Thursday, December 6, 2007

How does TLC compare? Princeton

By the time I got to Princeton, I had become very good at knowing how to use Google and a university's own website to track down the places where I expected to find information about opportunities for graduate students to learn how to implement technology in their teaching.

So it wasn't that hard to find their workshops that they offer. They have two series:
  • The Productive Scholar focuses on "common and available desktop software to produce more with less effort." Word, Excel, Vista, and EndNote are all subjects that get discussed in the one-hour encounters.
  • Lunch 'n Learns address broader technology topics of interest to more general audiences. There was a recent session on how to make/use podcasts, but another on eBay sniping and human behavior.
One thing that sets these workshops apart from those offered at other schools I have looked at is that they are explicitly open to the public. I imagine that Emory wouldn't have too much trouble with the public attending some of our technology events, but we aren't exactly inviting them or trying to provide this sort of service to the larger Atlanta community.

Another interesting thing I found--and which I already reported on the Emory English blog--is that Princeton as a whole has a blog "for and about Princeton University faculty use of technology for teaching and research." There are no authors listed, so I'm inclined to view this as an official media outlet of the university. This means that this isn't a blog so much about discussion and going back and forth on ideas as it is a means for Princeton to represent to the world that they are doing something with technology. A lot of what gets reported here is on content presented at the Lunch 'n Learns.

Another nice tool that I found that Princeton has provided for faculty and staff is an Office Hours Scheduler. Since students can make appointments using the software, I would think this is something that would be a real benefit to a university community. There's no longer a need for students to pester you about your office hours repeatedly (if you've posted them, as Tenured Radical wrote about a month ago) and an added disincentive for particular faculty members who frequently don't hold office hours). Emory has Meeting Maker, but you have to be given an account and I can guarantee that students don't have this. There's possibly a way that you could do this with Google Calendar, but that would likely be on an ad hoc basis for each faculty member. Nope. Every university should have a program like this--even if it is currently in Beta.

But what we're really interested in as far as comparing Princeton's offerings to ECIT is their Graduate Associates in Instructional Technology (GAIT) program. This is a program designed to educate graduate students in particular technologies while simultaneously improving course content for faculty members. The program is very similar to Harvard's Presidential Instructional Fellows Program. Faculty, groups of faculty, or departments propose a project and nominate one or more grad students at a GAIT. GAITs then receive training from the Office of Information Technology in the technologies and skills needed for the project and then consult one-on-one with the faculty members seeking assistance. In addition to the training they receive, GAITs are paid (currently at $15/hour). The projects last a maximum of two semester and eight weeks during the summer, for a total of 160 hours.

I like the idea of getting graduate students the opportunity to work closely with faculty members on a particular project and, as I said about Harvard's program, this resembles something that we have kicked around about having "TPC-certified" students that faculty here could call on to help them realize projects they don't have the skills for. But what I would contend is missing from Princeton's program is the emphasis on the graduate students as an equal partner/beneficiary. Students interested in the GAIT program are not allowed to apply, but have to wait on interested faculty members in their departments to propose a project and then try to convince these professors that they are the students that should be picked. (This, in my opinion, was a downside for Emory's ECO program.) The GAIT program's description even seems to underplay the role of the graduate students: "[GAITs] also provide a much-needed communication path between faculty and the central IT support staff, thus insuring that IT support efforts are meeting faculty needs. [...A] key function of GAIT members is to connect faculty with the appropriate centralized support resources."

It's understandable that Princeton wants to invest in helping their faculty--after all, the faculty are the ones that will hopefully be at the school for several decades. And this program does allow graduate students a window into how one develops a large project with the intent of improving teaching. But I think the distinct advantage of TPC is that grad students are the sole audience and the focus is pedagogy.

I'm not sure how ECO will be developing given the differences that were instituted last year. I do think that there is room at Emory for a program similar to those at Harvard and Princeton. But I think that it would be complemented in important ways by the implementation of TPC.

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