27 Jul 2020
Why a Center for Digital Learning? Without a center to hold them, things don’t always fall apart, but they don’t necessarily hang together.
A range of offices and individuals have long worked hard to advance one or more forms of digital learning at Geneseo — from online courses, to digital pedagogy in the classroom, to research and creative activity at the intersection of digital technology and the liberal arts and sciences. The new Center for Digital Learning will bring increased organization and coordination to this work.
Our office in South Hall’s “technology corridor,” which houses a maker space, a computer lab, and a one-button studio, is located just above CIT’s educational technology office and is also near Milne Library’s current home in Fraser Hall. We want it to be the meeting place for faculty, students, librarians, technology professionals, and others whose interests and expertise converge on a single question: How can Geneseo best support teaching, learning, scholarship, and creativity that make innovative use of digital tools and methods?
We also want the center to provide conceptual space for this community to inform and teach one other, generate new ideas, and develop new intiatives, working hand-in-hand with others engaged in supporting high-impact learning and student success at Geneseo through offices such as Accessibility Services, Academic Planning and Advising, the Center for Integrative Learning, and the Teaching and Learning Center.
Toward these ends, we’ve assembled a team of faculty affiliates from the full range of Geneseo’s academic disciplines and professional programs, student affiliates who will earn academic credit as interns, and associates who from their respective home locations at Geneseo bring expertise in accessibility, student success, and scholarly communications. Our Assistant Director for Online Learning, Laurie Fox, is also CIT’s longstanding and highly respected Director of Educational Technology.
Amanda Wentworth (English, ‘18), who just concluded a two-year appointment in Milne Library as OER Publishing Coordinator for SUNY OER Services, is our Digital Humanities and Learning Coordinator. She brings experience in web design and digital project management, together with rapidly growing expertise in platforms and computational tools for humanities scholarship and education.
I’m excited to be bringing to this effort my 30 years of teaching experience at Geneseo, all of them informed and enabled by digital technology. I arrived here in 1985 with a first-generation Apple MacIntosh computer in tow. Email was “e-mail” and the internet had no pictures, but the potential of computing to re-shape pedagogy and scholarship, making them more open, collaborative, and connected, was already clear. Over the next decade, the web came alive with images and turned increasingly social; in the decade that followed, a niche area of scholarly interest sometimes described as “humanities computing” re-branded itself as “digital humanities” and became, not without controversy, a thing. These developments affected me profoundly. By the early years of the new milennium, “Web 2.0” — the social web of blogs, discussion forums, and wikis — thoroughly pervaded my teaching. In 2010, in collaboration with Milne Library, the Thoreau Society, and the Walden Woods Project, I launched Digital Thoreau, a digital humanities initiative focused on both the works of nineteenth-century American author Henry David Thoreau and the legacy of 20th-century Thoreau scholar and SUNY Geneseo Distinguished Professor of English Walter Harding.
My year as Geneseo’s interim provost (2016-17) opened my eyes to the remarkable work some of my colleagues were doing with technology. I learned how many colleagues shared my interest in using the social web to achieve a more transparent and student-centered pedagogy. I learned how many colleagues, like me, saw the internet as a powerful engine for increasing the world’s access to and understanding of important cultural resources, and for vastly improving the circulation of scholarly communications. I learned how many colleagues, unlike me, had crossed into the ether to teach courses fully online. From these last colleagues I gained a new appreciation for the craft and science behind effective course design and engaging online instruction.
In 2018, as Assistant to the Provost for Digital Learning and Scholarship, I became heavily involved in our efforts at Geneseo to offer students more flexibile programming through summer and intersession online courses. I began working closely with CIT to provide faculty development in online course design and pedagogy. Although I’d benefited throughout my career from the deep knowledge and incredible generosity of CIT’s dedicated professionals, this was a new, more collaborative relationship. What CIT’s educational technologists brought to the collaboration was an already robust faculty development program touching on all aspects of classroom technology, including regular workshops and detailed documentation in the Geneseo wiki; a well-oiled process and set of guiding principles for helping faculty understand basic principles of online course quality; and — perhaps most important — an incalculable wealth of faculty trust, built on years of effective and widely appreciated service from Director of Educational Technology Laurie Fox and instructional-support-coordinator-turned-instructional-designer Joe Dolce, together with the skilfullness and fresh outlook of Joe’s more recently hired partner in instructional design, Becky Patt.
What I brought to the collaboration were the experience and pedagogical investments described above, as well as the eyes of a faculty member, which narrow at the sight of any tool, process, practice, or protocol that looks as though it might confine rather than liberate pedagogical creativity.
The philosophical center of this partnership was our shared view of technology as a means to an end — student learning — rather than an end in itself.
But (to return to where this post began) how was that center represented institutionally at Geneseo? What office bore a name that signaled our commitment at all times to put digital technology in service to learning? At what table did faculty sit with technologists to discuss how Geneseo might find the best path forward for online instruction at a primarily liberal arts college traditionally focused on a physically present pedagogy? How were we ensuring that student voices would be heard in any consideration of this question? Where on an organizational chart or the Geneseo website would one look for evidence of a sustained effort to build a community organized by a vision of digital learning — including that learning which faculty cultivate and share in the form of scholarship and creative work — as a force for equity, access, inclusion, transparency, and agency?
The CDL’s mission isn’t to create such a community; it already exists. Rather, our mission is to strengthen and expand it; to be its visible face; to give it a physical location and intellectual room to explore, discuss, debate, and plan; to make the center hold.
Our agenda for Year One includes running workshops for faculty who want to expand their digital toolkits beyond out-of-the-box educational software, designing an integrative micro-credential for students in digital humanities and social sciences with an applied-learning component, and leading a campus-wide conversation on the future of digital learning at Geneseo.
It’s a huge understatement to say I’m looking forward to it.