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Changing the Way we Learn

Mount Holyoke Embraces Technology

by Janet Tobin

C-woman+manAtPuter.gifNear the dawn of the new millennium, the fabric of Mount Holyoke is changing. Gone or waning are the pen's scratch on paper, the waft of whiteout, the typewriter's clang, the smoothness of library catalogue cards. Most students and faculty use computers for writing and editing and can access library catalogues with the click of a mouse. Faculty are integrating interactive multimedia technology into their teaching and research. Students are abandoning older forms of procrastination in favor of "surfing" the Internet. Over the past twenty years, technologic innovation has been woven into almost every strand of college life, and stunning new ways of teaching, learning, and communicating are the result.


Mount Holyoke is in the vanguard of integrating technology into higher learning. "State-of-the-art equipment, a commitment to access, high-quality maintenance and support, and dedicated faculty and staff all contribute to our success," says Mary Beth Jerry, director for curriculum support and instructional technology. She is not the only one singing MHC's praises. After visiting MHC last fall, a New England Association of Schools and Colleges reaccreditation team noted in its draft report, "Mount Holyoke has achieved a level of deployment and support for information technologies that is certainly at the top rank of peer colleges and, by many indicators, is competitive with universities more widely recognized as leaders in this area." The team also praised the "penetration of technology on the campus."

Power Merge

An important factor in the success of this "penetration" is the 1996 merger of campus library, computing, language and media resources, and electronic services. They're now "LITS," Library, Information and Technology Services. The group facilitates the use of information and technology on campus through instruction, materials, staff expertise, and equipment. "The 'merge' has enabled us to use our resources and staff to their greatest advantage," said Susan Perry, College librarian and LITS director. The reaccreditation team concurred with Perry, observing that "Mount Holyoke meets and exceeds the standards for library and technology support. In fact, it stands as a model for liberal arts colleges."

It's easy to get caught up in bells and whistles when the topic is technology, but for MHC faculty and students, the means justify an important end-finding new approaches to explore areas of academic interest.

James Joyce and the Web

Professor of English Bill Quillian is using the Web to make studying James Joyce's complex works less daunting and more fun. With the help of Stephanie Small '99, Quillian has created the James Joyce and Critical Theory Web Page. The project was accomplished through a three-year Andrew Mellon Foundation grant, awarded to MHC to encourage the development of Web-based curriculum projects. The grant is geared toward faculty with little or no Web experience, and pairs professors with student "Web technologists." Twenty-three faculty members and their student assistants are involved this year.

Developing a Web page for his Joyce seminar lets Quillian share primary and secondary Joyce materials with students in an exciting visual format. "Many Joyce works exist in a kind of palimpsest of manuscripts and typescripts. In the case of Ulysses, there is scholarly debate about which text Joyce intended to stand as his last," noted Quillian. "Placing some of this material on the Web has enabled students to compare stages of a manuscript and to reach conclusions about which variants seem to be supported by their readings of the works."

One of the best aspects of the Mellon program for Quillian has been collaborating with a talented student and "watching her knowledge of Joyce and technology grow." Stephanie Small completed an independent study project on Joyce with Quillian during her first year at MHC and lived in Dublin for four months last year. Small confesses that before MHC, "I had never used email or 'surfed' the net, never mind knowing what servers and html editors were! Now I enjoy learning about the Web and the technology behind it. I've gotten my foot in the door, and I have confidence that I can learn more about technology if I want to pursue it further." In addition to continuing her work on the Joyce page, Small is creating a Web page about Turkish immigrants in Germany as her final project in a German course.

Tech Bytes

MHC Technology Bytes

  • MHC was among the first colleges to merge library and computing services.

  • The College was actively using the World Wide Web for instructional purposes as early as fall 1995.

  • Mount Holyoke's ratio of public computing seats to students, one to 8.5, is far lower than peers.

  • All residence halls have a computer lab, and all students can have computer access in their rooms.

