Geneseo uses funding to investigate more digital educational opportunities

As the administration attempts to further the Geneseo Strategic Plan 2021, faculty and staff have explored methods to implement more digital learning tools. Members of the college community have embraced such moves with open, but cautionary feelings. 

With funding from the first stage of the Strategic Plan, Assistant to the Provost for Digital Learning and Scholarship and professor of English Paul Schacht has spearheaded digital learning in various areas. The office is working with Milne Library to help professors understand and utilize online resources, Library Director Ben Rawlins said. The funding will also allow certain faculty members to study how other colleges approach the digital world, according to a Feb. 15 news posting on the college’s website. 

“The purpose is to help those who are interested in using digital approaches in their scholarship and teaching to acquire the necessary skills—and also connect with the larger scholarly and pedagogical communities already engaged in this field,” Schacht said in the college’s post. 

Schacht has worked with the library and faculty to find online educational resources with open-sourced licensing that professors could put into use for online or in-person courses, Rawlins said. While the plan has revolved around the teaching experience, Rawlins also emphasized that the administration intends for the plan to impact other areas of the campus as well. 

“Academic Affairs is looking at ways that we can increase retention,” Rawlins said. “Anything that we can do in terms of course materials, anything to fray costs so the cost of college can be frayed a little. The big impact we’re hoping to make is with retention.” 

Faculty and students have had varied reactions toward the intention to prioritize newer teaching methods. 

Associate professor and Chair of the Department of History Justin Behrend is using some of the Strategic Plan funding to attend a seminar on the digital humanities with several other professors in June. Behrend is uncertain how effective this style of learning and teaching will be.

“I’m excited on how this can change things. But on the other hand, I still see the value of print and more traditional methods,” Behrend said. “I’m curious to learn, but I don’t know if I’d put myself in the category of a digital humanist yet.”

Faculty in the Department of Mathematics have started testing out Open Educational Resources for calculus classes to assess whether it would be feasible to expand their usage, according to lecturer of mathematics George Reuter. 

“For me, if I can get students the same sort of experience and not have them pay $100 for a textbook, then I’d like not to have them pay 100 bucks for a textbook,” Reuter said. “The challenges with that include that sometimes the resources for a particular course that are available for free online are not of the same quality that are put together by a for-profit company.” 

Reuter emphasized the value of pursuing novel solutions to traditional problems within academia. 

“What I hope we do is recognize that there are many resources out there and part of what’s best for our students is taking a look at the whole picture, not just what’s inside the book, but what it takes to put the book in the backpack,” Reuter said. “I would hope that we at least entertain the notion of [using online materials].”

Associate news editor Zainab Tahir contributed reporting to this article.