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Saved by Dave M
on December 12, 2008 at 12:45:49 pm

Higher education is unique in that our institutions are expected to set the standards in the self-guided pursuit of learning.  Students come to college to gain further preparation that they will need to become leaders in their chosen fields.  Trade schools, community colleges, and universities all aspire to be centers of knowledge, research, and innovation in their specialties.  Students come to the institutions to build on the skills learned in their previous years in the educational system, and eventually to prepare for careers and the rest of their lives.


A private secondary design school in California in particular is no different from its peers in higher education.  With four campuses and 16 majors covering fashion, beauty, apparel manufacturing, and merchandising; you would expect to find industry standard computer labs, technology training, state of the art industry software and hardware.  Indeed they are there and available for its 6700 students.  On the Los Angeles campus, there are four computer labs for general use, in addition to high end Apple computer labs and Avid workstations.  Students wander to and from class with laptops in hand, listening to digital audio players, sending text messages on cell phones, and carting their books and workshop materials in a cart.  They communicate with each other in different channels, often holding different conversations with multiple people simultaneously, strolling to class in groups chatting verbally while texting other friends.  A stroll through the Library will show half of the students working on PowerPoint projects, and the other half browsing over to Facebook to chat.


Of course at a design school, many courses are focused on using and learning technology.  A common scene in the labs and computer classrooms are students working on Adobe Illustrator or CAD design programs.  New multipurpose classrooms offers instructors a podium with a flat-panel Windows PC built-in, while the student tables have hideaway drawers that open up to extend a monitor and keyboard set for students to use at each seat.  Multiple T1 lines service different labs in school and fiber connections knit the spaces in between so the graphic design major students can post files to a shared drive while the students in the apparel manufacturing courses send hundreds of spec sheet files to the large format color printers.  The main server room in the Information Technology department hosts multiple business class servers on the IBM System i platform which runs two different internal intranets, staff email, the student portal, and the main student information databases.  A staff of 60 IT specialists work in tight coordination with the FIDM business units such as marketing and fiscal operations to write programs to generate new reports, reach compliance with new financial aid laws, or cull lead information from various different marketing web sites built by the college for high school students, the public, or industry partners.


This school is on a tipping point with technology. There is much of the technology needed for industry applications but not enough meaningful technology use is woven in to the teachers’ curriculum.  If you walk in to any number of classrooms you will see classrooms with portable “Educarts” or wheeled carts that house a wired or wirelessly connected PC and projector.  Instructors or students typically will be flipping through PowerPoint slideshows projected onto the wall or giving a demonstration on how to fill out a costing spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel. 


In General Education courses, there is a renewed focus on digital literacy and learning to navigate today’s modern business environment.  But standard instruction is yet to be provided to students yet on how to navigate the digital landscape.  The computer is often used as a substitute for the overhead projector or a visual aid, despite the college’s attempts to make classroom response systems, or “Clickers” available, or the recent posting of screencast-recorded trainings on the school’s intranet for instructors.  Communication between the school’s leadership and its teaching community is inconsistent at best.  Many instructors support their income with teaching while they work in the industry, and often don’t have the extra time to learn to use a complex intranet or attend extra training or professional workshops.  This makes it difficult to get company communication out to them.  On the flip side of this, some of the requests the Education department makes for more technology are met with budget delays or get caught up in a lengthy project management cycle.  Both sides need to meet each other half way.


In the lower level core courses, you will also see instructors struggling to navigate to web sites and attempting to download large email attachments from their already over-quota email accounts.  Many instructors express frustration with the existing technology resources at FIDM, citing that technical difficulties get in the way of them utilizing the school's own digital communication tools to effectively teach.  “I have to resort to using my own Gmail account and Google Docs to store my lesson files since the internal email is just to slow,” comments one frustrated marketing professor.  Managing all of the students different email addresses is problematic for teachers as well since many consider it a necessity to keep open the lines of communication with their class, but the school does not currently provide internal email accounts for its students, so the instructor makes do with their lists of their students' personal email addresses, which often have cryptic spellings and are "hit and miss" in how often they are checked.

