Open Menu Close Menu

The Seminars in Academic Computing: Teachable Moments at High Altitude

"The texture of experience, immediate feedback, and individual support" are the qualities that make a truly satisfying and useful learning experience, said Larry Faulkner, the president of the University of Texas, in his opening keynote address at the 33rd conference of the Seminars in Academic Computing (SAC). These are the same characteristics that make this Colorado meeting a favored gathering for higher education campus IT leaders.

At this summer’s SAC conference, three keynote presentations focused on ways of supporting learning experiences. The EDUCAUSE affiliate conference highlighted the theme of "Teachable Moments—Learning to Support Learning."

Faulkner’s keynote address focused on the framework of a new budget model based on funding trends for public research universities between 2003 and 2020, culminating with a challenge about learning. That challenge was to "reshape the current model of teaching and learning using technology." In Faulkner’s model, this reshaping is a key requirement for enabling public research universities to remain competitive with the large private institutions in providing a quality higher education experience. His thesis is that the large public institutions will not only survive, but thrive. However, the thriving may well be based on their research mission, rather than their teaching and learning mission.

Faulkner noted in his budget model that for many large public institutions, 70 percent of the costs for teaching and learning is in salary costs, and another 30 percent is for operations. He envisions a new reshaping that creates a paradigm with less dependency on faculty, and more reliance on information technologies that will retain the quality of education for which major public institutions are known. With this stance, Faulkner balanced his doomsday concerns about the large public institutions with his vision for shaping an alternative future.

The message from Nigel Paine, head of training for the BBC, ech'ed that of Larry Faulkner. Paine’s message, while emanating from a very different perspective—that of one of the largest media organizations in the world—was also framed in terms of the learning challenge facing the BBC. That challenge is to reshape the existing expertise and learning model for its large staff of more than 27,000, including over 350 Web masters, to accommodate the needed retraining and expectations for lifelong learning. This challenge is being driven by the goal of transitioning BBC operations to a fully digitally designed, created, produced, and managed environment in five years.

Paine framed his message with the lines from a Bruce Springsteen song, "Thunder Road." He introduced his message with the sentiment, that "We got one last chance to make it real," referring to the need to make the new technologies truly relevant and useful in meeting our teaching and learning challenges. And he closed with "…and I’m pulling out of here to win," showing his enthusiasm to help make it all happen.

One illustration of making it "happen" at the BBC is the project of interviewing the "older generation of journalists, photographers, and editors" to capture their expertise—and providing that content on demand as part of an updating of the older apprentice model. Some of the elements of the new learning paradigm for the BBC that Paine is creating include the varied roles of an instructor, a learning community, a knowledge base, the strategy of "asking an expert," and classroom workshops.

As an illustration of the younger generation pushing the existing generation of media leaders, Paine showed a four-minute digital short, produced and edited by two 17-year-olds with a yen for playing around with digital files. It is an acclaimed digital short about a jumbo jet crash-landing on a busy L.A. freeway. Don't miss it, as it is available at Rest assured that it is actually a humorous take, not a serious story of a crash and really just a lot of fun.

The closing keynote address by Susan Perry, director of programs for CLIR (Council on Library and Information Resources) provided a look at real students talking about what they would like in their teaching and learning experiences. Her talk, "You Know, We Write an Awful Lot of Papers" provided a glimpse at students, all from liberal arts colleges participating in the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (, who want to produce multimedia "papers," build Web sites, and produce and "read" films as part of their education. Faculty, on the other hand, even if willing to adjust to students producing and learning via these multimedia experiences, feel challenged and unprepared to evaluate student learning as evidenced in the production of electronic and multimedia formats.

What’s the Buzz?

An update on the language of IT
It is a rare IT conference that d'es not assume that attendees are familiar with all the new acronyms that dynamic initiatives have generated. Below are some keepers from the 2003 SAC conference.

OSID OKI Service Interface Definitions: OSIDs are similar to APIs, and are now an integral part of the OKI initiative vocabulary. OSIDS (pronounced "Oh-SIDS") are the specifications that help to ensure interoperability among the open source projects being developed at various universities.

JIT/JFM: Most educators and trainers are familiar with JIT, for Just in Time learning. The next level towards achieving customization of learning is JFM, or Just for Me learning. This acronym is industry wide and also being used in the BBC retraining effort, helping the staffers to focus on not only what is needed for their jobs, but also on what is needed by each person individually.

eLearning: Most of us are now quite comfortable with this term. But hold on to your seat belts, because now it is being suggested that the "e" is not necessary, and thus we will be probably just talking about "learning" again.

In addition to the focus on learning in the keynotes, the other sessions, discussions, and tutorials at SAC considered budget and funding models, networking technologies, studies and stories, and infrastructure issues. Some of the key infrastructure issues are those that emerged 2-3 years ago, and for whom progress is now evident, including security, portal development, open source course management systems, and single sign on solutions with Pubcookie and Shibboleth.

One of several key sessions was the update on OKI, the Open Knowledge Initiative. This session, led by Lois Brooks of Stanford, and Norma Holland from Indiana University, focused on the new face of OKI work. The sessions covered the implementation of two open source initiatives, that of CourseWork at Stanford ( and On- course at Indiana University ( The open source code for Stanford’s CourseWork became available on June 30, 2003.

A key wrap-up comment towards the end of the OKI session involved a question about the integration of course management systems with the campus portals. It was hinted that one future scenario for course management systems would be for the CMS to be a "channel" on the campus portal. This is a development area worth watching.

Just For Fun

Here are a couple additional new acronyms that are amusing for the moment:

WHAMP: What is Happening at My Place, as in having a sharing discussion about what is going on at your campus.

CTNG: This stands for CHEF, the Next Generation. For those in the know about OKI open source initiatives, CHEF is the course management initiative at the University of Michigan, and CTNG is their name for the next version, which is in development. This acronym will probably change!

Some of the continuing emerging issues at SAC included the questions and challenges surrounding the management of content, such as the tools available and the costs and policies associated with managing content. A second continuing issue centers on ePortfolios. A new portfolio initiative, the Open Source Portfolio Initiative (OSPI) is another open source initiative to watch. One of the goals of the OPSI is to develop a set of portfolios and specifications for the array of portfolio needs that have been identified, such as personal portfolios, resume portfolios, promotion and tenure portfolios, and learning outcome portfolios.

SAC generally meets in late summer, around the first week in August. Next summer’s dates are August 8-11. For further information, and for streaming video files of the keynotes and other sessions, visit

comments powered by Disqus