Given such a complicated project involving seventeen different teams and their own institutional contexts, eleven mentors, numerous scholars, and undertaken on a national scope over a two-year time period, it is hardly surprising that there emerged a diversity of outcomes. (See Appendix A for specific team results.) These outcomes can be examined on a variety of levels, e.g., from the viewpoints of the project staff, mentors, participants and students, or from a variety of distinct aspects, e.g., impact of the conference, mentoring, dissemination or follow-up activities. Most important, one might identify key common features of individual project successes and then assess what lessons can be learned from the application of technology to the humanities in these seventeen projects. In other words, I have chosen to examine the work of the individual teams in terms of "Determinants of Success," even though because of their inter-related nature, it is difficult to isolate completely individual components of success. Determinants of success:
Quite frankly, a technology project does not have much chance of success if the project team does not enjoy access to continuous technical support at its college. On the one hand, some of that support should take a fairly basic form: faculty and student email, faculty access to office computers and a network, web access (both on- and off-site), appropriate software packages, ftp and access to web space (from both on- and off-site), support staff to help design and maintain web pages. Without these minimal technical provisions, any faculty team attempting to carry out a college-wide technology project will face certain frustration. Lack of basic, instructional technology (IT) support hampered many of the teams in this project; a problem further exacerbated by the attitude of many technology staffs that faculty know little about technology or what can be done with technology and thus can be safely ignored. As a practical matter, technical support should also include access to a knowledgeable technical support staff with sufficient time to actually help project members learn the use of software packages and to introduce faculty to the basic principles of instructional technology design. Successful projects, such as those of North Shore Community College and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, enjoyed a supportive college technology environment.
What does not help a project is an IT staff that is most interested in pursuing its own, or institutionally-defined, agendas that do not match the project team's goals and objectives. For example, a commonplace practice among IT staffs is to push faculty to develop curricular material in the context of commercially-available, course-authoring packages, instead of the more time-consuming practice of properly matching project goals with appropriate software. It also does not bode well for a project's success if "all the eggs," so to speak, are put in the basket of one technology person, who might later leave the school or be reassigned to another project.
In addition to the question of technology support, many of the projects had to confront issues of internal, institutional politics and/or allocation of resources; thus, the amount of administrative support available varied among the project teams. Firm administrative support is often necessary to counter entrenched, institutional, anti-change environments, and effecting change, charting a new course, outlining new directions in a curriculum are always endeavors fraught with many detours. In one of the more successful projects, i.e., North Shore CC, it was clear that administrative support was there from the beginning. "It seemed that other people at [our] school were eager to hear of [our] successes and to encourage [us] in completing their project." Likewise at Cabrillo College, where
we realized the importance of departmental support for our work. This included not only encouragement, but a theoretical understanding of the issues of standards, outcomes and assessment. Since our work will become a formal component of the French curriculum in the fall, it is crucial that all instructors be able to assimilate these concepts into their thinking about and practice of language teaching.
In all cases of success, there is repeated testimony to the aid and support of the project's assigned mentor, such as Dr. Aggie Taormina's work with Central Oregon Community College or Dan Rivas with Cabrillo College. In another example, the El Camino College team wrote that
We were supported in our endeavors by a wonderful faculty mentor from Northern Virginia Community College, Dr. Diane Thompson. Our frequent conference calls with Dr. Thompson became sources of continued solace and inspiration. When we had designed the structure of the website, Dr. Thompson's insights were crucial in planning how best to use that structure to teach our courses. The [fall] visit Dr. Thompson made to our campus was, as well, beneficial in several ways. First, Dr. Thompson was able to point out various sources of technological support on our own campus that we had not even considered; second, her presence on campus (and the large turnout at her subsequent luncheon presentation) provided the foundation for our newly formed faculty peer review group.
Other teams, such as the Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College team, stayed in close contact with myself, project director, as they worked through their project. Some of the other teams brought in outside scholars for consultation, as did the team at William Rainey Harper College. The Delgado Community College team was able to work with Tulane University's NEH Regional Humanities Planning Center and the Tulane Special Collections Archivist in their work on a New Orleans Online Archive.
