CIT Upgrades for Growth
By Cole Ruth ’95 and Lynn Bolt Rosendale ‘85
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The TREE committee concluded in the end not to recommend a laptop for every student. Instead they suggested that the college put together documentation for parents on what kinds of hardware or software to bring or buy, along with an optional purchase program through the on-campus bookstore. The committee continues to focus on other ways to support computer fluency (see the Calvin News story: Information Technology Fluency).
In addition, the college is going full-speed ahead to more fully integrate technology in its classrooms. "We’re planning to maintain our commitment to public computing," said DeVries, "recognizing that not every family or individual student can afford a computer, and that a significant percentage of our students will continue to depend on the technology provided in the library labs and in their dorms."
There is also a significant commitment to assisting those who have their own computers with helpdesk support and Internet access. "Already about 850 Calvin student have "ResNet," said DeVries, "and one out of every three students living in the residence halls has a personal computer."
But the use of computers isn’t always a positive thing, nor does it always point to an increase in educational activities. "Although research takes up a significant piece of Calvin’s web activity, at least 200-300 sites, or 80 percent of the sites that students requested be opened in the ResNet filter, were games," said DeVries. "That poses an interesting challenge for the college. It forces us to stop and examine how much that affects the community we’re trying to create, and how much it works as a tool for our academic endeavors."
"It also poses questions related to the responsible freedom given to students on campus. Since a lot of games contain a significant amount of violence, it becomes a question of value from a parent’s point of view," he said.
Still, DeVries is optimistic about the positive uses of technology. He points to the advantages of Calvin’s "smart classrooms," which are equipped with video/DVD, and to Blackboard (which he said students are taking advantage of in record numbers) as examples of how technology is being used both to create and sustain communities at Calvin.English professor Karen Saupe uses the Blackboard software in her classes to encourage student interaction and discussion outside of class. The program calls itself "a comprehensive and flexible e-learning platform." More specifically, it is a course management system, that enables students and professors to communicate relevant information when classes are not in session.
In Saupe’s Chaucer class last semester, for instance, students posted messages about passages they didn’t understand or wanted to discuss further, and a flurry of conversation took place as a result. "As most students can attest, in a lot of classes there are many more ideas than there is time to discuss them. Blackboard is just one more way for students to keep those ideas flowing. They can post a question at 2 a.m., or I can communicate a new idea or clarify an assignment without taking up class time."
Saupe, who’s on an advisory committee to CIT, said "There is a lot of suspicion that a project like Blackboard takes the place of face-to-face contact. But Calvin is never going to replace teachers with computers. It would go against everything this place is about. Instead we want to find ways, using technology, that enable people to get together more."
As Saupe states in her "thoughts on using technology to enhance learning": "My students have used class email lists to schedule exam review sessions and to share ideas for class projects. In my English 101 class students were able to send me several tries of thesis statements for their research papers in the space of a single morning; instead of a single student-teacher meeting for each student, I could meet with several continuously as they revised and refocused their ideas. By the time we did meet face-to-face the next day, we were able to focus the discussion on a topic idea that had already been shaped and refined."
Saupe also writes about the quantity of class discussions, but it may be appropriate to add that quality is also an attribute: that discussions change outside of the classroom to become more dynamic and multifarious. "Many of my literature students (in all classes) participate in electronic discussions that add a useful dimension to their learning experience," said Saupe.
DeVries sees a corresponding benefit of the uses of technology apart from academics as well, where the virtual community of the Internet can help the actual Calvin community stay in touch. DeVries imagines this happening through an events calendar, and future integration of the portal concept, which would enable each student to have their own customized planner, so-to-speak, much like the office world’s "Outlook."
"There are lots of ways to extend the information we have here," said DeVries. "If you’re on-campus, there are activities to make you feel a sense of belonging. But those who either live off-campus, or who are on interims abroad, also need a way to keep in touch. We want to extend that sense of belonging to the entire Calvin community."
"For instance, these same kinds of services could also extend to the alumni," he said, "by keeping on-line calendars for the alumni chapters, or through an ‘KnightVision,’ which former Calvin students could use to stay-in touch or look up friends with whom they’ve lost touch.
"It’s all about stewardship, and the challenge of growing the technology in balance with the rest of the institution," said DeVries. "Because Calvin's made a significant commitment to technology, it allows us to do things really well. We’re really blessed with a great staff at CIT and the chance to do exciting things that couldn’t or wouldn’t be possible otherwise."
Cole Ruth is an editor at an English language advertising agency in Stockholm, Sweden.
Lynn Rosendale is Calvin’s publications coordinator.
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