Epiphany Summer Institutes

A strength of the Epiphany model was the nascence of its participants: the model relies on participants' unfamiliarity with educational technology. The result? Everyone is a beginner. Whether encountering computer technology for the first time or training people to teach with computers, institute leaders and participants were all starting anew. The newness of the experience recurred as a theme in conversations over meals, in workshop sessions, and in post-institute discussions.

This sense of breaking new ground personally and professionally raised philosophical issues and warnings about institutional minefields, as when Gail Matthews-DeNatale of George Mason University wrote at length about these complex problems:

For me, one of the recurring themes of the Richmond Institute was "risk-taking/willingness to transcend fear." I've found that many faculty who haven't spent much time with emerging technologies are deeply afraid. The things they're afraid of are numerous and often times difficult for me to understand.

In trying to see the perspectives of faculty who seem resistant, I wind up looking at the institution of higher education itself---an often highly politicized and hierarchical culture that has a well-established system for status and rewards. When it comes to emerging technologies, much of what we are toying with stands that system on its head: "publications" are instantaneous and not often "juried"; scholarly discourse becomes more public and more instantaneous as texts are created and argued with in real time; "scholarship" becomes one piece of a much larger puzzle as technicians, programmers, and faculty co-create offerings that are equal parts content and process--we depend on others more than we ever have, often discovering that we need to improve our collaborative abilities and that there's a lot about the world that we don't know (object-oriented programming is one example of something that I don't think I'll ever fully grasp!)

So the reaction of many faculty is fear--the kind of fear that is expressed in put-downs, devaluing, and sometimes outright hostility. I must admit that I often feel anxious and afraid when I'm trying to do this stuff because there are so many factors that are beyond my control. This kind of work also requires me to expand my problem-solving repertoire--a process that really gets on my nerves when I'm tired or under pressure to "produce." Letting go of that fear is as liberating as it is challenging, and I noticed that many people at the Institute were also transcending fear by rethinking their roles, responsibilities, goals, etc.
- Gail Matthews-DeNatale

For "newbies" the institute offered a rigorous schedule of readings and meetings, interspersed with hands-on demonstrations, the chance to immerse themselves in the technology. For "advanced" or "early adopter" participants, the institute provided an atmosphere for observing, testing and developing skills in introducing computer applications to other faculty. This brought interested people together for their first, sometimes hesitant, efforts at technologizing their teaching, as Ann Woodlief and Michael Keller of Virginia Commonwealth University wrote:

Picture this: Richmond Epiphaneers sitting at the computers in Hibbs, struggling with html to create their first web pages, coached along by E-teamers. Then, as each one brought up their new files on Netscape, you could almost see little balloons rising into the air all over the room that said, "COOL!" "AHHHH!" and "WHEW!" Then came more balloons, "I want to add this...and this....and this." I was reminded that when it comes to computers, the sense of accomplishment--which can be exhilarating--is at least proportionate to the level of frustration, and every minute of feeling lost and overwhelmed has its sweet payoff.

Formats Themes Leaders People

Send comments on this page to: Claudine Keenan