EDUCOM Conference Wrap-up

by Barry Maid

EDUCOM'96 was held on October 8-11 in Philadelphia, PA. I was a first time EDUCOM attendee and was, for the most part, a bit disappointed. Perhaps, I went with the wrong expectations. My purpose in attending was to look for effective means of pedagogy in Distance Learning situations, especially interactive video. I found nothing along those lines.

There was much talk about new technologies, less about pedagogy. Those sessions that focused on pedagogy presented local, not distance, uses of technology. A few of the sessions were helpful. Some showed great initiative and potential. I'll mention what I thought were the most interesting sessions later.

Highlight of the Conference

Undoubtedly the high point of the conference (for those of us with techno-rhetorican leanings) occurred when at a General Session Cynthia Selfe of Michigan Tech was one of four faculty pioneers in various disciplines who was presented an award by EDUCOM. She was nominated by the Modern Language Association for the award.

Who Was There

As far as I could tell there were only four other techrhet types who attended the conference. They were Hugh Burns of Smith College, Trent Batson of Gaulladet University, John O'Connor of George Mason University, and Leslie Harris of SUNY-Plattsburgh. Leslie presented a poster session, "Transcending the Classroom: Educational Uses of Synchronous Computer-Mediated Communication," which dealt with his work on Diversity University.


The conference featured three keynote addresses. The first was by Stan Davis, author of the The Monster under the Bed. He gave what was supposed to be a "wake-up call" to folks in higher ed that they need to understand that the traditional ways of the academy are outmoded. He was right, of course, but most of what he said seemed to be "so what else is new?" to the audience.

The second keynote was by Raymond W. Smith the CEO of Bell Atlantic. From my perspective the high point of his talk came when he mentioned a pilot project that Bell Atlantic had done in Blacksburg, VA. Apparently, Bell Atlantic had wired and placed computers in every home in Blacksburg. The interesting result was that significantly more children from economically-depressed households developed a strong desire to finish high school and attend college. It's incredible what a lot of money can do.

The final keynote was by Eric Schmidt, CIO of Sun Microsystems. His thrust dealt with the power of being connected. As an example, he suggested that if he could provide every Sun employee with a free cable modem, stipulating that they would only have to give it back if they left Sun, Sun would never have a single resignation. The moral is simply that fast, dependable connectivity may be the most enticing perq of all.

The Sessions

Quite frankly most of the sessions I attended struck me as mainly the "same-old, same-old." There were three sessions, however, that did emerge as presentations of truly interesting and, I think, effective, pedagogies. One of these presentations was by a group from the University of Southern California. They reported on the Jumpstart Program. This program was a collaborative effort among members of the USC community to get course material available on the web. I think they've succeeded nicely. One of the programs that is present in the site is the Expository Writing Program. The faculty member involved in that part of the project is Irene L. Clark. The site is easily navigable and has information helpful to students.

Several people from the University of Arizona reported on a faculty development project which encourages faculty to learn about and then develop uses for technology in their teaching. This project was helped by an Alliance between the University of Arizona and Lucent Technologies. Information on the Faculty Development Center itself can be found on the web.

What may have been the most impressive session at the conference James J. O'Donnell and Alan Filreis from the University of Pennsylvania presented, along with five students and one alumnus, a program integrating technology and a residential learning experience. Using listservs, the web, and a MOO, Filreis and O'Donnell, who live in a special residence facility with students have managed to create what seems like a total-learning environment. Using trained peer tutors, the system works twenty-four hours a day. It's a most impressive accomplishment. However, it is one unlikely to be replicated. It works well at Penn. Filreis and O'Donnell, I suspect, are at points in their lives where living among students is possible. Information about the project can be found in links from Filreis' webpage.

Final Thoughts

There is much to be said in presenting "The Way We Do It at My School." However, for those of us interested in both pedagogies appropriate to be used with new technologies and the connectedness metaphor those technologies provide, I wonder if we don't need to stop thinking of talking about local projects but rather begin to change our focus to really make use of the connections and to demonstrate what models will work in which environments. For example, most of the presentations that made an impact seemed to emerge from Research I institutions. There was an undercurrent of comments from attendees from small liberal arts colleges that their situations were not taken into account. The fact is most of us work in neither Research I nor small liberal arts colleges.

I wonder if EDUCOM, though clearly committed to using "cutting-edge" technology isn't somehow still wedded to an outmoded view of the nature of the academy. Maybe Stan Davis wasn't speaking to the converted after all.

Written by Barry Maid