5 November 2002

I have copies of Tom Williams' MEMORANDUM from both Barbara and Jeff Barnett, and I've been trying to put my thoughts together about priorities ("most pressing needs") relating both domains. I can't manage anything as simple as the one-liners Tom offers as illustrations, but I do want to get a few things out there that might help you in constructing Department and Program Head replies. Some of these come directly out of what I've seen as I've visited campuses, and others are probably just the same old stuff you've heard me ranting about for some years... but here goes. Priority isn't really the issue, despite the numbering:

  1. BETTER SUPPORT FOR INFORMATION USE, through fundamental improvements to the INFRASTRUCTURE for access, creation, and management, across the spectrum of information media. Specifically, I'd point to successful implementations of the Information Commons idea, re-engineering the various Information services to make them more accessible to end users (see Information Commons for more details). Some of this is surely a matter of rationalizing space (TMC services and the various Help Desks would be much more convenient if they were in adjoining spaces), but there are obvious organizational issues as well, and such technological specifics as whole-campus wireless access could also be in this domain. My point is that INFORMATION could be thought about much more creatively, and with less compartmentalization, than is now the case.

  2. FRESHMAN SEMINARS: many peer institutions have these, and the combination of close contact with faculty and up-close engagement with issues creates a different state of mind about what learning and scholarship is all about than is possible in a freshman year of introductory courses. Our students NEED to be challenged to think more and think sooner --they will make much more sensible and informed choices about majors and ancillary activities. The opportunity for FACULTY to engage small groups in topics they really care about (and are challenged to introduce to non-specialists) is another benefit.

  3. MORE AND BETTER SUPPORT FOR INNOVATION IN TEACHING AND LEARNING: a combination of facilities and staffing and incentives, available to faculty AND staff AND students. Staffing is probably the greatest challenge, in terms of finance AND in terms of attracting people with exceptional skills. Mount Holyoke is exemplary in this: most of the Curriculum Support and Instructional Technology personnel have advanced degrees and teaching experience, and as such are seen as colleagues by faculty. 'Innovation' often requires R&D --software creation, prototypes, the physical spaces to work out new ways of doing things (electronic classrooms that are not just retreaded computer labs, for example), but above all W&L needs to create a generally understood sense that it's GOOD to try new things.

  4. DEDICATED SUPPORT FOR DATA VISUALIZATION in two closely related and rapidly-growing areas: statistics and spatial data. Both realms are well represented at many peer institutions, in the specific forms of (1) statistical consultants able to work across disciplines and (2) GIS laboratories with support staff. Generally missing (as far as I can determine) is the link back to libraries, so that creative work done builds collections for the future. The basic point is that our students need to develop skills in appropriate use and responsible management of the tsunami of data that thunders down upon us, in every discipline and across disciplines. In the specific area of Global Stewardship, direct involvement with ANALYSIS of data is hinted at in curriculum materials, but is unsupported. 5

  5. UNIVERSITY-WIDE DIGITAL ASSET MANAGEMENT PLAN, a digital library initiative, to leverage the value of what we have by a program of digitizing and cataloging (materials in Special Collections, architectural and B&G documents, image collections), to plan for development of new content across the spectrum of media, to integrate digital resources into teaching and learning, and to share resources with consortial partners and broader publics.