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Monday, March 8, 2010

Technology and Prescott College

I came into work today expecting to really buckle down and have the opportunity to talk to some students who have been accepted to the school and give them advice for orientation and their transition to Prescott. When I got here, however, I found that Zinch, one of the sites we use to talk to prospective students, had decided to be uncooperative. As if one technological hiccup wasn’t enough, the phone I was working with decided to stop dialing long-distance numbers.
Being the eternal optimist I am (not really) I began thinking about the topic of technology here at Prescott College, and how that might be an interesting topic for a blog. If that doesn’t sound interesting to you, turn away now before it’s too late.

I have often mused about our technological contrasts here at Prescott, as it seems we have constant contrasts when it comes to machines. I think it may begin with the range of courses we offer here; we have the one extreme of Aboriginal Living skills where you learn to survive in the desert with nothing but some wool clothes and a pocket knife (I mean nothing, we don’t bring sleeping bags), and then on the other end we have extraordinarily expensive and advanced programs for GIS and digital film making. A similar situation exists with our student body, where some folks like to keep their money in a jar in the attic grandpa-who-lived-through-the-great-depression style, and the students who have permanent images of LCD screens burned into their retinas from all the texting, and then everyone in between.

What I find most interesting is that these two subcultures are able to coexist relatively well without there being any major ramifications. I think some of this is reflected in our use of technology in outreach to all you out there in the universe. You can, if you want, follow Prescott College on twitter (bet you didn’t know), or subscribe to this very blog page with our RSS feed, but then we conscripted Daedalus (who, if you don’t remember, built the labyrinth) to design our current website. Now, to be fair, we are in the process of building a new one but we have excavate the pieces we want without loosing too many of the technological staff to minotaur attacks, so it’s a slow process.

I think it’s really unfortunate, though, that our main website is not able to highlight some of the great green technologies we’re employing here on campus. I would estimate that the food-bearing gardens here on campus are a pretty large percentage of the land the college actually owns, and those gardens are able to be research sites for classes as well as grow food for the café each semester. Our café has a rooftop garden, which conserves energy and materials for insulation, as well as giving us a steady supply of cactus fruits during the spring and summer. We are installing large water catchment tanks on many of our buildings, as well as solar panels and wind turbines to help power more and more of the campus on green energy. Most readers are probably aware that before “recycle” comes “reduce” and “reuse,” and those are all concepts we put into practice here; most buildings here have been repurposed from their original forms; our business offices were once motels, and rather than tearing them apart and building over the wreckage we simply reused the space that was already there. The two most prominent and signature buildings on our main campus; the Library and the Crossroads Center are made from almost 90% recycled materials, and over 90% of the rubble on the site when we started building was re-used for those and other structures. The center of our campus is designed specifically to allow run-off from the buildings to filter down into Butte Creek rather than simply sitting on pavement or concrete and stagnating.

Beyond all of the green technologies we have here, we also have highly advanced tools for working with GPS data and scientific plotting to aid Environmental Studies courses in their recording and study of specific locales. We also have spectacular facilities for our arts department to edit videos and digital photography. And when it comes to being in the out-of-doors, we have so much top-notch gear that it makes me a little queasy sometimes (or at least the thought that I’ll never have that much fancy stuff does). There are certainly opportunities to have class experiences roughing it in the woods if you want to, but that is by no means the only option in a field course.

I’m extraordinarily excited to come back in a few years and see how all of these elements have been built upon and expanded. I know that every year I spend here I see our implementation and effective use of technology improving by leaps and bounds. We may never offer a major for computer technicians, but who knows. I think with enough time our college can accomplish whatever it wants, and maybe one day, with enough concentrated willpower and dedication, we can even have a new website.

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