the endless pursuit of…complacency

This is a post about differing perspectives on technology and support of student learning here at SCU, so I must preface things a bit.  Any administrator at any academic institution, especially in “these tough economic times” (a phrase that I am so sick of…yet I use here in this post) has to make tough decisions about how to invest one’s money.  Especially if expenses have trended and gone generally in one direction for many years, it’s hard to suddenly say “let’s spend more money, in a different way!”  I know this, even as I put together initiatives for new projects and programs that either change my budget or require additional funds.  So I can empathize with the mentality that I’m describing below.

Doesn’t mean I agree with it, though.

Santa Clara has a great program that supports innovation in technology.  The Tech Steering Committee offers up grants to those that are pushing forward with technology in the use of teaching, learning, and/or research.  It’s meant, at the least, as seed money to see if something will be useful.  Ideally, it’s to get a project off the ground that will, with proven success, turn into an ongoing operation.

I have applied for a grant each year I’ve been at SCU with the latter goal in mind – I want to start something that will last for years into the future.  As part of a larger roadmap of where I think the law school should be headed.  And I have received 2 grants in 2 tries, totally over $24,000.  I applaud SCU for this program, which was offered even during the especially lean 2009-2010 budget year.

This year, I submitted a proposal (decisions are made in another week or so) for a set of collaboration tools from a company called Tidebreak, which whom I worked while at Stanford.  The various software suites, which are all based around their original TeamSpot product, basically allow teams to work together on not only a shared screen, but a shared central computer.  Think of collaboration in terms of this evolution:

  1. Everyone huddled around one screen (very inefficient)
  2. Everyone looking at a shared display, with one person “driving”
  3. Everyone sharing information to a computer driving that display

The problem with scenario 2 is that the one person doing the driving doesn’t get to engage nearly as much.  He or she is really excluded from contributing – this is borne out in a few studies, in fact.  And it’s empirically easy to prove – just work on a team in that situation, where you are the one doing the driving, and try to contribute as much as anyone else.  Or try being the notetaker for a meeting – you’ll find yourself just typing and ingesting information, and having a harder time contributing.

Therefore, scenario 3 is the most equitable solution.  The problem is that if there is a “host” computer driving that shared display, how do the various team members get data onto that host computer?

That’s where TeamSpot comes in.  It allows users to push documents, URL’s, and other files to the host computer.  One can even push his or her mouse up off the top of the laptop screen and it will appear on the shared display.  The user can then control the contents thus far shared to that screen – type in Word, open up new URLs, etc.

Now, there is some team-based collaboration at the law school, but only in certain classes, and only on certain projects.  In comparison, just about every business school class has some team project.  The benefit of this technology to a business program would be huge.

Unfortunately, the response from the business school was that they were eager to hear how my efforts went, and that they would consider them for the future.

This is, in my opinion, a rather upsetting response.  Here is technology that would make the teaching and learning of business and team work better for faculty and students.  Faculty could require more challenging projects, and students could be far productive.  Yet the response was, at best, lukewarm and definitely passive.

I do have high hopes that the Leavey School of Business will continue to mature and become a better and better place of education for its students.  I hope someday to be able to say that I’m a grad without having to qualify with “and the faculty is great” or other, similar comments.  I hope that one day it will be Leavey that is pushing the envelope on technology that will help students.  But right now, it doesn’t look that way.

More on this general attitude in a bit.

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