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High Tech on the Hilltop

  By Melinda Pradarelli  

How new technologies are enhancing Cornell's liberal arts mission

In the ideal art history class, students would hang the original works of Monet and Picasso in their dorm rooms.

Geology students would carry the rocks they're studying around in their backpacks so they could pull them out and examine them anytime they wanted.

And French students studying Cajun music could sit at Cafe du Monde sipping coffee and chicory and discussing the form with other Francophones for hours on end while street musicians played nearby.

For many reasons — art theft charges, the risk of a bad back, and the cost of airfare being just a few of them — these aren't practical options for the average student. But something very close to it is.

Over the past five years, Cornell College has been systematically working to give students greater access to technology on campus, allowing them to dig deeper and unearth more about subjects from the fine arts and humanities to education and the natural sciences. Whether it's providing wireless laptops in classrooms and wireless Internet access in the library or exposing students to new electronic tools, Cornell has joined the movement of colleges nationwide to find new ways to use technology to deliver more information to students and to make it available to them 24 hours a day.

"When students come to Cornell to study, they really come to study the world," says Jean Donham, director of Cole Library and the growing Center for Teaching and Learning. "Computers and the Internet mean that our students are used to a world much bigger than a campus. When they come to Cornell, they expect to be able to make connections with people all over the globe."

And those expectations are becoming more of a reality each day at Cornell. The fruits of the college's efforts can be seen across campus, and rarely more dramatically than in the geology department this coming fall. Whether students are in class, in their residence halls, or studying halfway around the world, they can take a long and detailed look at the fossil coals their professor collected in the Dominican Republic. That's because Cornell has invested in some of the latest 2-D and 3-D computer projection viewers. Fossils are placed under the viewer, which acts as a camera connected to a computer. The fossil image is projected onto the wall where it is enlarged and captured by a computer, allowing students to view it online anytime of day from anywhere.

In art history, professors are creating a digital database of art images that can be viewed by students, colleagues, and historians 24 hours a day.

And in French, Professor Jan Boncy is using Les Blogues (French for blogs, which is short for weblogs—journals created online and frequently updated by the

authors) in many of her courses. Third-year students write blogs to document their electronic explora­tions of the French and Francophone press. And first-year students who travel to Louisiana use blogs to recount their experiences and to continue to interact with members of the Southern state's Cajun music culture.

Using Les Blogues, third-year French students write weblogs to document their electronic exploration of the French and Francophone press.

Jim Brown, special assistant to the president and chair of the Information Technology Advisory Committee, says five years ago Cornell began an effort to equip a growing number of classrooms with what he calls "basic technology suites." Many classrooms have evolved from chalkboards and whiteboards to include mounted projectors and screens, computers, wireless keyboards and mouses, DVDs, VCRs, and wireless sound systems. And that's just the hardware. On the software side, one of the biggest changes has been the addition of Moodle—a course management system used by nearly 50 percent of the faculty.

Moodle allows faculty and students to create a virtual classroom. Students can log onto Moodle from anywhere on or off campus and view their class syllabus assignments, and discussion boards as well as submit papers and view their grades. "It's a great way to extend the classroom," Donham says. "So now if you want to ask questions about your assignment from your room in the evenings you might go to Moodle and pose questions. A professor or student will see that and respond, creating an ongoing dialogue outside of class."

Donham defines all of these changes in technology as "additive."

"None of it is replacing what was already going on in the classroom," she says. "Computers and the network do not take the place of class but give professors new ways to deliver materials. That is true for every one of these technologies."

In fact, technology has opened doors in almost every discipline at Cornell.

The ePortfolio of Michele Link '06, an elementary education major and psychology minor, highlights her work at Cornell.

When psychology students need access to an empirical study in a psychology journal, they can now search full-text journal articles right from their residence halls. Students in education and business don't have to try to tell future employers and graduate schools what they accomplished at Cornell. Now they can show them. The college's new Academic Media Studio works with faculty and students to create ePortfolios, electronic documents that showcase students' work during their four years at Cornell. Academic papers, field notes, personal materials such as journals, and even artwork are highlighted in these electronicportfolios. Michele Link '06, of West St. Paul, Minn., said she included a link to her ePortfolio in her cover letter and resume. "The ePortfolio gives me an edge in my job search because not only does it highlight my student teaching and academic work, it also showcases my ability to work with technology, which will help me be more successful in the classroom."

Andy Wildenberg, assistant professor of computer science and head of Cornell's Instructional Technology Subcommittee, says technology has expanded the liberal arts mission of Cornell. "One of the best ways Cornell has used technology is to bring people into the classroom who are not physically there. Cornell has used it to break down walls," he says. "This is a liberal arts school, so we are all about trying to see connections between things: how philosophy relates to chemistry, how different people in different parts of the world feel about specific issues. Technology allows us to do this on a greater scale."


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