Another important avenue for resources and support was the use of this national grant as a stepping stone to obtain additional grant funding. For example, the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) approached the Rhode Island Board of Governors during the summer of 2000 and received $32,000 to establish a faculty fellowship program. North Shore successfully received generous funding from NEH to continue and expand the Hawthorne project.
Finally, one of the most underused resources, by many schools, was the student. North Shore, on the other hand, made capable use of student interns:
Because we were new at the technology, our first efforts at producing panoramic images were not as successful as we had hoped, and our web administrator, who was the only one familiar with QuickTime for panoramas, was unavailable for assistance for these. Ultimately, we turned again to one of the student programmers who learned how to create the panoramas. We knew from the outset that we would need a database, but we could not find one which would work for us and with which our personnel were familiar or could easily become familiar. We spent considerable time examining commercial products and thinking about ways in which we could adapt them to our needs, but ultimately we used a database developed specifically for our needs by one of our student.
Most of our time initially was spent learning the web creation software Dreamweaver. We spent more time than we had expected on the creation of the website, in part because we had a very difficult time finding the technical help we needed to learn to use the necessary software....[then] we discovered that these support personnel were overwhelmed with their own tasks, and had little time to spend helping faculty in the creation of a learning website.
A related problem is the tendency of a technology project to outgrow the skills of the team, hence the need for continual learning on the part of the participants. This was the case with the North Shore project in which "the team members were constantly having to educate themselves in order to make decisions about the site. No one person could have been completely prepared for the variety of issues, both academic and technical, that an endeavor such as this would raise."
It is also important that faculty stay relatively in step with the abilities of their institution to support their work. For example, at one college the insistence of the project team on the use of Mac computers and Adobe GoLive software was out-of-step with an IT staff that had dictated the use of FrontPage software at the college.
Finally, over-dependence on IT staff for technical assistance with creating and maintaining web sites sometimes results in long delays or miscommunication over tasks that needed completion. In addition that over-dependence often essentially took the project out of the control of the faculty team.
The most important lesson learned is that a dedicated, energetic and very capable team can do wonders. This team has produced a model project in that it involves a small institution with limited resources but an enthusiastic and energetic staff taking advantage of local resources that have an international appeal and finding a way through technology to provide access those local resources in a professional and academically sound way.
The mentors of the Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College project also noted the success of that team because:
The team was extremely cohesive. It is not always the amount of technological material on a campus that will ensure a successful project. Orangeburg-Calhoun clearly lacks the technological niceties that other colleges have, however, a deeply committed team, nurtured by institutional support had astounding results. Also in support of this, an enthusiastic and cohesive team contributes to the success. Institutional support and flexibility is imperative for the team's success.
Where team chemistry was lacking, project outcomes suffered. On some teams the members essentially worked on separate, and distinct, tracks, or rarely saw each other for extended periods of time. It was also clear that some teams just "put something" together to "get a grant" and then were stuck having to do it with little clear conception of the amount of team cooperation necessary to carry-out the project proposal.
In terms of project focus, it is important to keep a handle on the project size and the scope of the identified content.
The Cabrillo team came to the realization that its initial concept was much too ambitious, both in terms of the depth of the project and its breadth. While Dr. Siskin had gathered an enormous amount of material, no electronic "vehicle" had yet been found to give shape to these resources. The team came to the realization that its initial concept was much too ambitious, both in terms of the depth of the project and its breadth.
Indeed the process of refocusing project goals was a painful process that enveloped most of the teams but that did serve to produce better end results. El Camino:
saw [its] team as offering a model for interdisciplinary collaboration, and expressed a long-term goal of adapting "project results to interdisciplinary courses"....Because of this broad range of goals, their action plan also was quite ambitious, including choosing joint texts, creating the web site, linking to resources, presenting at conferences and creating student assignments and assessment tools. In the final analysis, it was too ambitious, but Gates and Shadish have responded to these difficulties by changing their project focus into developing a faculty training and mentoring program, using Alice as a model for colleagues, rather than as a tool for their students.
