Action Item 2) Technology tools adapted to the needs of users: The Library and School of the Future

Introduction and Background

Technologies will be a vehicle to ensure the success of the JRLU. The ingredients for success will be adapting the technologies in a way that serves the various communities at the various scales as discussed in the previous section. In essence, the process of creating an impactful and empowering educational initiative will be to create technologies that are easily adopted and diffused. To accomplish this there are simple foundational guiding principles for the design and usability of the Internet Communications Technologies (ICT) systems. First, the technologies must provide easy and dependable access to the educational content that is being provided. Second, the user interfaces should be engaging, attractive, user friendly (easy to use) and easy to learn, but with capabilities to provide advanced services and content.

An important concept that our team has recognized is that much technology that has been developed is designed in a way that really doesn’t serve the individual in a way that is amenable to their needs, skills and knowledge. Many new technology developers seem to expect their users to learn new skills to use and interact with the technology interfaces. Learning curves can potentially be long, steep and difficult which naturally discourages users.

Of course, as has been discovered in optimal experience theory, some level of challenge is important to create “flow” experiences (optimal experience) (Csikszentmihalyi, 1976). However, in an educational setting, it would logically follow that the challenge should not come from learning how use the technology, it should come through the content. The idea of education is to present mind (and spirit) expanding information and experiences, unless of course the learning is related to the acquisition of the new skill sets related to the technology itself.

A core objective of JRLU is that the technology needs to focus on serving people. And it is the burden of the technology developers to create easy to use interfaces and systems that students can learn with a relatively flat learning curve. This approach will allow JRLU to readily adapt to all potential audiences.

We do recognize that different ages and interests can significantly affect the ability of people to learn new technologies. For example, youth are highly adaptable to new technologies. Our intent will be to provide the most efficient and extensive outreach possible, to support all user groups. Additionally, an important aim will be to extend our empowerment education to those individuals and groups who traditionally have not been reached.

Of course we are also aware that we do not want to lower our standards to the lowest common denominator, thus discouraging or disenfranchising important audiences. Again, the burden will be on the technology developers and administrators of JRLU to create technologies that serve the various constituents at their skill level, and if important to the educational objectives, to bring them up a learning curve. However, to reiterate, a primary understanding is that in an educational setting, the challenge should come through the content being delivered and not from the delivery vehicle. As a basic philosophy the technology should operate flawlessly and transparently.

Technology for Communications and Collaborations

Our team’s research of the development of the Internet over the past fifteen years has revealed that one of the most important emerging functions is for networking, the building of personal, business and organizational networks for the advancement of those entities. Nearly all users of the Internet, ultimately, have this as a primary aim (although they may not be consciously aware of this). As we intend to “build a bridge” to non-traditional students and groups, this is a very important function of technology utilization at JRLU.

As one observes the massive growth of “social networks” it is apparent that Internet users are adapting and evolving both in how they use it and how they try to be successful with their businesses and personal networking. They are also learning how to use the Internet as a communications medium and to collaborate or link with other businesses. What was revealed in Skadberg’s (2002) research using actor-network theory (Callon and Latour) of small business owners use of the Internet, is that people are at different levels of maturity in this process of using the Internet as a communications and networking tool. This maturity is expressed in three important ways, in relation to: their businesses, their familiarity and confidence in using the Internet to help them be successful with their businesses, and how they are affiliated with the various community(s) that appear to be evolving at a number of scales, including local, regional, and throughout the entire Internet.

It was also discovered, that as the Internet evolves as the next paradigm as a communications medium, that users are strongly dependent on the network. Even at this early stage of networking capability development, the Internet provides by far the most powerful and cost effective means for reaching people.

Skadberg’s research identified five levels of networks within the experiential tourism business realm on the Internet, in terms of geographical scale.

The individual and their immediate network. This is the lowest level network although its geographical representation may be extensive. This network is represented by the individual business, the real world community where the business exists, and the natural resources that are being utilized for providing the experiential tourism activities, as well as all of the related human and non-human factors in the network.

The second level networks are the Web-based communities that were identified by the business owners. In most cases, these networks are related to the specific geographical region where these businesses are located. These businesses are using the Internet and the network as a means for communication and marketing.

The third level of network is associated with a larger scale of community/associations over the Internet and the programs that are being supported by the various states. This level is also associated with geographical regions most closely associated with individual states (e.g. in 2002 there were five states with active experiential tourism programs).

