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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

The medium is the message

July 9, 2012


A new e-book developed by 130 U of M faculty, staff, and students showcases the shifting landscape of academic technology.

By Adam Overland

Six-hundred pages in just 10 weeks. Peer-reviewed—no kidding. From concept to press…sort of. As an e-book, it need not ever see the printing press—"dead-tree" media, as one of the book's contributors, Jim Hall, calls it on his insightful blog about technology and higher education (recently named a "top 50 must-read higher ed technology blog"). Hall, IT director at the U of M Morris campus, authored a chapter in the book on e- and m-learning—electronic and mobile. Two-thirds of students on the Morris campus use a mobile device to interact with the U, says Hall. So today's learning and studying is less and less about computer labs and even laptops anymore, and faculty need to make sure what they're delivering is accessible. "It's the consumerization of technology, and students are leading it," he says.

Start a dialogue
Integral to the Cultivating Change e-book is a companion WordPress site that invites reader feedback. Faculty, teachers, and learners worldwide are invited to share the ways in which they're incorporating technology into education. Get the conversation going. Follow the hashtag #CC50 on Twitter for more.

The message is change
The book, titled "Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50 Stories from the Digital Frontlines at the University of Minnesota in 2012," moved fast—much in line with the way technology is changing today. You blink and the floppy disk is gone—not even a memory in the lifetime of today's students—you open your eyes and the floppy is replaced with the writable CD, shiny and reflecting the sun into your eyes; blink again and the world has gone to the cloud—virtual computing accessible anywhere, anytime, by any number and type of device. Technology changes, it seems, in pace with the weather. To make the change with it—that is the challenge.

"Cultivating change requires innovation. The creation, collection, collaboration, and ultimate contributions in this book epitomize the creative, risk-taking side of education that needs to be more fully embraced in higher education," says Dr. Curtis Bonk, internationally known author, instructional design expert, and professor at Indiana University.

This monumental effort by U faculty presents studies and stories ranging from the use of specific technologies in the classroom to the design of an entirely new kind of university and curriculum, as in the case of the University of Minnesota Rochester. Its iSEAL curriculum informing database and Center for Learning Innovation, addressed in two of the book's chapters, have been hailed as a revolution in teaching and learning by publications like Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and American Radio Works, to name just a few. The iSEAL (intelligent system for education, assessment, and learning) database will effectively incorporate student-learning outcomes to very rapidly evolve methods of teaching at UMR. But all of the stories have one thing in common: engaging students on their terms in learning, to better prepare them for a rapidly changing world.

Chair of the Department of Writing Studies, Laura Gurak, sums it up in her chapter, "Writing, Speaking and Digital Technologies," like this: "The trick with any course with digital media at its core [is that] we as faculty keep getting older, but our students stay the same age (18-25)."

And so Gurak's approach is not simply to keep adding new technology to try to keep up, but to engage students in course planning—in a kind of co-learning. She teaches writing not just with the pen, but in a dynamic interplay of technology. Just recently that meant students would write a script for and produce a podcast. Last year she taught with video and YouTube, and next year, based on student feedback, perhaps Facebook.

She solves the technology hurdle by having her students learn in groups and appointing one student the technology lead. "We have to have a more democratized teaching—and we can't be afraid to learn from our students," she says.

A multi-dimensional world
The use of new and innovative technology can also help students get jobs. Assistant professor Lucy Dunne, who authored the chapter "3D Simulation and the Apparel Design Curriculum," says that the great irony of an industry built on fashion is that the industry is highly resistant to change. With a product cycle of three to four months, they don't have time to slow down and assess how they're doing what they're doing—and how it might be done better, says Dunne.

And so while car manufacturers, for example, have been designing with 3D technology for years, it's relatively new to the design industry. In her course, Dunne's students have their bodies scanned and a 3D image of themselves stored for design purposes. Creating virtual clothing for virtual bodies, as one might imagine, saves a lot of sewing time. And because her students are versed in this technology, the design industry has come looking to hire them—and learn from them.

"One of our opportunities in academia is to help lower the barriers to change by providing students who are well trained in these sorts of things to [industry] who are increasingly interested in hiring our students because they're trained in 3D," says Dunne. "They see it as an opportunity to explore the options for their own company with someone who knows the ropes a little bit."

Ann Hill Duin, one of the three editors who drove the project, says she hopes the book will inspire other faculty and staff—at the U and beyond—to consider, use, or even develop new innovations in teaching and learning.

"Oftentimes, faculty aren't aware of academic technology—or of the variety of work under way," says Duin. "People are doing and proposing incredible things with the use of existing resources—with minor expenditures. This is intended to stimulate that conversation."

Related Links

News Release

Cultivating Change in the Academy

2012 Academic Technology Showcase