The University Record, February 25, 1998

Faculty Exploratory makes creative computing easy

Faculty members at last week's 'Searching the Internet' mini-workshop sponsored by the Faculty Exploratory. The Exploratory, located on the second floor of the Graduate Library, also offers one-on-one help with computing questions and will develop special programs for academic units. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Jane R. Elgass

More and more faculty are finding that it is important to know something about the many technologies that can help them in their research, teaching and professional presentations. And help with learning to use those technologies is now much easier, thanks to the new Faculty Exploratory on the second floor of the Hatcher Graduate Library.

More than simply a room full of new computers, the Exploratory provides something of a safe haven for faculty who are somewhat stymied about how to download e-mail attachments, aren't quite sure how to launch an efficient search on the Web or are a bit leery of tackling Powerpoint or Photoshop on their own.

Opened just last May, the Faculty Exploratory provides pre-scheduled workshops and workshops-on-demand for academic units, as well as walk-in assistance on weekdays for any faculty seeking help in navigating the electronic technology world, but with a bit of a twist.

The facility isn't into Star Wars technology, but rather "emulates what people have on their desktop," explains manager Laurie Sutch. "We want people to be able to go home and use what they've learned right away. Our objective is to help faculty get over that first hurdle of using technology, becoming aware of the possibilities and learning the basics." Those who want more than in-depth information are referred to the computing courses offered by the Information Technology Division.

With very little publicity, the Exploratory already has fans who return on a regular basis for a refresher or to actually work on a project with the new skills they've learned in a workshop. "Many of them are branching out into new areas that expand on what they've already learned, extending their skill base to create the same presentation in a variety of formats," Sutch says. "Some are coming back about once a week. It's handy for them because there's someone here to help if they run into problems."

About 80 people a month have been using the walk-in services and more than 100 faculty members from LS&A, the Medical School and the schools of Social Work and Public Health have attended seminars conducted for their units.

Sutch says that help is offered on a one-on-one basis as well as in small groups, in which the instructor/student ratio generally is one-to-three or one-to-four, affording lots of individual attention.

The walk-ins usually have a specific need, Sutch notes. Some may want to put a class syllabus or other information up on the Web. Others say, "I saw so-and-so do this and I'd like to do it also." Still others need help with downloading attachments from PINE e-mail.

Elaine Didier, interim director of Academic Outreach, notes that the Exploratory is designed to "facilitate and support what faculty want to do. It's all voluntary. No one is telling faculty they must come in and learn about these technologies. We're here to help them make use of the technology as they think it's appropriate. These tools can help them in their research and in their teaching.

"For instance, a faculty member might use an electronic bibliography while working on research, then decide some of that information would enhance a course. Once the information has been digitized, it can be used in a variety of ways, including being printed on paper or made into a slide or transparency.

"Our focus," Didier emphasizes, "is to help faculty accomplish their goals-they tell us what they'd like to do and we help them find ways to do it. This is a place to come and say, 'I'd like to learn . . .' or 'I'm having trouble doing . . .'

"It's a hands-on experience, with a focus on having the faculty members leave the workshop or help session with a new skill in hand that will enhance their teaching and scholarly work. We want to help make faculty comfortable with the new technologies so they will have the confidence to use them in a variety of ways."

A variety of free mini-workshops are being offered through the end of winter term. Space is limited so those planning to attend must make arrangements in advance. Upcoming sessions cover Conferencing on the Web; Transferring Files, E-mail Attachments; Building a Homepage, Basic of Powerpoint, Introduction to Photoshop, Homepage Design and Tips; More Things to Know about Manipulating Graphics and MSWord Tools.

The services of the Faculty Exploratory are open only to faculty members although they may be used by graduate student assistants with faculty sponsorship.

Information on the Exploratory, which is a service of Academic Outreach, is available on the Web at http://www.outreach.umic, or by sending e-mail to

Faculty give Exploratory rave reviews

Franco M. Nori was prompted to take a workshop offered by the Faculty Exploratory after being asked by the editors of Scientific American to expand his Web page prior to publication of an article on his research.

While he can work his way through HTML with little effort, more advanced work, such as video and graphics, "were way beyond me. I did not have the time or energy to do these and was tired of asking students," says Nori, associate professor of physics. "I knew I had to become more independent, become more Web-proficient."

Initially reluctant to commit to a three-day program, he's glad he did. "There are certain tricks and hints that are hard to learn by reading manuals," he says. "It requires being exposed to people to ask questions and get immediate answers and feedback." And he says attending the three-day program saved him time in the long run.

He was particularly impressed with the instructors, whom he described as helpful, cooperative and very knowledgeable. "They are patient with computer-illiterate faculty," he notes. "I'm OK with advanced numerical computing, but don't know much about other programs, particularly in multi-media. The workshop was really helpful."

Susan M. Caumartin attended one of the intensive workshops because she had "a lot of things I really wanted and needed to incorporate that I didn't have time to do another way. It was all-encompasing, so many things that I didn't have time to come up to speed on another way, and it was offered in a most gracious and fun manner."

She's put to use everything she learned and used the services many times since the workshop, "calling with problems and just going over there. The personnel are so great. They sit you down and say, 'This is how we can attack this.' I've grown to count on them."

Caumartin, a research investigator and lecturer in epidemiology, has used Powerpoint for lectures and created Web pages for curriculum. She says she also is able to "get through the maze on the Web more quickly."