IV.  A fourth level of community is created by the individual business owner. This level of networks can have very broad geographic reach. This level appears to be quite similar to the second level networks because they are created by the individual business. The research revealed that the more mature business owners recognized another level of Internet community that went beyond geographical boundaries. They suggested that the creation of connections (affiliations) between themselves and many other businesses and organizations with a broad spectrum of affiliations was critically important to their businesses’ success. These affiliations, or Web-based communities, may or may not have been directly related to their experiential tourism business. These affiliations could occur almost anywhere around the globe. Nonetheless, these virtual communities were defined to be a part of their business realm. These communities could be identified by the links from these businesses Web site and very likely have a very diverse and potentially large geographic scale.

V.   The final level of network is that of the whole of experiential tourism businesses on the Internet. This level of network is the most loosely defined. This is because it is in a state of continual change. New experiential tourism businesses will continually be created, Web pages will be updated, new linkages will be added or dropped and the whole network is in a constant state of evolution.

Implications of Actor-Network for JRLU

The purpose of Skadberg’s research was exploratory and to examine the evolution of the Internet as a communications and networking tool, specifically to advance the interests of individuals (and their businesses) and their relationship to experiential tourism business development. The research led to the conclusion that network development has a very important practical outcome for people who operate businesses, or who have an entrepreneurial nature. In the case of experiential tourism there are a number of benefits, but the key for success for the business owner was in using the Internet to make money. This pragmatic result suggests that the Internet as a communications and networking empowerment tool, for this particular user group (and likely many others), needs to address that desire first. Additional benefits, such as natural resource protection, experiential education, community building, and social networking are ancillary and subsequent.

So this finding should be instructive as it specifically relates to supporting businesses, communities, entrepreneurs, associations and other organizations. In order to justify time spent learning and using the services we intend to offer through JRLU, it will be highly advantageous to support people to generate revenues, support small business development or to enhance their income generation capabilities.

The results of Skadberg’s research indicated that experiential tourism development efforts have been successful in stimulating businesses around the United States. The research revealed that there were a variety of state programs, or other initiatives (private associations), that were behind these groups of businesses that were clustered geographically around the nation. Therefore, developing programs or policies to promote experiential tourism at different levels did stimulate the expansion of the experiential tourism industry. As an extension, it was apparent that these small businesses were highly dependent on the Internet so it very likely could be a vehicle to expand other industries as well, especially associated with entrepreneurial business development.

Another finding of this research was that these nature tourism businesses needed assistance. A number of areas of assistance were identified that would not require significant efforts to develop. Even though this research was about experiential tourism businesses, it is apparent that these findings can be instructive for the development of the Reverence for Life University. Three specific recommendations were:

Establish or stimulate mechanisms for coordinated and cooperative marketing for communities, counties or regions.

Coordinate and develop ways to provide technical assistance for general marketing and Web marketing to regions, communities, and individual business operators.

Create a resource center designed to provide information to fulfill areas of need.

Recommendation 3 to create a “Center” is expanded in significant detail below. The “Center” approach outlined is an evolution of development efforts that have been underway during the last decade. Although Skadberg’s research focused on an emerging tourism industry, the results can be instructive as we develop the “outreach” or “service” arm of JRLU.

A robust educational opportunity is available to us if, in addition to traditional distance learning, we provide what would be traditionally called continuing education and technical assistance. This extension/outreach side of JRLU can provide desperately needed learning modules and access to technical expertise to students, small businesses, rural communities and other organizations that are interested in tapping into the tremendous potential of the Internet, especially as a means to create, support and expand networks (e.g. marketing, building constituencies).

Infrastructure: The Library of the Future
As part of the Jamaica Reverence for Life University, we propose an infrastructure named “The Library of the Future”. This infrastructure integrates a set of facilities and tools to enable new knowledge generation from a wealth of digital content and data.


Architecture and Features

Diagram 10 shows the Library of the Future as a set of closely related infrastructure components embracing the JRLU core focus areas. These components include:

- A high-performance computing facility with massive on-line storage,
- Advanced visualization facilities,
- High-speed connections to international networks,
- Highly skilled operations and advanced user support staffs,
- Innovative 'Data Center' software to support use analytics and evaluative tool-sets for monitoring performance specifically to keep our technology state-of-the-art,
- Strong, federated, identify, authorization, and authentication support, and

- Curriculum support to ensure effective infrastructure use.

Diagram 10: The Library of the Future, infrastructure 
components and core content areas.

Key to this cyber infrastructure is a holistic approach, stressing the integration of these components.

