This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 21 Number 3 1998. The copyright is shared by EDUCAUSE and the author. See for additional copyright information.

Colby LogoFounded in 1813, Colby College is a liberal arts institution located in the Belgrade Lakes region of central Maine. The campus--brick buildings draped in ivy--sits on Mayflower Hill in the city of Waterville.

Colby is well known for its emphasis on off-campus study and its fresh approaches to the academic experience. More than two thirds of Colby students study abroad during their undergraduate careers, and additional students participate in domestic programs. The idea of devoting a one-month term to a single topic or project originated at Colby in 1961. And incoming students take advantage of another popular innovation, Colby Outdoor Orientation Trips (COOT), as an introduction to each other and to a part of Maine.

With approximately 1,750 students, Colby boasts high faculty-student interaction. Technology is also a high priority, and it�s enhancing what this liberal arts college has to offer.

Making decisions

Officials at Colby pride themselves on planning well and making good decisions in terms of information technology. In a recent re-accreditation process, the College chose to focus on three critical areas, one of which was information technology. Colby is currently reengineering its registration processes, some pieces of which have already been implemented. This fall faculty and advisors were able to access photo rosters of their students online.

At times Colby has gone against the mainstream. The College adopted the Macintosh as a standard platform back in 1985, when IBM was the standard computer of business and science and Macs had only been on the market for a year. But after a time, explains Raymond B. Phillips, director of Information Technology Services, "the Mac became recognized as an extraordinarily valuable tool in an academic setting, because of the strength of academic software and the graphical capabilities." And the value of a standard was also soon recognized.

In the last year, however, the community decided that it needed to change its standard, and moving to Windows made sense. But while many faculty members would benefit from moving to a Windows environment, others, such as those who used graphic applications, would suffer. "It didn�t seem appropriate to push them to switch in the name of standardization," Phillips says. "Plus, what we learned from a visit to Cupertino was that Apple was in fact doing some very exciting things that are really highly relevant to what a college like Colby is doing." So instead of changing to a new platform standard, the College moved to a dual standard, creating both complications and opportunities.

"One of our strengths has been reliability," explains W. Arnold Yasinski, administrative vice president. "We�re still learning, having expanded this fall, how we�re going to create similar reliability across two major platforms." The goal is for faculty to receive seamless support so that they can focus on content.

Staying on the same page

The Colby community is involved in technology at every level. The board of trustees has an information technology committee that includes faculty, administrative, and student representation. Yasinski believes that "it creates confidence on the board, given the amount of money we request for information technology." Representation on the board committee overlaps slightly with the College IT Committee, which consists of three faculty, three students, and two administrators, all chosen by their own constituencies. Also on the committee are Phillips and Suanne Muehlner, the director of Colby libraries.

The IT Committee focuses on policy and strategy issues, advising both Phillips and President William R. Cotter. According to Phillips, it is a primary mechanism for communication with the faculty, students, and staff. It was a sub-committee of the IT Committee that addressed the platform standard issue. While the ITS directors are not members of the committee, they do attend most meetings and their participation in discussions is critical.

Information Technology Services consists of five departments: academic information technology services, foreign language technology, administrative technology services, media services, and technical services. The director of each department reports to Phillips, who reports to Yasinski.

While it�s a balancing act to assure that proper focus is placed on academics, Yasinski says Colby�s reporting structure has always been conducive to good communication and relations among departments. Many institutions, for example, have had battles between the academic and administrative computing areas. At Colby, the two have always lived under the same roof, and those battles haven�t taken place.

Teaching and learning are clearly the highest priorities at Colby, and it makes sense that administrators are quite supportive of the learning environment, since many of them--from the ITS director to the president--have academic backgrounds and teach courses in their areas of specialty.

Students have a lot of involvement in IT decisions, according to Edward H. Yeterian, dean of the faculty: "What the students are learning is not just the technology, but how to grapple with the technology issues. They�re agonizing with us about the future direction of the College."

Students are also involved with tech support. The student Colby Computer Club, formerly the Non-Mac Users Club, has expertise in both Windows and Macintosh environments. The club has formed an affiliation with ITS to provide students with Mac and Windows support through Student Computer Services, an organization separate from the club which reports to ITS.

Teaching with technology

One Spanish professor claims that up until two years ago, she was a "non-user"; she didn�t even know how to work a VCR. But these days if you walk by Barbara Kuczun Nelson�s office, you�re likely to hear talk of "dynamic HTML," and "JavaScript," and students can expect to submit their assignments electronically.

Nelson�s immersion in Web-publishing tools happened through a grant from the Mellon Foundation which is designed to encourage resource sharing among institutions. The language grant, now in its third year, was the first of three grants that Mellon awarded to Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin (CBB) Colleges as a consortium. Jackie Tanner, the director of foreign language technology for the three schools, has aided faculty members in applying for stipends to use technology in teaching languages.

