Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Becoming Accident Prone

I read somewhere that you can't make accidents happen, but you can make yourself accident prone. I'm looking at ways to make my college accident prone, and I'm hoping that some of my wise and worldly readers have some hints to share.

Some community colleges have something like a Center for Teaching Excellence or an Instructional Technology Center, in which it's somebody's job to chase down the newest innovations in academic technology and/or instructional design and bring back the ones most likely to be useful locally. Ideally, this person becomes a resource for instructors who are looking to try something new in class. What that means will vary from class to class, and rightly so, so the Resident Geek would have to have a fairly broad understanding of both pedagogy and technology. If all goes well, the Resident Geek makes those accidental breakthroughs more likely and more common, to the benefit of all.

The problem I'd like to solve with an RGC is the 'last mile' of innovation. There's no shortage of stuff flying around out there, but most faculty are far too busy with their own subjects and courses to spend a lot of time mucking around with it. I'm hoping that a Resident Geek with a budget and some sense of teaching would be able to do a lot of the bushwhacking so the faculty wouldn't have to, and could come back with only the most useful stuff, presented in understandable ways.

I'm flirting with this idea locally, but I'm running into a few conceptual roadblocks that I hope my readers know how to get past.

First, how do you keep the Resident Geek's center -- I'll call it the RGC -- from becoming Where Ideas Go To Die? I've seen this on another campus. There, the Resident Geek is a former professor who apparently won respect in her previous role, but she has somehow made herself utterly irrelevant to the rest of the faculty in her current role. She dutifully maintains a full slate of programs, readings, podcasts, etc., which the rest of the campus seems to take as license to ignore it all. Their attitude towards new ideas has become "we have people for that sort of thing." Is there a reliable way to prevent the RGC from becoming little more than a repository for whatever nobody else wants to deal with?

Second, should the 'techie' part and the 'instructional design' part go together, or should those be separate people? I'd love to see them go together, for obvious reasons, but I'm not sure how realistic that is. We have full-blown techies on my campus, but they don't speak Faculty. As a result, a great many opportunities fall between two stools. A techie who actually understood instruction would know what to highlight, how to frame it, and what to ignore. I'm not sure where these people are to be found, but I'm reasonably sure they're out there.

Third, does it make the most sense to give a professor some course reassignments to wear two hats, or is this really a full-time gig unto itself?

So, wise and worldly readers, do you have a sense of this? Have you seen a model for an RGC that actually worked? Anything helpful would be greatly appreciated.