Emerging Web and Technology Questions for the College and University
New College Technology Committee
You may have already heard that the Faculty Council has decided to create a new standing committee that will ensure a close connection to the faculty as the University and the College endeavor to make the best possible use of the new computing and telecommunication technologies that seem to be arriving on an almost daily basis. Simon Hooper has graciously agreed to chair the committee, and the Council is in the process of identifying members. This is a welcome development, and I look forward to working closely with Simon and the other members of the committee.
For the sake of setting the stage a bit as this committee begins its work, I use my column this month to sketch some of the emerging issues and balances we are trying to strike. No one has all the answers at this point, and the issues do not stand still. The key is collaboration and dialogue, and this is another reason why the new committee will be so helpful. Any comments or questions you may have should be directed to me, Kyle Peck, Simon Hooper, or to a member of the committee.
Concerns about privacy, security, and safety are receiving lots of attention in the media, perhaps to the point of anesthetizing us to the actual seriousness of the matter. We really do need to be mindful of the dangers surrounding things like having personally identifiable information on our computers. We have taken a proactive stance in the College, and the scans we have conducted have been minimally intrusive and effective. However, a recent breach on our network shows us that we have to continue to be diligent to protect the interests of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the University itself. Thanks again to everyone for your cooperation with our scanning endeavor.
We have also made progress with our approach to using screen savers to protect machines that are not in active use. Yes, the screen savers are annoying, but I hope you can see that they are prudent safeguards. I’m reminded of a point Kyle Peck made in response to the argument that the screen savers interfered with our work. He pointed out that it can also be annoying and inefficient to sit stopped at a red light when no one is around. Yes, there is some degree of inefficiency, but on balance I think we are better off following the rule and just waiting until the light turns green.
We have been growing Web sites at a rapid rate, and we are discovering a whole new type of Web site that falls in between the private sites that are provided centrally by Information and Technology Services (ITS) and official College sites that are part of the College’s Web presence. Indeed, Penn State has been pursuing a very decentralized, let-a-thousand-flowers-grow kind of approach, but it’s becoming clear that the decimal point in 1,000 needs to move to the right. Major challenges are emerging in terms of covering the costs of these Web sites, managing their operation, and keeping their content up to date. We are working on some guidelines, in collaboration with the Faculty Council, that we hope will provide clarity about who is responsible for what, and a draft of these will be posted on the For Current Faculty and Staff Web site in the future (visit the Web Site Guidelines page). We are also developing a new form to complete for those requesting new Web sites. The information on this form will help us understand the particular needs of these sites and what the next steps should be for the College.
We took a major step forward roughly two years ago when we adopted the current look and feel for our official College pages. Since that time, the pages have become much easier to prepare and update and the navigation tools have become more sophisticated and easier to use. The design also has more flexibility and adaptability than may be obvious. We encourage anyone feeling like they cannot achieve their goals with the current Web design to ask questions and to be in touch with the College Relations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is not too soon to be thinking about the next look and feel for the College’s pages. Starting in the spring, Suzanne will be conducting focus groups and user tests to begin researching a new design for our Web site. I encourage you to participate when the opportunities arise. We are planning to launch the new look and feel within the next 18 months.
Infusion of Technology with Teaching and Learning
The EDUCATE (Exploring Directions in Ubiquitous Computing and Teacher Education) and Innovation Studio initiatives are both moving the College in new and very progressive directions. Orrin Murray and Scott McDonald, respectively, are taking the lead on these initiatives and bold steps are being taken. While we are committed to infusing technology into teaching and learning throughout the College, we do not aspire to become technology zealots. There is a proper and limited role for technology in these endeavors, and we need to respect these boundaries. Our interest is not in technology for its own sake, but because it can be harnessed to deepen and improve the teaching and learning experience.
Moreover, there are important research dimensions to this work that we enthusiastically embrace. I recently participated in a briefing on early childhood research that focused on measures of eye contact between young learners and teachers. The research suggests that eye contact is important, and this prompted me to ask if there is any analogue to eye contact in distance education that makes use of telecommunication and computing technology. The answer was that there are some early signs suggesting that eye contact, even simulated eye contact, may be important in virtual settings. The take-away message for me was that this is one of many interesting and promising lines of research involving technology that Penn State would be well positioned to address.
Thank you for this opportunity to share some thoughts about how we are approaching technology in the College and please let me, Kyle, Simon, or members of the Technology Committee hear from you if you have comments or questions.
David H. Monk