Jeff McClurken's recent post about Writing a Strategic Plan for Academic Technologies and Libraries asks a really great question: If given the task of writing a strategic plan for a small institution, what would your top academic technology goals be? After teaching several undergraduate courses, and while currently teaching a graduate course, I've thought about these goals at a classroom-level, but I think these goals could be applied to a broader strategic plan for a university.
1. Make sure students graduate as skilled, thoughtful consumers and producers of digital media
Several smaller goals fit into this:
Learn how to search - Read Bill Turkel's blog. If you're not convinced search is important, READ IT AGAIN. There is more to search than Google, and learning how various searches work—and, more importantly, how to make search for work you—is an incredibly valuable skillset beyond college.
Learn how to manage information flow - For better or for worse, the information age is in overdrive, and all is in flux (thanks again, Bill). But there are tools and services to help you manage that flow, and it should be one of the goals of any university to help students learn how to manage that information. If we want to encourage students to expand their learning beyond the classroom (and I really think we should), then universities need to prepare students for managing the mass of information that comes with it.
Learn how to produce meaningful, well-composed content and share it with others - Rob Wall argues that, in the 21st century, "creativity is the new technology." Its incredible to think of the various ways people can produce and share content for equally various purposes. Anyone with an internet connection can sign up for a weblog right now, and begin producing and sharing content, right now. Anyone with an internet connection can produce and share data visualizations. Anyone with a computer and webcam can record and share video. Anyone who can search the web can find audio content, and create a podcast with it. With all of this opportunity for new ways to create narrative and share ideas comes a real need for universities to teach students new ways to compose those narratives and share those ideas.
Learn how to critique content and methodology - Along with providing the ability to produce content in a variety of media, universities must provide the tools and skills to help students critique content, and discern the effectiveness and usefulness of particular technologies and media. One of the tenants of Mason's PhD in History and New Media program is "critical optimism". So, while we are optimistic about the changes that new media can bring to the practice of history, we're critical about the specific methods that particular media employ. This is an approach that, I think, is already common in most classrooms. In my history course, I teach students how to critically read primary and secondary sources, and how to discern other methodological approaches to a particular issue. These skills are equally important—if not more important—when using and producing digital media.
2. Use free, open-source, and/or extensible tools whenever possible, and encourage faculty, staff, and students to do the same.
Universities spend countless millions on closed, proprietary systems like Blackboard and WebCT, systems that are very overbearing in their pedagogical approaches. In contrast, signing up for a weblog like WordPress is free (and there are plenty of other free options), and the uses for blogs in classes are limitless. While a little more difficult for the average instructor, Moodle is a free, open-source alternative to other learning management systems, and boasts a significant developer community contributing plugins and modules for extended functionality. There's more this, though, than learning management systems: web browsers, word processing, screencasting, image editing, audio/video editing, to name a few. The specific tool, of course, should be chosen based on need and goals, but opting for extensible, open-source, and free alternatives will save universities money, provide more flexibility to instructors, and encourage the university community to do with software what it already tries to do with teaching and research: Contribute knowledge and resources back to the world.
3. Foster academic use of technologies that breaks down boundaries of the classroom, and the university as a whole.
As academic departments face budget cuts and lose staff positions if their enrollments are down, this may be the most difficult, but I think the most potentially beneficial, of all the goals. At the American Historical Association's annual meeting in January, I presented on how I use technology to break down barriers to learning in my courses. Mills Kelly has written extensively on the future of the course, and argues that positive change in learning on university campuses will happen when students take individual responsibility for their own learning. Mills is particularly keen on the ideas of an iTunes-like class, where students can choose specific bits and pieces in a course that interests them. Others have spoken of the networked learner, and of learning environments that are not isolated from the rest of the world, but rather expand through a bottom-up approach. While I really like the potential for learning in a world without walls, I think there are some uses for the "artificial community" that is the classroom; Namely, that courses bring together people who would otherwise not talk to each other, and potentially allow for more diversity in perspectives. Learning based purely on social networking brings with it the danger of learning only inside the enclaves we create for ourselves based solely on who/what we like or who/what we're comfortable with. But I think a balance can be struck, and I think universities should employ academic technologies to find and encourage that balance between classroom and independent learning.
So, there are at least three goals I think academic institutions should try to achieve regarding academic technology. Its certain good food for thought, and I'll continue thinking about these goals for my own teaching and research. I imagine, though, that there are plenty more goals to add. So, lets help Jeff out. What would your academic technology goals be?