Nelson�s Web pages link to other resources, songs, and photos, and she�s created a number of interactive grammar lessons. In the last year, Nelson has used the experience she has gained to give eight presentations--including a keynote speech--at conferences around the country, and she was recently elected as chair of the College�s Information Technology Committee.

Another of the Mellon grants builds on years of cooperative work that Colby has done with Bates and Bowdoin to coordinate library services. The colleges now have in place linked Web-based catalogs which can be searched simultaneously, and they�ve also implemented common circulation. Through the grant the three similar institutions are also working on a three-way videoconferencing system and establishing joint user education programs for libraries and information services. The third grant, still in its early stages, focuses on creating off-campus study centers for the CBB Mellon Consortium.

Science Lab

A grant from the National Science Foundation, together with support from Colby Trustee Paul J. Schupf, has enabled the College to buy fifteen Silicon Graphics machines, eight of which are contained in the Paul Schupf Scientific Computing Center. Thomas W. Shattuck, associate professor of chemistry, uses the lab extensively in his courses: "The software that we use spans almost the full range of computational chemistry, including being able to do calculations on individual molecules and being able to look at some of the processes that are used in the pharmaceutical industry for designing new drugs."

Through one of five available databases, students have access to more than half a million chemical reactions. The software packages allow the user to model the motions of complex molecules, and 3D glasses at each workstation enhance the screen view. According to Shattuck, "It�s very rewarding to the students to get a dynamic view of chemistry, because chemistry is really a dynamic process. Things are moving, and you don�t get that on the printed page."

Similarly, Yeterian�s psychology students have benefited from using electronic brain atlases before working with real tissue. The electronic atlas is also accessible anytime, whereas tissue is not as easily available.

Enhancing the learning experience

While Yeterian�s students are able to take advantage of technology to help them learn, he notes that the classroom experience hasn�t changed much. "My teaching in class is still very much talking with the class. I try to develop a relationship with the students such that they want to pursue it on their own." Once they�ve been introduced to the electronic resources, students can use them on their own time.

Phillips adds, "One of the things that I think will change the most is what students do outside of class, the way they prepare for the next lecture, or the way they are perhaps filling in gaps in their own backgrounds to catch up with others. The range of resources outside the class has changed dramatically, especially in terms of the Web."

While the Internet has made resources increasingly accessible--central Maine no longer seems remote when it comes to doing research--a new dilemma faculty face is teaching students to determine good information from bad on the Web. According to G. Calvin Mackenzie, Distinguished Presidential Professor of American Government, "We have a pretty good idea how to do that in a library, because we know if something has been published in a reputable academic journal that is reviewed, it�s likely to be good information. On the Web, sometimes you don�t even know who put a site together."

"One of the things that I�ve found most useful about technology is that it�s enhancing communication with my students," says Yasinski, who teaches English. "I find that it actually enriches how we interact when I meet with them one-on-one. Since we�re taking care of the smaller details through simple electronic memos, a lot of communication has already occurred. Students know where I stand on certain things that I think would be most useful for them, and I also know what their concerns are."

Thomas R. W. Longstaff, Crawford Family Professor of Religious Studies and an active member of the IT Committee, notes that not all Colby faculty use technology extensively. Different faculty members are placing technology at various priority levels. Phillips adds that members of the faculty are careful about adopting new technologies: "They�re skeptical about using technology unless it is, in their view, demonstrably improving the way they�re interacting with the students. I think the faculty take a great deal of pride in the quality of this interaction."

For more information about Colby College, visit

President William R. Cotter

William R. CotterWhen President William R. Cotter arrived at Colby twenty years ago, the campus had six terminals, which were run by a computer at another institution. Doing research meant going to a library that was somewhat limited because of the nature of the institution. But Colby�s advantage was that it was a small residential college with lots of faculty-student interaction. Today the College still has that advantage, but technology has diminished the gap that made the institution feel remote.

"The advantage of a faculty member sitting at a big research university with many millions of volumes in their library, compared to the liberal arts college, used to be huge," said Cotter. "In terms of the education that we can offer, the kinds of materials that our students deal with and that our faculty can use in class have just exploded because of technology." And he believes that the overall value of a Colby education is going up for students. "I think technology has helped us to really expand the quality of what we do without expanding the cost in a proportionate fashion."

Cotter believes that Colby�s college-wide approach to information technology is one of the institution�s biggest strengths. "The administration, the faculty, and the student body understand that we have tried to maximize the impact of our investments in IT, by having them well thought out, well planned, and well coordinated across the institution," he said. "I think that has been enormously efficient."

CAUSE/EFFECT�s Campus Profile department regularly focuses on the information resources environment --information, technology, and services--of an EDUCAUSE member institution, to promote a better understanding of how information resources are organized, managed, planned for, and used in colleges and universities of various sizes and types. This article is based on a visit to Colby College by EDUCAUSE Writer/Reporter Shannon Burgert. the table of contents

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