BLUFFTON PRESIDENT URGES CARE WITH TECHNOLOGY
Widespread and, in some cases, lengthy power outages caused by the June 29 windstorm were a reminder of the reality of modern ties to technology.
And that reality reinforces the relevance of Bluffton University’s 2012-13 civic engagement theme, "Virtual Living: Technology’s Impact on Culture and Learning," university President Dr. James Harder said Tuesday (Sept. 11).
Bluffton students will explore the theme in classroom and other settings campuswide this year. Calling it a theme "that intersects with every academic discipline in some way," Harder, at the annual President’s Forum, added that information technology is "changing here as rapidly as it’s changing anywhere else, and we still don’t fully understand where it will ultimately lead us."
People usually assume that new technology is a good thing, the president said, noting that "today’s information technology has eliminated barriers of time and distance, while allowing for the inexpensive flow of information in quantities that were previously impossible."
But he also cited the case of a friend and colleague in another state who, while using technology "very effectively and intensively," realized he had become addicted to it. "His discovery has caused him to set careful limits on how and when he uses technology, and to create a structure so that it serves him as a tool rather than be a source of domination," Harder said.
Tracing Bluffton’s information technology history, he pointed out that the number of page views on the university’s website rose from 1 million in August 2008 to 32 million in August 2012, and in 2011, for the first time, the printed book and e-book collections at Musselman Library on campus reached equal size—nearly 150,000 volumes each.
With access to more than 175 research databases through the library as well, faculty and students "have unprecedented and often immediate access to academic information from all corners of the globe—and being located in a smaller institution in northwest Ohio no longer presents the information access challenges it once might have," the president added.
Evolving technology is facilitating online and other, newer ways of learning that Bluffton is experimenting with, he said, but still, "academic futurists struggle to predict where all of this is leading us" in higher education.
He listed several destinations that have already been realized, including the Khan Academy, which, with a library of thousands of 10-minute, educational YouTube videos, can deliver quality, on-demand content to any student at virtually no cost; the HathiTrust Digital Library, which has more than 10 million fully digitized books online; and massive open online courses (MOOCs), which can enroll more than 100,000 people in free, generally noncredit versions of popular lecture courses.
Other technological possibilities, however, "might bring some pause," Harder cautioned. Using its information analytics capabilities, the federal government is planning for data collection systems that will link individual students’ educational and, possibly, employment records as they move through life, he explained. "This will, for the first time, allow researchers to attempt to judge which schools, which programs, which teaching approaches, and perhaps even which teachers, were most effective—or ineffective, as the case may be," he noted.
Questioning how that will influence educational systems, the president asked if it will lead "to genuine improvements in quality, or simply repeat and perhaps magnify the mistakes of the ‘No Child Left Behind’ obsession with external evaluation and meeting common standards."
This year’s Bluffton study of virtual living and technology, he said, "is a perfect fit for this liberal arts environment." He stressed the need "to think carefully about the meaning of technology in our lives," and especially the "crucial questions of why we use a particular type of technology and to what end we use it.
"In the same way that we are stewards of the resources within our natural world, we must also be stewards of technology, and use it in ways that benefit human kind and nourish our beings."
Strategic plan progress
Speaking in Founders Hall, Harder also reviewed work done in relation to the university’s five-year strategic plan that was implemented last year.
Among his topics were new admissions and recruiting materials—including an interactive, digital viewbook designed for access on tablet devices and smartphones—and creation of the Bluffton Center for Teaching and Learning, to promote more opportunities for faculty development in those areas.
He also pointed out that the last three years have produced new academic majors in public health, graphic design, public relations, strength and conditioning, and sport and recreation leadership, along with a program in health care management for adult degree-completion students and a newly operating dietetics internship program.
The president reported, too, that the process of considering future facilities needs and updating the university’s facilities master plan will begin this year. The current plan guided the completion of Centennial Hall and, now, the Sommer Center for Health and Fitness Education, which will be dedicated during an 11:30 a.m. ceremony on Homecoming Saturday, Oct. 13.
Bluffton public relations, 9/11/12