The University Record, February 22, 1999

Q & A on Media Union services

Editor’s Note: With the arrival of Barbara O’Keefe, as director, the Media Union will play an increasingly active role in coordinating and supporting learning technology across the campus. Here she responds to questions about the consolidation of central support for learning technologies in the Media Union.

Q. What role will the Media Union play in distance education programs at the U-M?

Changes in technology, especially networked computing and collaboration technology, have made it much easier to conduct outreach and distance-independent education programs. Whereas these kinds of programs used to be conducted by separate administrative units, schools and colleges can now build outreach, continuing education, and distance education projects into their curricula according to their needs and priorities. The role of the Media Union will be to provide and support a common software platform and a set of basic services—consultation and advice about best practices, virtual classroom technology, teleconferencing technologies, and instructional design — that the academic units can use as they build distance-independent learning opportunities into their programs.

Q. What role will the Media Union play in supporting campus-based learning technologies at the U-M?

The main focus of educational programs at the U-M will always be to provide graduate and undergraduate training in the context of campus-based learning communities. However, just as the workplace for industry and government is being transformed by new digital technologies, so the nature and conditions of academic work are changing. The Media Union will play a critical role in helping faculty and students at the U-M take advantage of new ways to create and share knowledge across the campus and beyond.

Q. What services will the Media Union offer to faculty and students?

One of the most important things the Media Union will do is to serve as a clearinghouse, so that faculty and students can take advantage of “one-stop-shopping” for technology solutions. With this approach, the user can count on finding what he or she needs with a visit to a single lab, a few clicks at a single Web site, or a single phone call. We’ve already been working on an inventory of tools and services currently available across campus, and we’ll soon be offering a comprehensive Web site for faculty who want assistance in using technology in their teaching or research.

We will have a walk-in consulting center in the Media Union building, located in the center of the first floor directly behind the information desk. Faculty will be able to go there and browse or get assistance in using the new tools and solutions on display.

We are also providing remote access to the Media Union services at existing computer laboratory sites around the main campus. These sites will provide demonstrations and consultation services to faculty, in partnership with the schools, colleges and other campus providers, as part of the new federated structure for information technology at the U-M, recently announced by Jose-Marie Griffiths, University chief information officer and executive director of ITD. With this distributed, collaborative organizational structure, we will be able to provide the same “one-stop-shopping” experience regardless of which site a faculty member happens to go to first.

These basic learning technology services are considered a ‘public good,’ like the library, and will therefore be available to faculty at no charge.

Q. What new tools will be available through the Media Union and affiliated computer labs?

One of the first new things that will be available to faculty is a set of functional and reliable computer software solutions for creating virtual classrooms. By logging onto the Internet, a faculty member will easily be able to create a course Web site. No special knowledge of programming will be required—faculty will simply fill out electronic forms and that information will be combined with templates on a central server to “automagically” build a Web site. Faculty will also be able to edit and add to their Web sites using the Internet. A faculty member will be able to grade assignments and make announcements, and soon will be able to upload lectures from remote sites.

For example, faculty members who must be away from campus during a scheduled class period will be able to work with their class electronically. This Web service will be dependable because it will be maintained centrally, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This is an important difference from the current situation, in which faculty have to use their private file space to build Web sites or sometimes rely on department servers that aren’t maintained round the clock. Without central computer support, some faculty now must deal with technical support issues that shouldn’t be their responsibility.

Another new solution in progress is to build a multimedia digital library that faculty will be able use to store and deliver their materials, whether for instruction or research. For example, a group of faculty in the School of Education has a collection of videotapes recorded in classrooms, and they would like to be able to store these in digital form, search them and access them using the Internet. The multimedia digital library we are creating will help do all these things. There are a number of other collections of visual and audio resources on campus (and distributed in disciplinary communities) that would similarly benefit from being digitized and stored in this digital library.

Q. How soon will these new services be available to faculty and staff?

We are planning a phased roll-out of these basic services for learning technology. I will be doing a presentation at the 1999 Teaching and Technology Collaborative Workshop in May, and in that lecture I will describe these services in more detail and discuss how to use them.

We expect the new Web clearinghouse to be available by May. We are already working with several colleges on demonstration projects that will use the new virtual classroom solutions and the multimedia digital library. Many students and faculty will be using these services during fall term. We expect to make the virtual classroom and multimedia digital library solutions available across the campus by early 2000.

Q. Will the Media Union continue to support special projects involving sophisticated, high-level instructional and collaboration technology?

Absolutely. As we merge the Media Union and the Office of Instructional Technology, current projects of both units will continue to completion. The new learning technology support center in the Media Union will continue to contract with units to provide custom service in addition to the basic services provided at no charge.