9.699 designing a position in humanities computing

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 5 Apr 1996 18:08:53 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 699.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Andrea Nixon <anixon@carleton.edu> (79)
Subject: Re: 9.682 designing a position in humanities computing

Greetings to all. It seems that there are more and more institutions
grappling with the issue of providing support for faculty in the
humanities. I don't think that there will be any single model for a
support mechanism for all institutions. The needs and luxuries afforded to
an institution (by virtue of their size) are too different. I also think
that it is important not only to have a person supporting computing in the
Humanities but also to have a more general computing support apparatus that
is supportive of faculty in general. Even if you have the best computer
support person in the world, if his/her organization is not supportive very
little with come out of his/her efforts.

By luxuries I mean issues such as the ability to do software development or
the ability to allow faculty to use _any_ software that is best tailored to
their needs. I think that large institutions are better suited to provide
staff that specialize in issues such as the gory details of the various
formatting conventions and developments of storing digitized information on
CD-ROM. I think that smaller institutions have more leeway to be flexible
about supporting more than a standard suite of software applications.

The priorities of the institution need to dictate the support structure.
In my opinion, the two biggest questions that we had to come to terms with
in reorganizing here at Carleton College were:

Do we want to support software development and maintenance?

What type of support do the faculty and academic staff want?

In our particular case we decided _not_ to support software development (at
least at the outset). We also decided not to have a standard set of
software applications that we would support. Instead faculty are able to
use whatever suits their needs best. Nota Bene, Nisus, EGWord, Word and
Word Perfect are all just dandy as far as we are concerned. The "we" that
I am referring to consists of a faculty advisory committee in consultation
with the computing support staff.

Given the above priorities and the fact that Carleton is a small liberal
arts school with a student body of about 1800, we decided on the following
support structure. We have completely separated academic and
administrative computing support . In the Academic Computing and
Networking Services department there are three of us that provide computer
support for faculty and staff that work directly with faculty. Each
Academic Computing Coordinator works with a specific group of faculty:
Social Sciences and Performing Arts, Natural Sciences and Arts, Humanities
and Languages. I am the computer support person for faculty in the
Humanities and Languages.

Each of the ACCs were selected based on: a strong interested in a relevant
field (the other two ACCs are currently working on their dissertations),
ability to translate between English and Techno-Babble, and strong
technical skills. Although some of us have taught in our fields, we are
not the ones to lead discussions on pedagogical issues. Each ACC works
with a Faculty Advisor from their division. It is the place of the Faculty
Advisor to focus primarily on pedagogical issues. All of the ACCs are
happy to participate in discussions on pedagogy but, personally, I am
uncomfortable with a support organization doing any more than that.

Each Faculty Advisor holds this position for 2-3 years. In addition to
consulting with other faculty on pedagogical issues, the FAs are also on
the Advisory Committee for Academic Computing. That body works with the
director of Academic Computing and Networking Services to make policy

In the 3+ years that this support structure has been in place it has struck
me that it is important to have a variety of people leading discussions on
pedagogical issues. Both Faculty Advisors that I have worked with directly
have very different takes on the issues. Both have done great work in that
area and I has seemed to work well for that to be a rotating position.

I think that the computer support is best done by a combination of students
and dedicated staff. Each of our ACCs has 4-5 student workers that assist
them. The students make the ACC position do-able and they in turn receive
very valuable training. Having full time staff person that coordinates
computing support provides the all important institutional memory. If you
rely too heavily on student support, much of the knowledge that each
student acrews walks right out the door when the student graduates.

At any rate, that is my 5 cents worth. I have enjoyed this thread on
Humanist a great deal. I look forward to learning more about how other
institutions approach these issues.


Andrea Nixon
Academic Computing Coordinator
Languages and Humanities
Carleton College

P.S. If any of you are interested, Cathy Smith (Director of Academic
Computing and Networking Services here at Carleton) has put a copy of the
text and slides of her presentation "Academic Computing Services: More Than
A Utility" on our web server. This is a presentation she gave at CAUSE 95,
November 29, 1995 (CAUSE is the association for managing and using
information resources in higher education). The address is: