On campus beat: U profs take a page from e-book

  • Article by: Jenna Ross
  • Star Tribune
  • July 18, 2012 - 7:20 PM

Given the topic -- digital innovation in academia -- it makes sense that a new project from the University of Minnesota was published as an e-book. That it links to a comment-friendly website. And that it could lead to a virtual conference.

In creating "Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories From the Digital Frontlines at the University of Minnesota in 2012," editors wanted to reflect the ever-changing, often collaborative nature of the work captured in its pages.

"A traditional book would have taken 18 months," said Prof. Ann Hill Duin, one of three editors. "By that time, much of this work would be out of date."

In contrast, crowdsourcing, editing and publishing the free e-book took just 10 weeks. Abram Anders, one of its designers and contributors, called it a "sprint-style e-book." He and his colleagues also like to refer to it as a "snapshot." A "showcase." An "un-book."

It features stories of how technology is transforming teaching, advising and research. Some chapters engage in esoteric discussions of changing pedagogy. Others offer do-it-yourself guides to specific technologies.

"While online activity is clearly at the core of the academy's future, we need to challenge the assumption that we need a big, expensive program to get things to happen," the book's introduction says. "These projects do just that."

Already, the process has let other professors know about ventures happening just a hall away, Hill Duin said. "In many cases, even contributors didn't know of each other's work."

Anders, an assistant professor of business communications on the university's Duluth campus, says the book builds off trends in academia.

"More and more academics, especially in technology and learning, are increasingly doing work that's more electronic, that has a quicker turnaround, that's not published in established journals, that's more interdisciplinary," Anders said.

But there may be trade-offs. With its less traditional format, he wonders, "will this work be valued?"

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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