From the CTO

2 June 2021
By Janet Scannell
Janet Scannell
Janet Scannell

In June 2020, my end-of-year note addressed the issue of George Floyd’s murder and the associated unrest in the country. I had noted that “Information Technology is a notoriously white field and while I have taken a few steps to diversify my department, this moment has made me acutely aware that there is much more that I could do.” I want to report back on steps being taken in ITS. 

We have created a diversity, equity & inclusion task force which has met regularly. To increase our self-awareness, that group has shared articles with each other, and we have discussed the college’s IDE training and how to further the impact of that work within ITS. In terms of actions, we have discussed ways to change our hiring practices, and we have chosen a book for our department to read together this summer. 

The book we’ll be reading is “Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the new Jim Code” by Ruha Benjamin, which “examines the relationship between machine bias and systemic racism.” I’m anticipating that we will gain insights about how to review technology with a more critical eye and with more strategies for avoiding associated inequities. 

The biggest step we’ve taken is to reframe one of our open Academic Technology positions to include a focus on equity in the learning environment. The new technologies introduced this year had surprising benefits to students with varying educational backgrounds and varying learning styles and/or challenges (as described in this LTC talk). As Director of Academic Technology Wiebke Kuhn wrote in the job description, this position will “support faculty and ensure equitable learning opportunities for all students”. The new AT will also work with support departments, like TRIO and the Office of Accessibility Resources, to continue to address diverse ways of learning and the ways in which ITS can play a role in supporting universal design for learning (UDL). 

I had previously attended a workshop on how to recruit for tech jobs, and how to appeal to women and younger employees seeking greater flexibility. Wiebke, Austin and I built on that foundation through conversations with Human Resources about how to cast the widest net for candidates for our three open positions. In addition, the AT search committee members are doing training around managing our implicit bias. 

My main takeaway from this year’s diversity training has been an increased sense of humility about what I don’t yet know and great respect for those BIPOC community members who were able to speak about the pain they experienced during the training. I still believe that this is a moment that calls for listening as a precursor, and a companion, to action. I am still attentive, still listening, still learning, and starting to act. 

I hope you can have a restorative summer, and I look forward to seeing you in person as soon as possible. 

All my best,

Summary of this year’s CTO blog posts

September 2020: “We are returning to campus during unsettling times. I have ideas about which changes will persist, but for now, this ‘welcome back’ newsletter will focus on updates about Carleton’s technology environment that are relevant for Fall Term.” 

February 2021: “My colleague Paige Francis said, ‘Not one investment we’ve made throughout COVID-19 from a technology standpoint was an outlier. We simply reprioritized and escalated tasks and projects. Our strategy and vision – pandemic aside – remain shockingly the same.’ I couldn’t agree more.”

April 2021: “Higher education has experienced an unfathomable level of disruption in the past year, which drove most of us out of our comfort zones. When Carleton classes went online in the Spring of 2020, our faculty were forced into a learner role as they relied on unfamiliar technology tools to deliver their courses remotely. One Carleton faculty member described this reality as ‘going back to school to take the required class you don’t want to take.’ It could be instructive to reflect on our own learning processes through this time.”

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