When you think of technology and higher education, two of your first thoughts are likely distance education and online courses. While those elements are certainly being implemented at many schools across the country, it is actually only a small component of all the ways that technology impacts higher education today. At Rollins College, technology is a vital and vibrant component of the teaching and learning process that support the small class sizes and close, personal relationships we develop among our students and faculty. Technology is used to enhance our sense of community, while simultaneously extending learning outside the borders of the classroom, the campus and the country.
How much do you know about the chemical contamination and related impacts on the fauna, flora and farm workers of Lake Apopka? Faculty and students at Rollins have created a wiki page (wiki.rollins.edu/lakeapopka) to serve as a community repository of the story of Lake Apopka from a natural and cultural perspective. A wiki is an open website or blog to which many people may contribute that allows multiple perspectives and experts to build a rich source of data on a topic. The site lives into the future, changing and growing as our knowledge advances.
Understanding our world requires studying issues through multiple lenses and viewpoints. Every year a cross-disciplinary group of Rollins faculty selects a topic to weave throughout their courses. They recently selected the works of Zora Neale Hurston as a touchstone of the wider socio-cultural experiences of African-Americans in the early 20th century. A common website (social.rollins.edu/wpsites/mosaic-hurston) allows them to flesh this topic out in all its complexity — modeling for our students and our community how to study complex issues from multiple perspectives.
Forming productive and mutually beneficial partnerships is a key to success for our students and for our college. Our president, Lewis Duncan, is the architect and leader of the New Paradigm Initiative, a collaboration within the Associated Colleges of the South (the 16 premier liberal arts colleges across the South) that is challenging these institutions to find ways to use our collective resources to offer our students opportunities that would be unavailable at just one institution. Supporting this endeavor will be immersive ‘telepresence’ classrooms that allow our faculty and students to interact with their colleagues across the consortium in an environment that simulates being in the same room. The quality of the video and audio is superb, enabling a complete face-to-face experience. While the class participants may, in reality, be thousands of miles apart, they experience a class in which everyone is right across the table. This technology allows our students to access scholars from across the consortium and across the world without sacrificing the personal relationships that are the hallmark of a Rollins education.
The next time you think about technology and higher education, your first thought will be about the ways that technology supports face-to-face learning, rather than distance learning. You will think about how technology is being used to build communities, bringing students together with knowledge experts in Central Florida, throughout the South and throughout the world. You will think about students using technology to create and contribute to community resources that are not confined to a classroom, a course or a semester. Technology provides many new opportunities to connect people as a community of learners. Hopefully, you are finding your connections.
Patricia A. Schoknecht, PhD, is the chief information officer at Rollins College. Visit www.rollins.edu