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Message from President Jeffrey Herbst
(illustration by James Yang)
The ongoing revolution in digital and social media opens enormous possibilities for enhancing the teaching and learning that are at the heart of our university’s mission. I believe that Colgate is well positioned to take liberal arts education to new heights in this digital age.
The changes associated with the digital revolution are all around us. Today’s students “plug in” from the instant they get up until the moment they go to sleep, and they associate learning with a rich media environment. An explosion of data in many fields allows for new types of learning. Tools such as smartphones and tablets offer new ways to configure class meetings. And, social media platforms can foster many new types of connections both within and outside of the classroom. At the end of the day, however, these technologies are only means to an end; we must continue to explore how they can enhance our faculty’s ability to teach the critical-thinking, research, writing, and argumentation skills of a liberally educated citizen, and prepare our students for the global, digital 21st century.
Much is already in place. Our Collaboration for Enhanced Learning, a team of university librarians and staff from Information Technology Services, provides coordinated support to professors who wish to rethink their courses and their pedagogical approaches using current and emerging technologies. Some exciting projects have taken class assignments in new directions. Students have used Google sites to collaboratively annotate dense reading assignments and have learned the value of peer review in scholarship through editing Wikipedia entries. Others present their research findings and course assignments through multimedia or video presentations, podcasts, and websites. Professors have reported that their students take extra care with, and pride in, their presentations when they know they will be shared with a wider audience on platforms such as iTunes or YouTube.
Looking to the future, as part of our overall strategic planning process, a designated group of professors and administrators is hard at work exploring ways to broaden and deepen the use of technology that will advance our mission of providing the highest-quality undergraduate experience. In addition, in January, the full board held its meeting in Palo Alto, Calif. My senior staff, as well as several members of the faculty, joined us. This two-day immersion in the Silicon Valley gave the university’s leadership a chance to discuss both the opportunities and the challenges posed by the dramatic increase in the use of digital media worldwide.
Our keynote speaker was Shantanu Narayen, president and CEO of Adobe. A panel of prominent high-tech professionals — David Lawee from Google; Daniel Rosensweig P’15, CEO of the online textbook rental company Chegg.com; and Jeffrey Jordan of the technology investment firm Andreesen Horowitz — addressed us in a highly engaging exchange. At three concurrent site visits, we had the opportunity for in-depth discussions with
leaders at Facebook and Google as well as professors specializing in entrepreneurship at Stanford. Another panel, on “Financing the Digital Revolution,” featured Frank Yeary P’15, vice chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, and several forward-looking alumni who are successful technology investors: trustees Brion Applegate ’76 and Bill Johnston ’73, as well as Brian Dovey ’63 and Noah Wintroub ’98.
Our guests dismissed some of the more dire predictions that “bricks and mortar” universities will go the way of record stores and many print newspapers. After all, as we are well aware, the personal relationships and interactions between professors and students are at the core of residential education. As well, the communities that students build together on campus will not be readily replaced by social media practices like chatting on Facebook.
Perhaps the most profound message derived from our sessions was that we must be flexible as an institution. We must be willing to take risks and know enough to discern which experiments have the greatest potential for success. While the Silicon Valley mantra of “move fast and break things” does not apply directly to us, we must understand the speed of change in today’s economy and that moving too slowly could be the riskiest path. Frankly, this can be a challenge for a 190-year-old institution, but it’s one that we must embrace. It will not be enough to survive. We must flourish in this, the digital age.