Monday, March 21, 2011

More Than ipods and iphones

I recently purchased an iphone. I feel so 21st Century, multi-tasking like a modern day teenager; knowing what apps are; accessing information instantly; doing all kinds of things I couldn’t do before now. And I know that I really don’t know everything about my new phone (read camera, video recorder, web browser, iPod, email machine, flashlight, etc.). Indeed, the possibilities seem endless! Technology is advancing so quickly, I’m always looking for ways to better understand what’s happening. I came across a video that synthesizes some of the effects of technology on young learners – best titled “Digital Learners.” It’ll only take you four minutes to view at this link that might put the rest of this post in perspective for you.

My tour of every school district in Oneida County last year confirmed that local bond measures have helped area schools upgrade their technology infrastructures. By the time Oneida County students finish high school and enroll at MVCC (30% of the entire OC cohort does so each autumn!), they are more than primed to expect access to technology. In addition, the vast majority long for an active learning environment that most have experienced in high school. And, our experience has shown, they all know it when they see it.

MVCC’s technology initiatives are not simply about throwing money at the newest hardware and software solutions for the sake of it. Rather, they’re about ensuring that the College’s infrastructure can support what is needed to increase student success. They’re about moving students along the continuum of an active, technology-enhanced learning environment through appropriate technology that’s integrated into the student experience, inside and outside of class.

One of the key challenges we face, in this regard, is to work hard to communicate with each other about how the rapid pace of technological change is affecting our operation and the teaching and learning process; provide employee enrichment experiences to maintain faculty and staff skill levels in the use of emerging technologies; and evolve our systems to enable effective deployment of those technologies, while maximizing access to the most relevant among them.

Although it’s not often shouted from the highest hilltops, MVCC has done a very good job, building upon our roots as a technical institute and keeping pace with technological change. Although both campuses have been wireless for a couple years, we expanded our IT network in 2009 from 20MB to 100MB (don’t worry about the numbers, just know it was a five-fold increase in network capacity). When market prices dropped, we once again expanded from 100MB to 500MB this year – another five-fold increase! In the past three years, we’ve added presentation technology to 37 more classrooms (including 23 with smartboards). With only 14 classroom upgrades remaining, 83% of all MVCC classrooms are well-equipped to accommodate a broad range of teaching and learning styles. Admittedly, some internal communications, training, and systems shortcomings have inhibited our ability to maximize available technology (e.g., faculty who want smartboards scheduled to teach in rooms without smartboards and vice versa, etc.), but those issues are solvable and are being addressed every day.

I get most anxious when I consider the magnitude and scope of the impacts of technological change across the institution. At the same time, we need to be sure to welcome the rising number of adult students coming to us with varying levels of technological comfort, meeting their needs without making them feel isolated.

Technology also effects the student experience outside the classroom – from admissions to graduation. MVCC has initiatives underway to electronically image student records, expand our use of social media, and automate various student processes to increase response time and service. Trying to keep pace with changing technology may feel futile, but it’s increasingly becoming part of who we are and how we will be. We need to continue recreating this environment for those who can use it to model the way and bring the rest of us along in ways we haven’t even considered yet as possible. It’s the belief in those possibilities that interests and inspires me most.

If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.