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Liberal Arts Education, Visual Literacy, Why You Should Blog

Why Agnes Scott Needs the Digital Design Fellowship.

I’m a big fan of Worst Professor Ever’s blog, and if you’re at all involved with higher education (on a student, staff, faculty or administrative level), you should be too. She recently attended South by Southwest (aka, SXSW) in Austin, Texas, a huge festival for creative types looking to be discovered in a variety of fields (namely, music, film and interactive tech), specifically to volunteer for SXSW Interactive (or SXSW IA, if you’re into acronyms), a tech segment of the festival that you can read about by following the link. More to the point, Worst Professor Ever has published a couple of posts addressing edutech, and the digital humanities, that I think are super important right now. I’ll let you do some independent reading with links to the posts in question, respectively, and appropriately, titled “SXSW On A Stick (Or: So You Want Your Field to be Taken Seriously?)” and “Bummer Thoughts on the Digital Humanities” — once you’re done with that, come back to this Crafting the Digital Design Fellowship post. Consider it your spring reading assignment; it’s going to be food for thought for what I have to say next. And you might want to get comfortable, because I’ve got a lot to say.

I linked to these posts because now is a terribly important time to acknowledge the impact that the digital humanities play in higher education. More specifically, I feel compelled to address why instructing students, faculty and staff in digital media/literacy is absolutely non-negotiable for institutions of higher learning. Let’s get things straight: interactive communications — inside the classroom and out — is not just a “fad” that will eventually die out, even if there are plenty of higher education professionals who would like to believe otherwise. Colleges and universities across the country are utilizing technology and digital/social media to engage their students in a more relevant manner. Quite frankly, the college or university that does not have any sort of program in place to help its learning community turn on to better, faster, more relevant technology is doing a disservice to itself and its students. There’s just no way around it. If students are not equipped with at least a basic understanding of digital tools by the time graduation rolls around, it is a reflection on the institution that it:

  1. did not make those tools available to students, and/or
  2. did not supply them with the resources and support necessary for them to successfully become citizens of an increasingly digital world.

In the two years that the Digital Design Fellowship has been a program/resource at Agnes Scott, it’s accomplished perhaps way more than was initially expected of it. As the Fellow, I wear a lot of hats when it comes to helping the ASC community achieve its goals as a real 21st century learning environment. I tutor students in creating content for their class blogs. I teach faculty how to incorporate blogging into their coursework, and help them understand the functional differences between “hub-and-spoke” class blogging and regular ol’ “hub” blogging. I assist my colleagues in the Educational Technology Center with non-ePortfolio issues that other members of the Agnes Scott community need addressed. I plan events. I collaborate with other campus tutoring services. I develop training materials for professors who are on the fence about utilizing digital media. Since I’m a full-time Fellow, I have the availability for walk-in tutoring sessions as well as scheduled class presentations. And that’s just a normal work week. In all honesty, if the Fellowship is to be considered a successful venture on the part of the College, it cannot function as anything less than full-time.

And not to have the position at all?

Well, that smacks of shooting oneself in the foot (or cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face … whichever you prefer).  Put simply: if the Fellowship does not exist as a campus resource, the entire community looking to toe the waters of the digital humanities has no support. And an institution without demonstrated support is like a car on cinderblocks. You ain’t getting very far, that’s for sure.

If you’ve been at Agnes Scott a while, you may remember the old program for ePortfolios. In order to take advantage of their network space allotted to site-building within the campus network, students had to learn Dreamweaver; on top of that, they built a site with (or without, as the case may be) the knowledge that once they’d graduated, POOF! Those hours spent learning Dreamweaver and building a site would be erased from the network. I don’t know about you, but the idea of vanished hard work is a turn-off for me. ENTER the Digital Design Fellowship, the product of a lot of campaigning on the parts of various faculty members, administrators, and some enterprising students. The Fellow was charged with staying current with digital media trends, and acting as a visual literacy resource on campus. We moved away from the network server, letting the community know that WordPress (/other platforms) is user-friendly, professional, and above all, kind of fun to play around with. The emphasis is less on the technicalities of site-building, and more on how students can effectively showcase evidence of learning, across disciplines, to maximum accessibility. That’s where the Fellowship is now. It’s become increasingly visible, and thus more reliable, so our community is feeling increasingly comfortable with the idea of incorporating blogs, and ePortfolios, and content management optimization, into its academic life.

