are posting or producing, or nodding at the media piece and grading the helpful essay that accompanies it. The models are out there--we have specialists in the world in every conceivable medium, surely, who can describe the good as it applies to their field. Some research projects are living it. Marsha Kinder from UCLA's Labyrinth Project recently came to talk at Duke, and I was struck by how well through out every aspect of the multimedia work her group is producing is. How do we translate that kind of smart, deeply interdisciplinary, thinking to garden variety student writing assignments and evaluation? And where are people talking about that? Writing programs  and language programs do to an extent, but they aren't prepared to cope with the affordances of all the media options out there--and are often staffed by the instructors with the least academic pull. And are my pals in Academic Technology ceding too much ground as they institutionalize via CMS's and server virtualization tools and custom database design? Or is this where they step aside and provide support to a vision articulated elsewhere? Workshops and training can provide software savvy, but what does it mean to be a 21st century knowledge producer? Who decides and what do we teach? Before Academic Technology becames so institutionalized, way back in 90s a decade ago, we hoped to think we were part of the revolution. Does maturity = reform, not revolution? 

1 comment

Very thoughtful. Way back when, I was a concert pianist who came to a small liberal arts college to teach piano, music theroy and also "explore" the impact of technology in the music profession and the teaching of music. Fast forward to the present and I find myself teaching mostly outside my department than in, constantly exploring the intersections of music, digital art, web design, communication, new media, etc. But today, rather than feeling like I have carried a torch for "deeply interdisciplinary" liberal learning and inquiry I feel more like a blog with one read or a podcast with only one episode...

Revolutionary change at our institution has also come with an enormous personal cost for some of those misfits. Jacks-of-all-trades and the wearers of many hats have short life cycles and can be prone to early burn-out in the absence of a genuine institutional investment.

Great "resonance" for me. Thanks.


Raymond Riley

Chair and Professor of Music/New Media Studies

Alma College