What 'Transformational' IT Leadership Means for Students

By Param Bedi, VP for Library and Information Technology, Bucknell University

Param Bedi, VP for Library and Information Technology, Bucknell University

Over the last several years, our Library and Informational Technology division at Bucknell University has shifted from a transactional to a transformational mindset. Instead of simply attending to traditional functions such as keeping computers up and running and making information widely available to our campus community, we have focused on leading strategic initiatives that will have a lasting impact on students, faculty, and staff.

This is not to say we have abandoned our core technology and library functions. On the contrary, we still provide all of the services that today’s students have come to expect, such as anytime, anywhere access to high-speed internet service with the capability for high bandwidth academic applications, as well as to stream Netflix movies or sporting events. We still run a top-notch IT help desk. Without these basic services, nothing else we do as a division matters—and we have made significant investments in these core areas.

However, we have also broadened our focus by carefully considering how we can use digital tools to enhance teaching, learning, and scholarship, as well as institutional decision making. Our efforts have made Bucknell a leader in digital scholarship, while also giving undergraduate students an opportunity to become involved in faculty research.

With the support of a five-year, $700,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we have been working with faculty across disciplines to help them redesign their courses, their pedagogy and research to take advantage of sophisticated technology tools. We offer a variety of micro grants to support student and faculty research projects, as well as project consultation services; think of this as an expertise service for digital scholarship.

As an example of the kind of work we have done, our geographic information system (GIS) specialists have collaborated with faculty to show them how they can use GIS technology to visually represent data in powerful new ways. Economics Professor, Jan Knoedler, for instance, now has her students use GIS technology to map and analyze income inequality in various regions of the country—and the technology has aided her research on the pre-and post-Civil War regionalization of the U.S. economy.

Knoedler completed her research with the help of an undergraduate student, and this has been one of the key goals of our Digital Scholarship initiative: to shift the traditional model in which faculty in the humanities or social sciences generally do research on their own. To accomplish this goal, each summer we award five or six grants that encourage faculty to collaborate with undergraduates for their research projects.

This past summer, we also launched a Digital Scholarship Summer Research Fellows program, in which librarians, Courtney Paddick and Carrie Pirmann mentored four students in digital research methodologies, instilling in them the skills necessary to undertake an independent, digitally-based research project.

The students, who were chosen for the program through a competitive application process, represented a wide range of academic disciplines. Applied mathematics major, Rennie Heza (‘18) used statistical analysis to come up with a model for predicting the success of National Hockey League teams. Film studies major, Justin Guzman (‘19) examined the representation of the LGBTQ+ community in cinema. Economics major, Minglu Xu (‘20) analyzed China’s internet boom and its social implications, especially on rural communities. Comparative humanities and Spanish major, Tyler Candelora (‘19) looked at how the heritage of Pennsylvania mining towns is memorialized in public monuments.

"By partnering with our faculty and students to use digital tools for their teaching, learning and scholarship, and not simply making sure that technology is available, we are transforming the teaching and learning process at Bucknell University"

The students conducted their own research, but they also worked as a cohort to strengthen their learning, and continuously gave feedback on each other’s projects. The fellowship introduced students to a wide range of digital research tools, so they could choose the tools that were most appropriate for their research topic.

For example, Candelora used the website Scalar to create a digital book that would take readers through the history of the ten monuments he chose to highlight. He used TimelineJS to create a timeline showing the historical arc of the monuments, and Google Maps, My Maps to show their geographical significance. Heza, meanwhile, used Tableau, a powerful data visualization software, to create interactive graphs of the five NHL statistics that most closely correlate with team success. Xu used ESRI Story Maps and ArcGIS Online to create maps of internet penetration rates and purchasing power per capita across provinces in China.

The student participants all said they learned valuable information that they can take with them in their future endeavors.

“From Voyant to Tableau, each week we were introduced to digital tools that I had never heard of,” said Xu. “The exposure to [these] myriad tools … is extremely valuable, and I can see them being applied in so many ways beyond my summer project.” Candelora called the fellowship “an invaluable experience,” while Heza said, “I am so thankful to have found this program before my time at Bucknell has ended, and I hope future Bucknellians have an opportunity to do the same.” Guzman credited the program with expanding his view of digital scholarship, “It was definitely interesting to see how many different passions people were bringing into the field. I’ve started viewing digital scholarship as this range of scholarly work that is all-inclusive of individual passions and interests.”

Our Library and Information Technology division also employs about 150 students to work alongside our staff on the information desk, Technology Desk, and many others areas in our division, which we run using the TeamDynamix ITSM platform. These students are gaining invaluable experience that they can parlay into workforce skills—and, in fact, about a dozen of our full-time division employees are Bucknell graduates and many worked in the division as students.

For us, moving from a transactional to a transformational organization means creating strategic partnerships with faculty, students, and staff. To achieve this goal, we have taken a hard look at where we should be investing our human and financial capital, moving away from providing some IT-related services (such as email hosting) that others can offer much cheaper and with better uptime than we can.

As a result, we have been able to partner with our faculty and students on enhancing scholarship and truly transform the teaching and learning—preparing our graduates for lasting success.