« Building a memex | Main | Illuminations »

October 02, 2003



How technology can enhance and support the Haverford Experience that sets the college apart from others: [envision an onion- like Shrek???]

At the core of the Haverford experience is the faculty-student and intra-class relationships. If we envision this as a solid sphere in the center, then the work the faculty and students must do to prepare for this face-to-face encounter is the next layer out. This preparation encompasses many different types of activities and communications, such as Doug presents in his ‘day in the life…’ The ideal environment is one in which there are many options; everyone is equally familiar and comfortable with using any or all of these options; one can take advantage of them from anywhere on campus or at home; it is easy to make “connections” between different resources (including people); communication can take any form (speaking, typing, scribbling, photographing, linking, taping, etc.); remote functions serve not to replace but to enhance and continue the face-to-face experience; and everyone will have their own ‘gizmo’ to serve up all these functions when needed. Within the classroom, activities are expanded as well, emphasizing active learning, visual simulations, and virtual worlds.

Surrounding, and forming the outer layers of our “onion,” is the transparent cloud called Infrastructure. Used seemingly unconsciously, this layer has two important functions: preparing students and faculty to be comfortable working in this environment, and silently performing the underlying actions that support the preparations for the face-to-face encounters. The campus community must be able to rely on, and even take for granted, the technology underlying this vision so it becomes as invisible as electricity is for your toaster. The flip side of this invisibility contains a robust program for student and faculty fluency in IT that goes beyond tech skills, and beyond information/research skills, to an understanding of the basic principles of IT, and to the ability to learn new applications and apply them in complex and unexpected situations. Also on this flip side is a balance of security needs and functionality.

Also included in this anywhere/anytime environment are still some physical focal points: the TLC is where faculty go when ready to proceed to the next level – there you will find colleagues (faculty, staff, and students) to discuss current and future work, get advice and new ideas, experiment with the next generation of IT applications. Student lab spaces provide beyond the norm facilities: group spaces, presentation practice areas, get-away-from-your-roommate space, international TV, coffee, ultra high speed connections, and more! Staff and support spaces are easily accessible for that rare need for upgrades or repairs.

Extra bits:
- remote learning to keep students abroad connected to the campus community
- community building and support is core function for IT
- connections within and beyond the campus are selected for optimum fit with the college culture
- the personal and the professional merge, and the gizmo of the future has yet to develop and become mainstream
- hypertext becomes ‘hypermedia’; the visual supplements the textual; the multi-dimensional replaces the linear


A delightful post! I find myself wrenching my attention away from the examples ("Mezzo-Sopranos! Posthumans!") to address your model...
1. Excellent idea to focus not on gadgets (I do need that coffeemaker) but on *fluencies*.
2. Why assume email will be that significant? Between RSS, IM, Web sites, most of our work is now covered (cf posts to Infocult)
3. I'm still thinking through what ubicomp will look like. Phone-centric?
Multi-devices? One big notebook, a la Greg Egan?

I started to compose an alternative, where DRM is everywhere. That's too damned depressing to do right now, as the sun just broke through clouds. Maybe later?

I need to get to that Powers, you fiend...


I'd be curious to see a third section for someone who is neither prof nor student.

Because Jefferson coined the term, UVA is big on the idea of the "citizen scholar" -- or at least big on the rhetoric.

Have you seen this piece?

by Jack Miles


A summary of the differences:

(1) An academic has and wants an audience disproportionately made up of teachers and students, while an intellectual has and wants teachers and students in his audience only in proportion to their place in the general educated public.

(2) An academic is a specialist who has disciplined his curiosity to operate largely within a designated area, while an intellectual is a generalist who deliberately does otherwise.

(3) An academic is concerned with substance and suspicious of style, while an intellectual is suspicious of any substance that purports to transcend or defy style.

By this description, I'm an intellectual for criteria #1 and #2, and undecided on criterion #3.


Your blog post illustrates a particularly intriguing vision of an academic techno-utopia, and it pleases me greatly that Haverford has a faculty member who sees, appreciates, and urges the future as vividly as you do.

One could wax endlessly about the specific gadgets and fluencies needed to realize your vision, and your post excels at de-emphasizing the specificities while underscoring the mindset. I've caught glimpses of the rather numinous vision myself -- of a pervasive network facilitating a seamless (or nearly seamless) exchange with the sum body of available information and people.

