INSIDE Chico State
0 October 10, 2002
Volume 33 Number 4
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico






Provost's Corner

Briefly Noted

Staff Profile




Provost's Corner

The Right Tool for the Job

Do you buy the tools and then decide
what you want to make?
Do you decide what you want to make
and then buy the tools?

I learned a lot from watching my father make things and do remodeling and repairs around the house. I learned how to use specific tools: what it was possible to do with them and what it was not. Whatever the project, my father seemed to have the tool he needed. If he did buy a new tool, it was because he had a new problem to solve—a recalcitrant bolt, stripped threads, or the need to drill at an impossible angle. Although a new tool could have many uses, some of which were not obvious, he never bought a tool without first having a very good idea what he was going to do with it.

We are faced with similar decisions in using technology in and outside the classroom. There is a countless array of tools out there, some of which we don't yet even know about. Over the last several years, we have made substantial investments in new technologies and infrastructure. For years, Chico has justifiably prided itself on being a technological leader in the California State University system. We have learned a great deal about what works and what does not, for what purpose and why. But there are some new challenges on the horizon, both at Chico and within the California State University system. The CSU has helped campuses build a robust technological infrastructure.

Now that the infrastructure (high-speed access for voice, data, and video) is nearing completion, the campuses and the system are trying to answer four complicated and interrelated questions: (1) How can we use new technologies to enhance the quality of our programs? (2) How can we provide access to quality programs to students bound by constraints of time and place? (3) How can technology help a student progress more quickly to graduation through improved degree audit systems, improved advising information, improved enrollment management, and improved program design, which will allow students to manage their enrollment, seek appropriate advice, and move toward graduation in a timely manner? and (4) How can we identify those technologies which enable faculty and staff to both focus on student learning and give them greater flexibility and control over their workload?

In addition, there are some "facts" which will underscore our efforts to accomplish these four tasks:

  • The growth of academic technology forces us to focus on learning and how it occurs.
  • Learning goals, as identified by the teacher, must be the driving force in determining which tools/technologies to use.
  • Learning is the province of the learner, which means that active engagement in the construction of knowledge (sometimes simple play) is necessary for learning to take place, for information to be retained, and for knowledge to be created.
  • Technology cannot be an end in itself; it must be used to solve clearly defined academic problems (e.g., retention, remediation, and advising).
  • Technology does not replace traditional learning; it only enhances it.
  • Some of our students have begun computing and communicating electronically as early as ages 2­4.
  • Students come to us with well-developed technological skills and expectations that their technological needs will be met and that their professors will be as conversant in technology as they.
  • Students will lead the technological revolution on campus.
  • Good teaching is good teaching, whether it is done electronically or the old-fashioned way.

Before we respond to these facts, we need to answer some questions about how the tools we want to use to deal with our own situations connect to the kind of university we want to be. This year the Chico Academic Technology Advisory Committee will seek answers to the following questions: (1) Where will academic technology be in five years? (2) Which of the innovations will help us to create high-quality learning environments? (3) What does it mean to assure that our students are "information competent"? Whose job is it to assure this? (4) If every student in the university owned a laptop computer or a personal data assistant, how would this influence what teachers could do in the classroom? (5) How will teachers integrate the new academic technologies into the learning experiences of their students? (6) Can CSU, Chico create a distinctive niche for itself in higher education through the wise use of academic technologies to enhance student learning? Should it? (7) Are there academic technologies that would allow faculty to manage their time more productively and allow them to spend less time in the classroom, while maintaining the quality of the educational experience? (8) What are the academic needs of our students, and how could the new academic technologies better meet those needs? (9) What system of incentives needs to be in place for faculty and staff to use academic technologies to improve access, student learning and quality of learning, student satisfaction, productivity, and efficiency?

These are not easy questions to answer, and they are not exhaustive, but they are important ones to answer about the tools we buy. For example, we have talked before about the need to have every student own a personal computer. Technologies changed, so now we are asking how laptops and personal data assistants can be used to help us "continue to develop high-quality learning environments" (Strategic Priority No. 1 of the Strategic Plan for the Future of CSU, Chico).

Tools are good to have, but there is no point in buying them unless you know what you want to build, remodel, or fix. It is not that something is broken at CSU, Chico and needs to be "fixed" using technology. It is that new technologies may help us be more effective and efficient in creating the kind of campus that will make CSU, Chico an even more special place to teach and learn.

Scott G. McNall, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs


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