As anyone with email will tell you, technology has become an important part of communication. It has also become a valuable tool for education, even within the English Department. Students and professors communicate through email, and teachers use the Web to post assignments and handouts. In the classroom, equipment like laptops and projectors allows teachers to go far beyond the traditional chalkboard, and computer labs allow a whole class to research or write together.
But technology can be tricky to use, and that’s where the Rutgers English Information Technology Services Team comes in. As behind-the-scenes staff for the Department, they make sure that everything works. Led by I.T. Manager Russell Clarke, they set up, maintain, and upgrade all of the Department’s computers – dozens in faculty offices and hundreds in student classroom labs. But that’s just a small part of their job, which also includes helping Rutgers English stay one step ahead of the latest technology. “We want the Department to be able to prepare students for the world they’ll face after graduation,” says Mr. Clarke, “where familiarity with technology is a big advantage.” The other team members are Joe Phillips, Otilio Soto, and Maritza Cruz.
“Writing skills are still the core of effective communication,” says Rutgers English Chair Richard E. Miller, “but technology puts those skills in a new context: writing for the Web, for multimedia presentations, for video. As an English Department, we should be teaching students to communicate in whatever format is most effective.” With the support of Jules Plangere, the Plangere Writing Center, and Rutgers, the Tech Team built a state of the art “Digital Culture Studio,” where students can use high-end computers to create movies and multimedia projects. The new Plangere Digital Culture Studio is already being used by Professor Richard Dienst, whose Film Theory class is making movies as part of their homework.
“With this digital equipment, you can do in days what used to take weeks with traditional film,” says Professor Dienst. “We can work on putting theories of visual narrative into practice, immediately. Having the Studio means that creating something in this medium can become a piece of any course, instead of requiring a whole semester just to get started.” Professor Dienst imagines continuing to use the Studio in his classes, and more professors from English and American Studies are planning to use it next semester.
The Plangere Digital Culture Studio isn’t the only new cutting-edge facility built by the Tech Team. Over the summer, with support from a grant from the Rutgers Committee for Instructional Computing, the team designed and built a computer-based language-lab for students learning English as a foreign language. The new Fluency Lab does more than replace those old cassette tapes. Learning software can evaluate each student’s fluency level and adjust to it, with complex instruction available in the student’s native language. The twenty-five computers in the lab can digitally record the student’s speaking exercises, and store thousands of files for review by the teacher. This new lab is the only one of its kind expressly for English-learners, and it allows both Rutgers students and students in the intensive Program in American Language Studies to master spoken English more quickly.
Although most of their work is used only by professors and students, the Tech Team is behind several projects that share Rutgers English with the rest of the world. The English Department’s website is now one of the most extensive at Rutgers. It combines useful material for students (such as course descriptions, deadlines, and information about English major requirements) with announcements for the general community including Department events, faculty accomplishments, features for our alumni network, and an online archive of this newsletter.
Their latest project? A dvd of Professor Carolyn Williams’s public lecture on Victorian poetry and Gilbert and Sullivan, available for Friends who want it. Plans are in the works to capture future events on digital video, partly as a teaching resource and partly to create an archive of what Rutgers English was like at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
“The technology of the future will never replace literature and reading and analysis,” says Professor Miller, “it just gives us new ways to share our ideas. If we want the traditions of literature to stay vital, we have to keep translating them into new formats and exploring the edges of what is possible to communicate.” Rutgers English is fortunate to have a dynamic and dedicated Information Technology Team to help us explore.
The Rutgers English Website