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Changing Technologies – A Report from the CFT’s 25th Anniversary Symposium

Posted by on Thursday, September 22, 2011 in News.

by Derek Bruff, CFT Acting Director

As I mentioned last week, our 25th anniversary symposium was a fantastic event, with faculty, students, and staff engaged in deep and important discussions about the future of teaching at Vanderbilt. One of the themes of the discussion was the challenge to teaching and learning provided by changing technologies. I was fortunate to lead the breakout session on this theme, and I’d like to share a few highlights and observations from this discussion here on the blog.

  • We heard that when the Martha Ingram Commons, a living-learning community for all first-year undergraduates on campus, was in the planning phases, it was clear to those involved that there needed to be a digital Commons of some sort for the endeavor to be at all relevant to today’s students. Common Place now serves as that digital space for first-year students and those who interact with them. The notion that today’s college students expect digital technologies to be part of their learning experience was one that was shared in various ways during the discussion.
  • It’s significant, I think, that Common Place isn’t just digital, it’s community-focused. As one of our panelists, Cynthia Paschal (Biomedical Engineering) pointed out, our technology use reflects our values and, here at Vanderbilt, we value community. (We are, after all, a residential college.) Students want more than just documents and resources available online, they want to be able to connect with other students, as well as faculty and staff. Do the technologies instructors often use (OAK, PowerPoint, clickers, and such) help develop our learning communities?
  • A student participant summarized her thoughts on finding information and staying up-to-date with courses and campus events as follows: “If it’s not online, I don’t know it exists.” She accesses journal articles online, gets her campus news from Twitter, and connects with friends via Facebook. I asked her if she was unusual in this way, and her answer was an emphatic “No.”
  • This student also mentioned a couple of criteria she uses when evaluating the quality of online content when tapping into the virtual firehose of information available online. She looks for content that is both current and somehow communally validated. For the latter, she considers how many people have “liked” a link posted on Facebook, for instance, or how many peers have retweeted a piece of news. This raises some interesting questions:
    • Does the course-related content we share with our students possess these attributes? Might it attract their attention if it comes across their Facebook or Twitter news feeds?
    • How might we help such a student develop other information literacy skills?
    • How can we teach information literacy in the context of disciplinary-specific critical thinking?
  • That last question reminds me that, unfortunately, none of Vanderbilt’s librarians participated in this conversation. When it comes to information literacy–and teaching information literacy–our librarians are our resident experts! I hope to have them participate in future conversations on this topic.
  • Support for faculty using technology was another hot topic in our discussions. Faculty left to their own devices (so to speak) often give up on incorporating technology into their teaching. The faculty in the room expressed a need for tech support both before teaching (when planning courses or lessons) and during class sessions. The technologists in the room pointed out how challenging it is to help faculty use technology when each faculty member has a different tool he or she is interested in using. Centralized support for a broader set of core technologies is needed, according to several participants.

That was just the first hour! In a follow-up post, I’ll share some of the suggestions made by participants for addressing these challenges.

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