Visiting Reed

Four of us spent the morning at Reed College, asking questions to CTO Marty Ringle and members of the Computing and Information Services department. In my career, I had never previously spent an extended period of time with college-level IT staff. The differences were striking. The college has 140 faculty members and 300 staff, the reverse ratio of our school. These 440 employees serve just 1400 students. Our 200 employees serve 730 students. Reed Computing has 32 employees. We have six. One possible conclusion: employees require a lot more IT support than students!

I was really impressed with the department’s governance process. They have seven different organizational groups that meet regularly to facilitate the process of democratic decision-making. Top-down decision-making is rare. We may bemoan the number of meetings we already have, but I left Reed thinking that we need to have more—we just need to structure them better. Our hosts also spoke to the benefits of meeting regularly with faculty members, individually or at “brown bag” lunches, building trust and familiarity that pay dividends later.

We also left feeling good about the program we run at Catlin Gabel. We have reached an enterprise level of service with our help desk, wireless security, intranet website, deployment, and other services. It is always refreshing to gain an external perspective on our program. Spending too much time at our own school sometimes leads to myopia.

I learned about the Collaborative Moodle Liberal Arts Project. Reed is one of a number of colleges working together to improve aspects of Moodle particular to needs they share. While the improvements look useful (bulk assignment downloads, better gradebook), I was disappointed that none of them pertain specifically to online learning environments.

Marty summarized the new report on Reed’s Kindle project. Their experience confirmed our initial reaction that the Kindle and similar devices are not yet ready for education enterprise deployment. The annotation, highlighting, and navigation features do not yet replicate enough of the features of writing in the margins of a book with a pen.

I’d also like an assistant and a conference table in my office!

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