THE ROLE OF INFORMATION RESOURCES IN UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION

One element of education is the sharing of information -- among faculty and students, between faculty member and faculty member, from information sources to learners. More important than this is the selection and analysis, or interpretation of information, and these skills are increasingly more important as education, along with all other institutions, is increasingly permeated with information resources and the digital technology that provides access to more and more information. As Dave Burrows remarked in his opening convocation two years ago, "information is not knowledge"; knowledge is, rather, the result of employing trained analytic and interpretive skills upon information. The college student gains knowledge, then, to the degree to which he or she gains the skills to analyze and interpret information.

First, we must be clear about what stands at the heart of a Skidmore education, what our alumni value above all else and what is the essential ingredient in our environment that enables students to transform information into knowledge: quite clearly, that is the close working relationship between faculty and students, in which together with peers or, increasingly, in one-on-one collaborations with faculty, the Skidmore student learns how to analyze, interpret, and evaluate information, or to create or perform the activities represented in the various disciplines.

Clearly, too, many of us have discovered that the skilled use of digital technology, in classroom or in library, can engage students more actively in learning, can build more intensely shared educational experiences, can expand and deepen communication, can encourage even greater thinking and rethinking of solutions, and of the quality of their creations. It can build bridges across institutions, can ensure access to the most current information, can afford model-building and calculation on a scale impossible in the classroom in earlier days. Understanding this, we understand as well the need to integrate these opportunities intelligently into the education we offer, despite the challenges posed by the expense and the time required to employ the technology fluently.

But, for obvious reasons, there is considerable concern about the impact of the technology on the classroom, on the faculty-student interaction, and on the cost structure of the institution. How do we make informed decisions about what enhances the students' educational experience and what interferes, what is worth the investment of time and money, and what is simply redundant.

How can we be responsive to market issues, including the pressures our increasingly sophisticated students bring to bear when they arrive on campus, equipped with the latest software which we have yet to install, and including the specter of what our competitors are doing, without wasting diminishing resources by spending unwisely? How can we ensure that the efforts of our information centers are sufficiently coordinated so that we allocate resources -- money and time both -- most efficiently and effectively? How can we be certain that we allocate the appropriate portion of our resources to these endeavors, particularly when there are so many worthy competitors for a limited pool?

What all this suggests is the necessity of careful, thoughtful, balanced investment in these educational tools as in others we now take for granted. We need to balance as well the human resources necessary for training faculty and students with the financial resources to fund the hardware and software. And, we must balance the claims of those individuals on the high board with those many of us just now testing the waters with tentative toes.

The function, and challenge, of the Information Resources Council is to understand and monitor the present state and analyze and recommend to appropriate groups goals for the development of these resources at Skidmore. Our concerns include, above all, recommending policy to guide our investments, ensuring maximum effectiveness, encouraging appropriate advances, and preventing waste. As a consequence, we must help to ensure coordination among the information centers on campus, and between the desires for equipment and the need for training and support. Above all, we must coordinate our efforts with those of other major committees, particularly CEPP and FPPC.

In view of the significant investments already made and now projected for educational technology, it is essential that all members of our community understand our assumptions so that intelligent and shared planning can go forward. Toward that end, we are sharing this document with the community as a whole and are eager for your responses. As a provocation of response, we set forth the following working assumptions:

  1. digital technology that delivers educational resources can enhance the classroom experience by increasing students' active engagement with the material of the course, creating linkages with other students, faculty and institutions, and emphasizing analytical and reactive approaches to information. Digital technology also enhances faculty's access to information in support of their research. From their desktops, faculty can use bibliographic, textual, numeric and multimedia resources previously available only the largest of research libraries.
  2. prospective students and their parents expect a college like Skidmore to offer close interaction with faculty and well-equipped facilities, including current digital technology;
  3. we will continue to make significant investments in maintaining currency in our technology and in improving our facilities as demand from faculty, staff and students dictates;
  4. we will make every effort to provide training to as many as seek it, balancing the human needs with the technological to achieve maximum effect on the campus;
  5. we must institute new development strategies to allow faculty and staff the time to profit from the technology and expertise already on campus and to become, themselves, part of the chain of expertise.
  6. we must ensure efficient coordination among information resource centers on campus and provide clear directions regarding the "who's who" of IR;
  7. we must ensure that the entire information system at the College, both academic and administrative, provides the greatest use of our investments and the smoothest interface among operations; digital technology promises greater efficiency and improved communication, which in turn promise time-saving operations -- we must ensure that we realize this promise. Additionally, the IRC will ensure the coordination of requests for the acquisition of technology generated by the several information resource centers -- Media Services, CITS, and the Library.
  8. we will investigate and, where advisable, test out distance-learning and collaborative opportunities -- by which we mean interactive real-time electronic extensions to existing classes, not the importation of canned courses from outside -- that are consistent with our educational mission, our most fundamental convictions about the type of education and styles of pedagogy we wish to offer at Skidmore, and our financial resources.

 


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