Faculty and Staff Writing Retreat Sees Record Participation

Roger Williams University’s latest Faculty and Staff Writing Retreat drew record participation on May 23-24, bringing 28 people together at the University Library to devote two full days to uninterrupted writing and editing.

Robert E. Shea, RWU’s Associate Provost for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning, said this marked the fourth retreat in which RWU faculty and staff have worked from early in the morning until late at night on book projects, research papers and other writing projects. The retreats take place in January and May.

In all, participants dedicate more than 20 hours to their writing tasks, benefitting from research assistance by two librarians, taking advantage of feedback from RWU Writing Center writing consultants and pausing to refuel with coffee and food in the Mary Tefft White Cultural Center.

“The things they like the most are the time, the pampering and the consultation on demand,” Shea said.

This time around, the participants included Nicole Dyszlewski, a Research/Access Services Librarian at the RWU School of Law, who was working on a section of a book titled “LGBTQ and the Law: An Annotated Bibliography.”

“It’s nice that the institution supports our scholarly research,” she said.

Deborah Johnson, the law school’s Director of Diversity and Outreach Coordinator of International Programs, sat nearby, working on an article about cybersecurity insurance and the law that she plans to submit to a law journal.

Johnson said she was glad to have time to focus on the project. “On a day-to-day basis, I just don’t have the time,” she said.

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A Convergence of Computation + Culture

As people increasingly turn to computers and smartphones to run their lives, tech firms and other businesses create a seemingly endless array of tools designed to streamline digital activity. And although we benefit from these innovations, there is much about them that runs counter to the artistic imagination. Recognizing the growing desire of artists and designers to exploit the creative potential of new technologies, this spring RISD launched Computation, Technology and Culture (CTC), an undergraduate concentration that invites students to experiment with digital devices, programs and languages, and integrate them into their diverse studio practices.

Experimental and Foundation Studies (EFS) Programs Head Shawn Greenlee 96 PR, who administers the new concentration, says a central goal is to foster more versatile makers by limiting dependence on proprietary hardware and software. “We want students to resist using technology the way creators think they’re supposed to use it,” the electronic media and sound artist explains. Through the new 15-credit undergraduate concentration (which is like a minor at other colleges), students learn to write code, develop software and build programmable machines while also coming to better understand how these things are transforming art, design and the world at large.

Greenlee began leading efforts to establish a CTC concentration once the interest and need became increasingly apparent in recent years. In co-teaching a course called Experimental Data Visualization, he realized that students were searching for ways “to engage with [digital] code as a medium and material.” Soon he and fellow faculty members Carl Lostritto and Clement Valla MFA 09 DM began applying for various grants and other sources of funding to plan a cutting-edge curriculum suited to the needs of emerging artists and designers.

CTC “creates pathways for students to specialize” in many areas of digital art and technologically-informed making, says Greenlee – from programming for music and sound design to creating virtual-reality and immersive environments. Concentrators can also take related courses in diverse departments – from Sculpture studios on robotics to Liberal Arts courses on the history of technology – to build a highly individualized, interdisciplinary experience. Designed for those at all levels of experience with programming and code, the concentration is expected to attract roughly 50 students a year as it continues to grow.

Initial courses
In addition to the core Introduction to Computation studio, this year’s innovative CTC courses explored various aspects of our increasingly programmed world, from internet-age art and architecture to sonic sculpture and, in a Wintersession travel course to Argentina, the intersection of digital and artisanal cultures. Through spring studios like Ambient Interfaces: Activated Objects, taught by Assistant Professor Alejandro Borsani, students made use of conceptual approaches and learned practical strategies for integrating electronics into their work.

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JWU Hosts First New England Edition of Picademy

JWU Providence’s College of Engineering & Design recently hosted the first New England-based edition of Picademy, a free training intensive designed to give educators the tools to teach computing with confidence and creativity.

Picademy is the flagship teacher-training initiative of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK-based charity that “works to put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world.”

The Foundation partnered with JWU for this free training to promote teaching, learning and making. More than 80 K-12 educators from the US and abroad took part in the sessions, which took place in the university’s new John J. Bowen Center for Science and Innovation.

Previous Picademies in the United States have been held in Mountain View, California; Baltimore, Maryland; and Austin, Texas.

JWU’s Commitment to STEM Education
“Johnson & Wales University’s commitment to education and its enthusiastic support of our mission made them a natural partner to help upskill educators locally and from all over the country,” said Matt Richardson, executive director of Raspberry Pi Foundation North America. “The Picademy workshop is our premier educator training program and is an opportunity for the most enthusiastic and engaged educators to get hands-on with computers and digital making. We’re looking forward to … a continued collaboration with Johnson & Wales University.”

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Trust academics to design classrooms of future, says president

US university leader explains how top teachers were selected to design a new multimillion-dollar teaching centre.

How do you create a university building that will encourage outstanding innovative teaching?

That question has vexed architects, educationalists and higher education leaders throughout the world for years despite billions of pounds being poured into flashy campus facilities. However, one US university believes that it has found a relatively simple answer: ask academics to design their own classrooms.

While undertaking a major upgrade of its Rhode Island campus, Bryant University asked its most innovative teaching staff to take the lead on the creation of a $31.5 million (£24.8 million) Academic Innovation Centre.

Teachers from all disciplines were invited to submit ideas for a syllabus that would be taught in a bold new way, with an eight-strong faculty committee choosing the best applicants to guide architects on plans that could put their ideas into action.

Not all ideas put forward by this teaching brains trust made it to the drawing board, however, with some rejected after being tested on students in specially adapted classrooms, explained Ronald Machtley, Bryant’s president.

“We started with just a couple of classrooms that cost about $15,000 each to convert,” said Mr Machtley, who viewed such investment as worthwhile when planning a multimillion-dollar project.

“In one case, we put touchscreens into the desks, but that really interfered with teaching,” he said. In other trials at the five-year pilot stage, academics experimented with the position of desks and chairs, changing their spacing and position depending on the different courses taught in the classroom, added Mr Machtley.

“Some faculty went through four or five iterations before they found the right set-up,” he said.

While academics and architects visited world-leading teaching spaces at Harvard and Stanford universities to gather ideas on good design, this testing process was invaluable to the success of the facility, which is about to celebrate its first anniversary, said Mr Machtley, a former Republican representative for Rhode Island who has led the private university since 1996.

“If we had gone straight into the building process, it would have been an architectural nightmare,” he claimed.

Thanks to the trial phase, Bryant was able to “replicate great ideas from Stanford, but improve on them”, he added. For instance, lecturers found classes worked better when there was more space in-between seats – something that was made possible by using light and movable furniture, rather than fixed chairs commonly found in lecture auditoriums.

This process even saw academics agree to scrap one of the “historic fixtures” of US academia – the lecture podium, said Mr Machtley.

“We spent a lot of time talking about the podium and decided that when faculty go behind it, they are not as effective when teaching,” he said.

Classrooms in the new “very transparent building” have several glass walls, which, Mr Machtley believed, had led to a “remarkable transformation” in student attitudes to learning.

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