The Jamaican Reverence for Life (JRLU) - School of the Future

The focus of the JRLU School of the Future will be to provide quality multi-disciplinary, learning opportunities utilizing state-of-the-art technologies in combination with hands-on learning experiences.

The guiding principles for the JRLU School of the Future should address two critical challenges 1) Quality of Access, and 2) Pervasiveness of Access.

Items that need to be considered in the development of a system that will coordinate courses and academic programs at different, and/or multiple, institutions are significant. Time is probably the most critical limiting factor for educators and administrators. In order to ensure success for JRLU it will be necessary to create a platform that is efficient and that supports: 1) effective time management, 2) effective teaching and program (course) development, and 3) seamlessness and ease-or-use for all audiences including: students, faculty, outreach staff and administrators. Additionally, this collaboration network needs to create a productive working environment and one that promotes communication.

Guiding Principle 1: Quality of Access

In order to achieve the highest quality educational experience, we have been working on learning tools that assist our instructors to: 1) Provide rigorous, quality and engaging educational experiences to students (potentially from around the globe), 2) Provide students and educators seamless access to the tools and resources that are state-of-the-art in JRLU’s core curriculums, 3) Provide students easy access to educational content, collaborative networking tools and creative learning resources, 4) Support efficient and effective communication and collaboration and exchange of knowledge and ideas with ease between educators, students and institutions, and 5) Push innovative and engaged learning experiences via cutting-edge learning technologies and hands-on, real world experiences in virtual classrooms, laboratories, studios, and through collaboration with the “real-world” (businesses, communities).
Guiding Principle 2: Pervasiveness of Access

A key to success for a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional endeavor like the JRLU’s virtual school will be to coordinate and meld the relationships between the various institutions. Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1994) identified three fundamental aspects of business alliances that apply to higher education, successful alliances, they: a) yield benefits for the partners and evolve progressively in there possibilities, b) involve collaboration (creating new value together) rather than mere exchange (getting something back for what you put in), and c) are supported by a dense web of interpersonal connections and infrastructures that enhance learning; they cannot be controlled by formal systems.

Architecture and Features:

Our aim for the School of the Future will be to evolve and expand existing collaboration, networking and distance learning capabilities. We are aware that there are numerous tools and systems that are available for effective distance education. However, our observation is that these tools tend to be disparate and not combined to provide a complete learning solution.          

We intend to utilize existing capabilities but also to improve on them, initially by using the techniques outlined below. At the outset, an important realization is that younger students are “fluent” and totally adapted to an online environment. Thus, our ultimate audience is well prepared to utilize the resources and platform (Internet) that we intend to use. They should also be instrumental in our efforts to extend our impacts and capabilities. Important features to provide users include: 1) Multi-mode distance learning/teaching and support capabilities supporting communication, video-conferencing and document/presentation shared mark-up, 2) Virtual environments (adapting gaming environments for more immersed user experiences), 3) Team and project coordination tools (e.g. calendar, course projects, etc.), 4) User feedback, and 5) Student performance evaluation and testing   

In the near future, a primary challenge of the JRLU School of the Future will be to develop an effective educational management infrastructure that supports student access to courses and program degrees from collaborating institutions and joint degrees when appropriate. Additionally, adequate computational capabilities and infrastructure will be a critical element for success.

Since JRLU will focus on personal and community empowerment, art, and experiential learning, the areas of disciplinary specialization highlighted in “Core Content Areas” are of primary concern. Preliminarily the JRLU School of the Future will provide the following: 1) virtual classrooms, 2) virtual laboratories, 3) discussion boards, chat rooms, and other communication platforms, and 4) tools supporting distance collaboration and project management.

Collaboration with Industry and Building a Bridge to the People of Jamaica

Traditionally, business and academic research have different goals and operate with different missions. Business research is focused on business objectives so that research and development can improve competitiveness. On the other hand, academic research is focused on innovations and grand challenges that address societal needs. The educational mission is also to train future generations to be creative and successful. However with JRLU, business and academic research will have the same principle aims. This is because JRLU recognizes that, ultimately, the aims of business and academia should be the same. Industry and academia need to understand each other to fulfill their missions in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, professional training and education. With adequate funding and revenue generation, JRLU will have the infrastructure and organizational capabilities to create the synergy for industry and academia to work together successfully. The key to success will be effective communication between industry and JRLU.

The JRLU faculty is comprised of multi-disciplinary educators, researchers and practitioners who are well prepared to collaborate and build a bridge to the business world. The final section of this proposal outlines the specific agenda to build the “JRLU Center” and bridge to the people of Jamaica.

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