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Fall 2012 (October 30, 2012)

Teaching Innovations

By President Steven Poskanzer

100916_Poskanzer_3.jpgTechnology has been enhancing higher education for hundreds of years. With the advent of the printing press, mass-produced textbooks became possible. Films came along in the late 1800s and became recognized as powerful ways of delivering messages (communicating “texts” in much the same way as books). Today Carleton students can major in cinema and media studies.

Computing at Carleton started in 1959 when Carleton and St. Olaf College jointly accepted delivery of an IBM 610. By 1987, computer science joined the mathematics department as a major and then became its own department in 2006. In the modern classroom, we not only study technology as an academic subject, but we also use technology in everything we do, both academically and administratively.  

Helping students prepare for the future and cultivate skills conducive to lifelong learning are hallmarks of a Carleton education. Our faculty members continue to rethink the best ways to deliver a world-class liberal arts education (see “21st Century Teaching and Learning,” page 8). Because our faculty members are so committed to teaching, they are mindful of tools that could lead to better instruction, and I have no doubt that they will always urge the College to explore and invest in new technologies for teaching and learning.

Online education has emerged as an important topic in the world of higher education. Some people believe that even private liberal arts colleges—like Carleton—should transform ourselves into online learning leaders for students and alumni, lest we be overtaken by schools that are already experimenting in this new area. Other people believe that we should hold fast to what we do best: offer students exclusively personal, face-to-face instruction at a residential institution. I think both of these answers are too simplistic.

While I don’t see Carleton becoming a significant architect of distance learning or a provider of content in the delivery of online education, I believe it would be irresponsible to ignore new developments. Rather, Carleton should engage in purposeful experimentation with online learning. Such models may offer excellent opportunities to improve our teaching, our efficiency, and to enhance the residential liberal arts model of education.

The best way to ensure that Carleton remains smart and nimble in responding to changes in technology and the growth in online learning is to monitor and experiment continually with emerging pedagogies and to know them well. Historically, we haven’t been afraid to explore new approaches to delivering education at Carleton. Many of these new approaches—such as Carleton’s Academic Civic Engagement program, focused on community-based learning, community-based research, and service learning—have allowed us to offer students a better education.

Carleton has never been static, nor should it be. But even as we adapt to emerging technologies, there are timeless and enduring features of a Carleton education that I don’t see changing. Namely, we will always seek professors who care about teaching and are drawn to this institution because of the quality of students they’re going to encounter in the classroom. We will always recruit and enroll students who want to learn, with other smart and inquisitive students, from the best professors in a given field. And we will always offer small classes, where the professors know their students and care deeply about how they’re doing in the class.

These timeless qualities don’t depend on technology, but if technological advances can enhance the Carleton experience, we owe it to our students and our faculty members to embrace them.

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