  • All academic buildings are computer wired and all faculty and staff have World Wide Web-capable computers.

  • MHC's state-of-the-art Language Resource Center is equipped with audio and video equipment, computers, and interactive video disks.

  • Mount Holyoke has one of the few career development centers at an undergraduate institution that uses ViewNet, which allows long-distance job interviewing via a video-computer link.
  • Medieval Manuscript Goes Modern

    Most medieval manuscripts are doomed to remain as obscure as those who created them. Thanks to Debra Truncellito FP '94, this is not the case for one thirteenth-century illuminated manuscript, the Cantigas de Santa Maria. For an independent study under the direction of Professor of History Harold Garrett-Goodyear, Truncellito created a multimedia application based on the Mount Holyoke-owned facsimile of the cantigas.

    The multimedia version features hundreds of illuminations from the court of Alfonso El Sabio of Castile, each relating a miracle by the Virgin Mary. With the help of Teena Johnson-Smith of LITS, Truncellito created an application that makes it possible to view more than seventy images side by side with associated translations of the original text, and access related scholarly articles. Johnson-Smith later added CD recordings of some of the cantigas' music. Truncellito says she had "computer phobia" before starting the project. "The cantigas gave me a chance to learn about multimedia computer technology and to explore a lovely manuscript at the same time. I was thrilled with the way everything turned out." Now a social studies teacher, Truncellito is helping her school incorporate multimedia technology into its classrooms.

    Professor of French Margaret Switten and Robert Eisenstein, director of the Five College Early Music Collegium, have made Truncellito's project the prototype for a more sophisticated version they hope to create if funding can be secured. Their application will add the original texts in Galician-Portuguese beside the English translations, the original melodies with transcriptions into modern notation, new recordings of the songs, a more extensive bibliography, and a search engine. Faculty in the medieval studies program and in the history, English, art, music, and Spanish departments also use the cantigas application with their students.

    The Beat Goes On

    With themselves and friends as subjects, biological sciences students are using computers to monitor heart activity under different circumstances. Using Intelitool software, they take electrocardiograms and view instantaneous graphic results on classroom computer screens. The programs and equipment don't require complex programming or computer/equipment interfaces, so students are immediately able to design individual or group projects in which they plan experiments and collect and analyze data.

    Some have used the software, which records and displays cardiac and respiratory function, to compare athletes and nonathletes, smokers and nonsmokers, and the state of the heart before and after physical activity. They also use computers to connect with online resources that provide data to compare with their own experimental results. Biological sciences professors Kathleen Holt and Marilyn Pryor say the software enhances the lab portion of their Regulatory and Integrative Human Physiology course.

    The Pen is Mightier than the Computer

    C-woman+manAtPuter.gif While technology has enriched the college experience for many at MHC, it is not for everyone. Ford Foundation Professor of History and National Book Award-winning author Joseph Ellis says he's a technophobe. Ellis refuses to communicate via email, shuns computers, and does all his writing the old-fashioned way-with a fountain pen.

    Ellis acknowledges he could work faster using a computer, but says his most creative moments come when putting pen to paper, and he wants to prolong these moments. While Ellis stresses that students need to learn about and use technology, he feels doing so brings "losses as well as gains." The downside includes losing the "deliberative quality of communication," which Ellis feels is a result of the speed of word processing and email. He also contends that the varying quality of sources on the Internet raises questions about "what constitutes truth."

    Ellis vows never to become a technology convert, but maintains he is not a Luddite-someone who wants to destroy technology-either. He just wants to keep it in its proper place. So Ellis remains happily, and successfully, behind the times.

    We're Changing, But Still the Same

    The College retains its original teaching and learning traditions-professors still lecture, and the library's 670,000 volumes still get a workout. But for most at MHC, technology is changing the way knowledge is acquired. The College's commitment to technology continues what has always been MHC's mission: giving women the skills they need to succeed in lifelong learning and in the workplace.

    Photos by Jim Gipe
    Illustration by Julie Delton