Last week Wired Campus ran an item about EDUCAUSE’s Top Challenges for Teaching with Technology. The reader comments were interesting — they ranged from “Isn’t this yesterday’s news?” to “I can barely get professors to use PowerPoint!”
As a history professor of mine used to say, “It is all true.” The truth of both challenges and dreams varies across institutions and individuals. Anyone familiar with the insightful YouTube video “A Vision of Students Today” recognizes the problem. Most students — and probably their professors — regard the 19th-century pedagogical methods used at schools and at colleges as terribly antiquated and woefully ineffective. How we teach — and in some cases what we teach — is out of sync with the way students communicate and learn.
Here at Cornell, the library and the vice-provost’s office for undergraduate education are sponsoring the Undergraduate Information Competency Initiative. In partnership with Cornell Information Technologies, the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, and the Center for Teaching Excellence, this project seeks to introduce online-research skills to undergraduates, especially those in large lecture classes. The underlying theme of these efforts is the old principle of “active learning.”
So Camille Andrews and Thomas Mills, both with Cornell’s libraries, gathered a group of facilitators (research librarians, information technologists, and education-design and digital-literacy experts, as well as faculty members) to explore an existing program at the University of California at Berkeley that is paid for by a Mellon Grant. The group’s discussions led to the creation of a week-long institute where nine professors learned how to use new technologies and integrate research projects for their students into their classes.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this effort was the process. Each faculty member was assigned a technologist and a research librarian who, together, formed a “cluster.” These clusters supported the professors while they designed their syllabi, and the cluster members worked with both the students and the professor throughout the semester.
While the project focused on support for faculty members, the real beneficiaries were the students. In one course, students created a collaborative class wiki about tropical crops in developing countries that remains online as a resource. Students in a writing course had the benefit of not only the professor who taught writing skills, but also of in-class, focused sessions with an expert research librarian who helped them create a guide to analyzing the news media. In yet another course, undergraduates held moot-court competitions to learn about legal research and argumentation — without having to take LSATs. —Tracy Mitrano
Tracy Mitrano, our January guest blogger, is director of information-technology policy in Cornell University’s Office of Information Technologies, where she also directs the computer policy and law program.