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New Strategies and Partnerships for Learning

Education technologists should leverage the learning sciences.

Joel Smith, vice provost and CIO at Carnegie Mellon University (PA), believes that education technologists have not yet fully explored the potential of partnering with learning scientists and others seeking to inform instruction. CT talked with Smith about the need for these new partnerships.

Campus Technology: How can partnerships with other experts on campus help education technologists improve teaching and learning?

Joel Smith: For a long time, those of us who work to use information technologies to support the teaching and learning mission of colleges and universities have partnered with others on campus--notably IT experts in infrastructure, networking, web services, learning management systems, and other technology areas; and content experts such as faculty and discipline specialists. In some ways, we are natural partners with these two groups.

Still, I think it's time that we get much more serious about expanding our campus partnerships to include, among others, learning scientists--cognitive scientists, psychologists, and even neuroscientists engaged in discovering how people learn. We should also bring in other stakeholders in learning--for example, students who can offer their feedback through the assessment process. As a profession, we too often simply deploy new technologies as they arise. Without assessment as a serious and constant effort in our endeavors, we are, in a way, flying blind.

CT: Are you proposing radical change?

Smith: In some ways, this is a call for dramatic change in the way we work. But mostly it points to a need to engage more heavily in what we've talked about for a long time: really using the learning sciences to improve instruction. We need a filter at the front end of our learning designs that helps us make the best choices about the application of technology to particular challenges, so that we employ technology applications that are shown to have a positive effect on learning.

CT: Are you proposing that organizations on campus structure these partnerships, or just foster more of an overall culture change?

Smith: I think both. In one case, there could be an institutional initiative. In another, it may be a partnership between the IT organization that's charged with helping faculty use technology and an office that supports teaching and learning in a more general way. Or it could start at the grassroots level with an informal partnership between an IT leader and an interested faculty member.

But I think efforts at the individual level are really hard to grow. I believe it takes an approach that works across the faculty and administration and creates systematic partnerships that formalize the work they produce. Only in this way can we determine how great an effect can be realized through such partnerships. The stage is set, and we are ready for more institutional efforts.

As the pressure increases on institutions to demonstrate that they are effectively delivering education, I do think that those who enter into formal partnerships of the kind I'm proposing--and use them to help faculty improve and evaluate instruction--will start to show demonstrable results that will be key to issues such as accreditation. And they will also help answer the big question: How can we improve on current outcomes?

Editor's note: Joel Smith will give the closing keynote, "IT and Academia: Forging New Strategies and Partnerships," at Campus Technology 2012, July 19-22 in Boston.

About the Author

Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.

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