PDXEdTech Meetup: Designing EdTech Landscapes for Colleges

On Wednesday, August 14th, the PDXedTech meetup (a function of the Northwest Education Cluster, and organized by Clarity Innovations) hosted Reed College Director of Instructional Technology Services, Trina Marmarelli. Her presentation, Designing EdTech Landscapes for Colleges, provided a fascinating overview of the unique technical challenges and processes adopted by Reed College.

This year’s PDXedTech theme is Design for Education, with prior meetups tacking the international school market, marketing strategies, and—with last week’s presentation—Higher Education. At the top of the evening, a survey was given to the approximately 30 people in attendance to gauge what topics future meetups should cover, including such pertinent educational issues as Professional Development, Privacy, Experiential Learning, Next-generation Performance-based Assessment to name only a few.

Trina Marmarelli works closely with Reed faculty who are interested in incorporating technology into their teaching. For instance, a professor might approach her and share what he or she is planning on doing pedagogically, and ask what specific tools could best help them to support that goal. Trina speculates that, at least 70% of the time, a professor will come up to her with a pedagogically-based challenge, and that 30% of the time it’s about a specific tool idea where they haven’t necessarily worked out the pedagogy. Trina prefers it when pedagogy comes first so that she can recommend the best and most relevant instructional technologies to help support faculty and students in achieving their academic pursuits.

Reed College is a relatively small institution, at approximately 1400 undergraduate students, and has an average class size of 16—with a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio—and offers 40 Majors and Interdisciplinary Majors. Before joining the Reed faculty, Trina worked at Stanford University. She has a background in French literature, college-level teaching and course design, has two children, and is training for the Portland Marathon!

It takes a dedicated team of six to support all of Reed’s students and faculty in their technology needs. Trina views her team’s goal as “streamlining confusion.” Choosing between different technologies is difficult enough, she maintains, so Reed’s Instructional Technology Services team ensures that there isn’t any confusion embedded in the college’s instructional tools. They do this by providing hands-on tutoring and training workshops for faculty and staff while staying abreast of the latest instructional technologies currently utilized by other professional organizations and schools.

When Reed is considering an instructional tool, its criteria includes ease of access (accessibility in all its forms, such as solutions that work seamlessly with screen readers), multiple levels of engagement and support (ideally utilizing solutions that feature their own built-in support documentation and resources), and data privacy and security. Security is such a concern for Reed, that Chief Information Officer Martin Ringle once wrote his own version of Google’s privacy agreement for the company to sign.

The Reed EdTech Landscape includes such tools as the free and open source tool Moodle for its customization abilities, as well as Wordpress. In a classic Italian literature class, for example, a professor could have student groups create websites devoted to cantos (chapters) of Dante’s Inferno. In this scenario, students would learn how to create a Wordpress site, and approach Trina and her team for logins and support. Reed students have taken advantage of Instructional Technology Services to work on dynamic, technology-rich projects grappling with Classical Grecian Archaeology, Statistical Analysis, and Political Science, to name just a few. One project involved taking GPS maps of the ancient world, while another analyzed how ranked voting affects elections.

The PDX EdTech Meetup is a gathering of Portland-based designers, developers, content creators, and business leaders working in the Educational Technology space. We look forward to seeing you at our next meet up!