While students are taking full advantage of new digital communication tools and web applications in their personal lives for communication with peers on a social level, instructors grapple with less than adequate resources or experience with these technologies to meet the students on their turf.  College policies prohibit use of some web 2.0 collaboration tools since it would place proprietary digital information and assets about the college on “outside servers.”  Contemporary Business Strategies is a new capstone course that explores the use of Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking applications in a marketing context, but how can this be demonstrated in a classroom with these practices in place?  In higher education, where more responsibility is placed on students to be in charge of their own academic performance.  But who is deciding for the students as to what technology resources they need to succeed, what should be made available to them, and how they will ultimately use the precious resources that are offered to them?

Steering committees of Education department representatives and the informational technology department regularly meet and share ideas, brainstorm, and decide to move on initiatives or amend policies.  More recently the student portal was completely redesigned to provide a more dynamic but not yet quite social experience.  Various features such as campus news, study tours, and regular student activities updates via podcast audio have bridged much of the communication gaps with students.  However, teachers do not have full access yet to review what students see.  While department administrators are usually in communication with each other on the business side, this doesn't extend fully out to instructors yet.  Sometimes, instructors don't know who to complain to for help and decide to make do with an issue can be easily resolved.


The future of education here lies in the proper use of communication mediums to promote collaboration and digital literacy.  While technology has been usually focused on the end goal of completing tasks (i.e., building a planning and allocation spreadsheet or marketing presentation) there is a strong desire to utilize technology more as a means to an end.  Instructors are increasingly turning to the internet and available electronic textbook resources to teach in the classroom.  More and more student assignments require internet use as well.


Paper textbooks don't cut it anymore especially if the books are over 2 years old.  Need new tools and greater cooperation with publishers and content providers as needs change.


General ed stories

    * As they prepare for real world they need to learn to communicate in the real world (digital literacy)

    * Analyze tools and choose how best to leverage each

    * Researching for sources - a critical exercise

    * Evaluating and analyzing the "din" of communication and media assault


Digital communication for the college student means more than sending emails or SMS messages to friends, but it is a means of expression in their growth as professionals, a means of presenting themselves to future employers, and for some, a catalyst to evoke emotion.  Students are accomplishing these tasks already in ways that some faculty haven't even been prepared for.  Innovations in digital creation and publishing has spawned videos and digital presentations in place of written papers.  Students are remixing and determining the structure of curriculum and the path of their own education, social networking- building a PLE with peers and using different tools.  Students live in it and demand that education is compatible with their own lives.


Communication is a necessity in all forms of education, not only as a medium for teaching and learning, but also in regards to keeping business processes running smoothly. So why hasn't higher education embraced some of the innovations that enable higher orders of communication?  Virtual meetings, different modes of synchronous and asynchronous communication, social networking and new taxonomies for filtering content were all originated to hone the transfer of information, to sift out unwanted "noise," and to ultimately bring communication to a more productive and meaningful level.  But sometimes it is like oil and water that will never mix.


In bringing these techniques to our business and teaching practices, we must utilize them to their fullest potential so that we can also in turn teach our students how to communicate effectively in this new territory.  In fact, our students may end up showing us the way instead.


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1. training: more professional development, communication between departments

  • Faculty asking for more support
  • Me and Christine in a unique position to influence school policy. We see and hear the need. Up to us to make it heard in meetings
  • Students clamoring for a more social experience

2. re-evaluation of technology standards, one's that meet student needs in instruction and life activities

3. tear down the walled garden, learning is connecting via DC


What enterprise technologies are we providing our students to promote higher orders of communication and collaboration? Instead of trying to replace functionality of social networking, chat, and email; we should be reaching out to the services that students are utilizing. Interoperability of services today make of possible to enable syndication and aggregation of data between systems. With the right technology (with the low to negligible open source licensing costs) institutions can leverage Facebook's API to display Facebook updates on their own student portal gateways. Many of our design school's own students use Facebook in lieu of email to arrange class meetings and study sessions since they are, according to one student, "just easier...and it's already there, and we're on it all the time anyway."


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