A Networked History of UMW’s DTLT

Mary Washington College's Proposal for CNI’s Assessing the Academic Networked Environment Project

Mary Washington College’s Proposal for CNI’s Assessing the Academic Networked Environment Project

One of the things I derive great pleasure from is learning about the long history of the edtech field. It’s such a strange, intersitital “discipline” between IT support and academics on one hand, and revolution and conformity on the other. It’s a deeply shizophrenic field in so many ways, and I think that’s why it appeals to me so much 🙂 Within the long, sordid history of edtech, nothing interests me more than the particulars of the group I currently work with, UMW’s DTLT. When Martha, Andy, and Jerry tell stories of the past it’s like sitting around the dinner table hearing stories about my ancestors. Overblown simile, I know, but I can’t help it. I’m intrigued to no end of what came before me. The same is true when Brian Lamb starts getting on a roll about the history of learning objects in edtech during the early 2000s.

So, I was thrilled when more than a month ago Martha pointed me to the Coailition for Networked Information (CNI)  site which has a public archive of the original proposals from the nine institutions accepted into CNI’s 1997 proejct  “Assessing the Academic Networked Environment Project.” The project is described as follows:

Nine institutions are participating in CNI’s Assessing the Academic Networked Environment Project, which has been developed to field test measures of the impact of networks and networked information resources on higher education institutions.

I love the idea of exploring the impact of networks and networked information resources on educational institutons back in 1997—before email truly took hold at Mary Washington. I think this kind of project would be interesting to revisit. Not only anew, but for exploring where the nine schools that particpated in this project are twenty years later. I mean examing the history between 1997 and 2017 hen it comes to networks would be insane. How have networks impacted the learning landscape at UMW? Let me count the ways! 🙂

Below are some of the assessment questions this project was exploring:

  • How has access to and use of networked information resources and services affected teaching and learning?
  • How and where are users connecting to the network?
  • What is the frequency of use of information resources on the library web?
  • How effective are electronic help services compared to print or in person help services?
  • What are the annual information technology expenditures on the campus?

First and foremost is the question of instuctional technologies. Exploring the impact of networks in regards to teaching and learning is a  concept that can be traced back to 1995 at UMW Mary Washington College. What’s so awesome is that CNI both archived and made public the original proposals from those nine institutions, so I can get a sense of the narrative around instructional technology at Mary Washington circa 1996. Here is the archived page of UMW’s application to take part in Assessing the Academic Networked Environment Project. What’s wild to me is that you can see the kernel of what would become DTLT over the next two decades in this proposal. While talking about Mary Washington’s recent networking of the entire campus in 1994, and a major overhaul of technology in classrooms, etc, the proposal notes:

As the physical aspects of the project near completion, attention is more intensively turning toward how we plan to utilize the network and equipment to achieve our educational goals and objectives.
…..
To address the technological training needs of faculty, staff, and students, the College established a Center for Instructional Technology in 1995. In spite of its small staff, the Center works closely with other campus agencies and has accomplished several important objectives. First, the Center established a Faculty and Staff Technology Training Center in which faculty and staff receive training in state-of-the-art networking technologies as they apply to the teaching/learning process. Faculty are increasingly enhancing their curricula with technology so a forum for sharing these experiences was created. The CIT developed an annual three-dayFaculty Academy focusing on examinations of pedagogy and technology as a method of facilitating communication regarding these experiences.

Isn’t that crazy? The long history of DTLT can be dated back to 1995 in this proposal, and I think the constant investment in developing faculty in “state-of-the-art networking technologies as they apply to the teaching/learning process” has remained a consistent focus for what we do. The fact that over the last twenty years there has been so much expertise in this field that’s played a crucial role in the work we’re doing today is humbling. This wouldn’t have been possible if there wasn’t an early belief as the web was emerging into public consciousness that these technologies wouldn’t dramtically change how we share what it is we do. People often ask what’s in the water at UMW when it comes to all things edtech, and it’s increasingly apparent that that questions wouldn’t even be asked if those waters weren’t so deep. An early understanding that investing in instuctional technology as a means of understanding networks as the technological infrastructure premised on conencting the work of people was defining for the course we’ve been on since 1995. As we open up yet another era of DTLT’s illustrious hsitory whenw e move into the Convergence Center next moth, it’s cool to think about how many folks over the last 19 years got us there.

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4 Responses to A Networked History of UMW’s DTLT

  1. Michael Berman says:

    I’ve been trying to find a copy of an article that I wrote with a student in 1995 titled something like “How to convince faculty to use the Internet” – we truly felt like evangelists that had discovered this wonderful life-changing stuff and had a hard time convincing others that it was important. And of course, pre-web, it really was pretty hard to use (gopher, archie, uunet, telnet, & http://ftp...). The web browser changed everything.

  2. Alan Levine says:

    Not long after I started at Maricopa (1992) our office published a report on instructional technology called Its A River Not a Lake (archived http://mcli.cogdogblog.com/river/) that brims of the pre-web perspective. It’s author, math teacher Alan Jacobs, did it as a follow up to a 1986 report where the aim was on mainframe systems, getting training on microcomputers. Somewhere in there was the impetus that became the office I worked for 1992-2006.

    Michael – I have a set of those from 1992- I was pushing shareware, gopher, FTP http://mcli.cogdogblog.com/labyforum

  3. Gardner says:

    I was just getting started at MWC at that point, so I wasn’t involved in the proposal (I was busy blowing up email servers, or they were blowing me up–but that’s another story), but I knew the main players well, even at that point. Two names deserve some highlighting. One is Dave Ayersman, who was MWC’s first Director of Instructional Technology. He started Faculty Academy. He was also one of my early mentors in this interstitial field (as you aptly call it) and gave me my start, really, by featuring work I’d done with poetry in a thing I called HyperPoem, built with HyperStudio, a Windows-based Hypercard emulation. That was the summer of 1996, as I recall, the year of the first Faculty Academy as well. Dave arrived in 1995, just after we’d switched on the first high-speed campus network. When I arrived in 1994, I did email by dialing in (from my office) to the computer science HP servers. I was also That Guy who had the custom 486-based PC instead of the PS2 Model 25 that sat on everyone else’s desk–aside from Bill Kemp, who was always ahead of his time, like the late Topher Bill as well.

    The other name that belongs here, the real visionary who brought the network to MWC, brought Dave to MWC, helped to bring Chip to MWC, and worked with Chip and Bill to get me started as Dave’s eventual successor, is that of our Provost at the time, Dr. Phil Hall. (Phil was also the first person to loan me a Richard Feynman book, which was also life-changing.) Phil’s efforts to get MWC into the digital age were crucial to everything that followed. He doesn’t get mentioned much, let alone celebrated, but he deserves a central place in this history. He had retired by the time you got to UMW, but as I recall you did get to have lunch with him–or perhaps you met him in some other venue. His last Faculty Academy was the first one I ever did, the one with Dennis Trinkle (again, before you were there). Even then Phil was spinning out new ideas about the network, especially how it might help professors with corresponding interests to find each other and come up with radically interdisciplinary courses and programs.

    Once again I marvel at the way this little school kept punching above its weight for so many years.

  4. George Meadows says:

    I’m glad to see Gardner mention Dave Ayersman’s name – we were at WVU at the same time with Mike Reed advising our dissertations and Dave pretty much brought me to Mary Washington. To give you and idea of how long ago that was, my dissertation dealt with the use of HyperCard Stacks and Pathfinder software to address science misconceptions.

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