Once convinced of the virtues of such an environment, my next question is, "how do we get there?" I believe that the world at large is on the right track. Technology-oriented companies are making great strides by their ongoing quest for the killer app. Vendor lock-in, largely the antithesis of network pervasion, is under consumer scrutiny like never before. Technological barriers fall as R&D budgets rise, and advances in both engineering and theory pave the way to a society that is both freer and safer than we've ever experienced. Your own reference to smart mobs illustrates the point nicely. I think it's all but inevitable that we'll get there.

The proposal we reviewed at this past EPC meeting was somewhat confused -- it ultimately asks "Do we want to start a dialogue?" when I think it's trying to ask "How can we accelerate Haverford toward better technological integration?"

Beyond that, we heard arguments for two types of proficiency.

The first is that students should be expected/enabled to master a discrete list of technological procedures, such as publishing web sites, using footnotes in MS Office, or entering mathematical expressions into TeX. The justification is that these are necessary or advantageous prerequisites for the other aspects of education. One can't write an effective research paper without footnotes, and one cannot publish a mathematical proof in today's world without the ability to share it electronically. No one disputes that these are admirable goals, and the consensus seemed to be that they can be fulfilled with an integrated approach: the writing professor ensures that his students knows how to footnote; the mathematics professor coaches her students in TeX. This sort of ad-hoc approach is the one currently favored, and I question if there is any evidence of existing deficiency.

The other is both more intriguing and more amorphous. Being fluent at technology -- "grokking" it, as the techs adopt from Heinlein -- entails a basic understanding of the entirety of technology. It's a holistic grasp of the way everything interconnects rather than a discrete view of individual points. It's an ability to see not only a new technology, but the IMPLICATIONS of it: "wireless access in the classroom" ought to conjure visions of simultaneous meta-discussions during a lecture, real-time critiques, student interaction -- combining the best elements of discussion and lecture orientations into a single interconnected, asymmetrical pedagogical mode.

This sort of holistic fluency is difficult to quantify, teach, or even define. Though I cannot present unassailable arguments justifying this, I believe that holistic proficiency is self-emergent when the technology is in place and socially accepted. It cannot be taught -- it is the kind of familiarity that can come only through exploration.

If I were drafting a roadmap for realizing your vision at Haverford, I would concern myself more with effecting the prerequisites for pervasive networking and less with forcing so-called FITness on students. First on my list would be unencumbered WiFi in every classroom and the strong suggestion that incoming freshmen opt for a lightweight WiFi-enabled laptop computer. Next would be educating professors about how to improve their pedagogics with intra-classroom networks. Perhaps the college should officially recognize instant messaging like it has recognized email. As it has standardized on a central Haverford service for email addresses, so should it erect a central instant messenger service. One such product is Jabber -- it is a secure open-source instant messaging solution, free from the bonds of AOL, platform-independent, and capable of working on a central server run by the college.

Haverford students will mobilize around technology regardless of the administration's actions -- for evidence of this, one needs only look to FIG. Funded and run entirely by students, the server that runs GO and the services it offers are far superior to any the administration has implemented. The administration has an interest in standardizing the technology, however, to keep it secure, funded, and accepted by faculty. Message boards will be added to Go; a "shadow directory" for students to volunteer fully searchable contact information is ostensibly also in the works. If the administration showed interest, I'm sure it could be configured to allow such niceties as a private message board for every course (moderated by the professor), easily accessed class email lists with other contact information displayed in-line, and so forth.

You and I are in agreement that Haverford could benefit immensely from greater technological integration, but I think the first step is in laying the infrastructure and educating the faculty to accept the technology beyond going through the motions. When the technology is in place and the faculty is comfortable with it, I believe that proficiency among students will follow.

Naturally, none of the above is intended to represent the views of EPC.


If "blog" is not part of your vocabulary, I suggest you start with the fine introduction (and browse the linked treasures in the bibliography) in the NITLE News's Weblogs in Education: Bringing the World to the Liberal Arts Classroom, by Sarah Lohnes (NITLE News, v. 2, #1, Winter, 2003).

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)