This is all to say that the Digital Design Fellowship is an integral campus resource, one that indicates that Agnes Scott has crossed the threshold of the digital world, so to speak. The College recognizes demonstrated need for full-time support of ePortfolios and digital communication, and with the Fellowship, encourages digital learning in a way that separates us from similar institutions. It is cognizant of its commitment to digital engagement — from all ends of the College spectrum — and that, in enabling systematic support from the Educational Technology Center, it is fulfilling its mission. It is equipping its graduates with digital tools they can use to their utmost advantage.

I want to close with a quote I received from a faculty member I’ve worked with this year. To me, this quote validates the Fellowship and Why Agnes Scott Needs It:

Speaking from personal experience, you are the only reason I have been able to venture a toe into digital waters at all—I don’t think I’m anomalous as a professor who is interested and willing to expand my use of technological resources for pedagogical reasons, but lacks the knowledge, confidence, or time  that it would take to get there on my own.  The session you spent with me and my student intern (helping her create a blog for her internship as my assistant) was a revelation.  It’s the kind of front-lines, student contact position that I believe is core to the ASC experience; and it’s a front-lines, faculty contact position as well.

Do you agree, disagree, or have comments on anything I’ve said in this post? LET ME KNOW! Use that comment link right below you. Oh, and happy Monday uh, it has come to my attention that today is, in fact, Tuesday. Happy Tuesday.

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About Emily

I read! I write! I stand! I sit.

Discussion

6 thoughts on “Why Agnes Scott Needs the Digital Design Fellowship.

  1. <3. a more substantial comment later

    (for those of you who don't know a less than sign followed by a three means "heart," often used on the internet to show support and/or care. if you don't know what that is then you need to face facts that everyone else in the world does and the internet is NOT going away.)

    Posted by neilfsimpkins | March 22, 2011, 3:53 pm
  2. Fabulous. Fabulous. Fabulous.

    As an ASC alumna and a graduate student seeking to integrate the benefits of digital resources with a First-Year Writing Seminar, I think this post exemplifies what the Digital Design Fellows can do for Agnes Scott graduates. I remember having to learn a program far inferior to Dreamweaver (if people will believe that such a thing exists) in order to build my ASC ePortfolio and immediately abandoning it once for superior software once I was no longer required to use it. By having a full-time fellow to help faculty and students stay current in digital resources, Agnes Scott helps its students. If Agnes Scott graduates are to “engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times,” then they need to know how to do that.

    Posted by savvynsharp | March 23, 2011, 12:06 am
    • Thanks so much for commenting, Savannah. As someone who was asked to create an ePortfolio using Dreamweaver for a First Year Seminar, I know all too well the frustration with using that technology — even if it may have been the most appropriate program at the time of the initiative’s inception! The College needs this position as a viable resource for the entire community, if for no other reason than to stay current with educational technology demands. Engaging the social/intellectual challenges of our time and all that!

      Posted by Emily | March 24, 2011, 12:12 pm
  3. Great post, Emily. I can’t ASC expected students to learn Dreamweaver! Without education in digital design, Agnes would definitely be making a step towards the Dark Ages instead of the future.

    Posted by Rachel Burger | March 24, 2011, 11:15 am
    • Thanks for your comment, Rachel. As hard as both Shannon and I have worked to enhance this program as a necessary resource, the idea of NOT having it around would hurt the faculty/students/staff who have come to rely on it for technology assistance. In keeping with the projected long-term plan for the Fellowship, I hope that the program is able not only to maintain its presence, but strengthen its community-wide impact over a long period of time. It’s so, so vital for Agnes Scott to keep up with relevant technologies, and even more so to provide its students with the support they need. Making a decisive, stable commitment to digital education is something that will keep our alma mater relevant and competitive for years to come.

      Posted by Emily | March 24, 2011, 12:17 pm
    • also, to the Dreamweaver end… when ePortfolios first came on the scene at ASC, it didn’t merit as much snark as it does now. Anyway, promoting WordPress as a platform for building better, smarter ePortfolios is the most reasonable move we could have made to preserve the EP program. Moving externally revitalized the initiative, and quite frankly, makes my job a whole lot easier.

      Unfortunately, given that there remains some resentment of the old EP/Dreamweaver program, the DDF has a whole separate role of just CONVINCING people that building ePortfolios doesn’t have to be scary or a huge technical investment. This is one of the reasons I’m so adamant about the DDF remaining not just a presence on campus, but a full-time resource. Who’s going to help the ASC community digitally grow, if not the Digital Design Fellow? (Not to give myself too much credit, but that’s basically the truth.)

      Posted by Emily | March 24, 2011, 12:26 pm

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