Dissemination and feedback
For example, who would have ever considered teaching Beowulf (or the Middle Ages) as a priority, or making Beowulf an avenue to the study of the Middle Ages, in college survey courses in the major way that the Harper team envisioned, and then proceeded to implement, by using web-based resources? The same could be said about North Shore's Hawthorne project. There already exist Hawthorne texts and sites on the web, but the North Shore project connected both the life of Hawthorne and one of his "texts" to the present-day and surviving structures from Hawthorne's day in the town of Salem. North Shore used some very nice, and not overly-complex, technology to create a truly exciting learning experience for students (and students themselves participated in the creation of the project itself). In the cases of North Shore, Orangeburg-Calhoun and Sinclair CC, the projects involved the use of local resources that will enable students to better place themselves in their community's culture. These are certainly exciting, and innovative projects, that would not be possible without use of the appropriate web technology.
The Harper team phrased their project objectives particularly well:
For Harper students, the proposed project presents opportunities for enriching their educational experience on several levels. On one level, the outcome of this project would be a more fulfilling and more personal experience with the scholarship of Beowulf and the Middle Ages. On another level, the project would help students contextualize the Middle Ages as a period of interwoven experiences and accomplishments. On yet a third level, the project begins to contextualize technology as more than just a database of extant materials. Instead, the project seeks to use technology to enable students to fashion individual ways of studying medieval literature and thought, and encourages them to experiment by combining areas of interest.
The Orangeburg-Calhoun team, in their final report, also affirmed the student focus:
Cognitive psychologists maintain that we learn best when we connect new information with prior experience. By having students complete a family culture project, we were able to draw from the experiences of the class members to illustrate course concepts and make connections. Furthermore, by having students produce this project in a web-based format, instructors may capitalize on the interests of technologically oriented students, as well as take advantage of the research and presentation capacities of technology. [Further] The retention rate in these classes has improved. In the sections using the project, there was a retention rate of 80%. In the past, my retention rate in the HSS 101 classes that I taught was around 60%. This has been the case with everyone else. Also, the overall grades improved. What I found is that the students actually like coming to the class, and their interest in their projects carried over to the class at large. While the aspect was not "quantifiable," it was definitely the most significant to me. There has been a great deal of increase in student interest. I actually had them to stick around after class to ask questions rather than make a mad dash for the door. They called me at home to ask about things as they were preparing for tests. These things were unheard of before working this project into the course.
Also at Delgado Community College,
Student response has been tremendous. After years of struggling to convey to incoming students what archival research entails and the great variety of individual topics that they may pursue during their research, the site now makes it easier for my entry-level students as well as students enrolled in other instructors' classes to become engaged in the assignment. For example, before the website existed, students would read through a limited number of photocopies of previous student transcripts. I had to select a few and then bring photocopies to class for everyone to share. With web access, students can carefully read assigned transcripts and skim through the others. The presentation of student work, and just as likely stories from students' family history, on the Internet provides an immediate sense of purpose for students whose introduction to the project comes via the website. Also, the archive of previous student interviews provides students and others with direct access to primary materials on local history that are still too rare for students bound to the computer classroom.
First, although we had the enthusiastic support of our administration at all levels as well as the assistance (for a while) of our Web administrator and two willing student interns, the time they had available to devote to the project was inadequate. The requirements for developing and maintaining a database, preparing and editing images, programming, photography, scanning, creating and editing audio and video were simply too demanding. The college Web administrator was essential in coordinating the Website posting, and when he was taken off the project because of the pressing demands of his job developing the college Website, we struggled. In addition, we were asking the student interns to do far more than could be reasonably expected of them. Fortunately, they were dedicated to the project, but our recommendation is that money be available in any future grants to pay programmers and others with the technological expertise necessary for sophisticated Website development. To create a rich, attractive, well-designed site required extensive time and expertise.
It is true that much time is
required, and it is also true that faculty must convince
administrators to provide compensation in terms of release time
and funding that is commensurate with the scope of such projects.
But it is also true that faculty must realize the nature of these
projects ahead of time and be prepared to use their own, personal
time. One course release time from an administration, e.g., 45
hours, is hardly enough time to do justice to any project. A
close examination of the case studies below will show that the
faculty involved devoted an enormous amount of time to their
projects to ensure success.
Northern Virginia Community College
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