Reed Magazine February
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That kind of individual openness perfectly reflects Reed’s institutional approach to technology over the years. “We have a very long, illustrious tradition in this area,” says Marty Ringle, Reed’s chief technology officer. “ Reed first became involved with computing in 1968 (when an analog computer figured in a senior thesis), long before virtually any other liberal arts college and even many universities.”

Only recently has the college offered studies in computer science. Rather, Ringle says, “technology was always the handmaiden in the service of teaching, learning, and research. First we ask, ‘What are we trying to do?’ Then we ask, ‘How can technology be applied to enhance how we do that?’”

This is not to say that Reed has never brought in a new technology and invited students, faculty, and staff to let their imaginations run free as to its potential. Witness the reactor back in the 1960s. “We couldn’t have envisioned all the uses to which it was applied in subsequent years,” Ringle says. “But the mission for technology consistently has been to support other things we do.”

With such an underlying vision behind major technology investments, Reed has avoided going down blind alleys. “We’ve always been cantankerous about our technology, and I think we’re a leader because of that,” Ringle says. “Many in higher education either fear technology or are worshipful of it. Reed, by contrast, understands what it can and can’t do; inasmuch as we produce such good students and do such good teaching and research, we can demonstrate its benefits. Other colleges and universities often look to us to figure out what they should do next.”

One of the blind alleys Reed avoided was distance education. “It was the hot item a few years ago,” Ringle says, “but we decided, ‘What’s the point? We don’t want to reach countless thousands of strangers around the country; we want a face- to-face learning community.’ Today, having stuck to our vision, we are the envy of so many schools that poured millions down the drain trying to do something they hadn’t thought through.”

By contrast, in 1995 Reed was fortunate to receive a grant from the Mellon Foundation that funded faculty members’ explorations of new technologies and incorporation of them in their teaching. The college focused on areas where technology had not had a large presence. For example, dance director Patricia Wong used Mellon funding to purchase a software package called LifeForms for her students, and music professor David Schiff brought in a professional-caliber music composition tool called Finale.

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Reed Magazine February
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