Bard College Puts the Horse Before the Cart

There are many ways to integrate technology into the curriculum. One can start with the technology and find opportunities to apply it, or one can begin with teaching and learning and build a technology plan around specific pedagogical needs. When an IT department works closely with instructors, it's possible to develop a model for approaching technology that consistently produces good results in the classroom. At Bard College in upstate New York, the IT staff has developed a unique teaching- and learning-centered model. Using this model, they work with faculty to develop technology plans that enhance the educational experience in a realistic and effective manner.

Sharon Kopyc, coordinator of Curriculum Support, and David Maswick, associate dean of Information Services, developed the model in response to faculty need. They reasoned that if they better understood how faculty teach, they could provide more effective consultative services that would help instructors pair technology options with pedagogical goals. They started with a very simple model that focused on three questions: What works, what d'esn't work, and why. The "what" in this case is not technology—it's teaching. As Kopyc puts it, "These are probes about a faculty member's course, not inquiries about technology. Knowing the answers to these questions provides very valuable information about where it is best to leave what is working alone, where technology might enhance their method of teaching, and where it could improve on a situation."

For instance, one instructor might report that her lectures are working fine, but she never has enough time to cover all the course material in class. The result: students have gaps in their understanding that manifest themselves as poor performance on papers and exams. With that information in hand, Kopyc's group can develop a technology solution, perhaps something as simple as posting lectures online and creating an online class discussion group. Kopyc notes that changing the focus from technology integration to pedagogical elements "helps faculty talk about what it is they are teaching and helps me make more meaningful suggestions about what technology options they might consider."

Faculty technology development occurs in several venues. Once a year, at the end of the spring semester, Bard offers an intensive three-day workshop that involves demonstrations and hands-on experience, including building Web pages and learning PowerPoint, WebCT, and the basics of video editing. Says Kopyc, "The immersion experience typically gives faculty members ideas. Last year, one faculty member was inspired by the WebCT image database to make available his personal slide collection for his course on Stalin. So his history course became a very visual experience, making the person and the country much more alive with images."

The curriculum support team also offers periodic one-hour training sessions on various topics. These might include presentations by Bard instructors or outside experts.

Bard's library is also very involved in developing technology solutions for teaching and learning needs. A close collaboration between the library's staff and the computer resource center staff has resulted in several new initiatives, including a Web-based reserve reading system. The existing paper-based reserve reading system was not working—students used only 50 percent of the material. After only two semesters of using reserved readings in a digitized format, students are accessing 90 percent of reserve material. Future plans include making audio and other media files available via this system. Responses to information needs are developed by a partnership of the Information Technology department and Betsy Cawley, Bard's information technology librarian. She, too, is involved in the three-day workshop and offers regular sessions on digital resources.

In addition, Bard, with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, has created a number of faculty-level positions. These academics are hired as IT staff members specifically charged to act as expert advisors to faculty on technology-related pedagogical issues. These one-year positions at the college address interdisciplinary topics including writing, visual arts, and social sciences. This year, the Technology Fellow in Writing was instrumental in getting technology integrated into Bard's academically intensive Freshman Orientation, a three-week program called "Language and Thinking Workshop." As a result, 17 of 30 sections now use WebCT's electronic bulletin board, chat room, and student presentation function. Says Kopyc, "Faculty commented that it changed the dynamics of the classroom. That is, the online synchronous and asynchronous modes changed the typical classroom configuration, where some students speak up and others hold back, to one in which all students had a voice."

She notes that this is a perfect example of the three-question model working: "We first helped L&T staff identify the key elements of the program—having students write, discuss, and write again about what they were reading was indeed working. Although there was no need to change that format, we suggested using technology to enhance the process. By using an electronic bulletin board, a chat room, and the student presentation function, an additional mode of engagement was available. Through the use of the electronic mode, some students became very involved, and the result was a rich, collaborative learning experience. Faculty commented on the value of literally seeing the results of their teaching by viewing the online discussions."

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