St. Olaf News
St. Olaf hosts grand opening for new digital scholarship center
February 29, 2016
St. Olaf College students will no longer find stacks of books or quiet study nooks on the fourth floor of Rolvaag Memorial Library.
Instead, they’ll find a newly designed space featuring media production workstations, 3D and large-format printers, an audio recording studio, a video recording room, and a computer classroom.
Welcome to the Digital Scholarship Center at St. Olaf (DiSCO), a new space dedicated to the creative application of technology in learning, teaching, and research.
The center — which has been open since the beginning of the semester and will host a series of grand-opening events this week — is already routinely bustling with students and faculty members working on a wide range of projects.
That comes as no surprise to the college’s instructional technologists and librarians, who have seen a steady growth in the number of technology-based research projects in recent years — from sociology students creating podcasts about public health issues to physics students creating videos that explain Newtonian mechanics to music students creating an interactive map of 1924 Paris.
The DiSCO provides a central hub for this creative work and a space where library and IT staff can interact with faculty and student researchers from the conceptual stage of a project through its completion.
“DiSCO is really a physical reflection of the ways in which the work of the library and IT staff are increasingly merging and melding. It is a place where content and technologies come together to form new individual and collaborative scholarship,” says Roberta Lembke, whose own role at St. Olaf — as the director of both IT and the libraries — has been instrumental in that change. “The goal of this new space is to more fully support hands-on digital scholarship and learning.”
The center is staffed by instructional technologists and Digital Scholarship Interns (highly skilled student workers) who are available to assist students, faculty, and staff in using DiSCO resources and learning how to use media production equipment and software.
A national trend
An increasing number of colleges and universities are establishing digital scholarship centers, but they are most often found at large research institutions. St. Olaf is among just a handful of liberal arts colleges that have devoted this level of physical space and resources to support the growing number of academic projects that utilize digital tools.
Many of those projects at St. Olaf have emerged from the college’s Digital Humanities on the Hill initiative, which provides faculty in the humanities and related fields with tools to explore new ways of teaching and new lines of inquiry for their research.
Many other projects, though, simply reflect the increasing role that technology is playing in all forms of scholarship. And that trend is not driven solely by course assignments.
“Students are increasingly tech-savvy and are looking for increasingly advanced tools to aid with their scholarship,” says Reference and Instruction/Emerging Technologies Librarian Jason Paul.
Early reports indicate that they’re already finding those resources in the DiSCO.
“I love having access to powerful software and devices that I would never be able to purchase on my own,” says St. Olaf student Phil Capra ’16, a regular user of the space who notes that library and IT staff are always on hand in the DiSCO to provide guidance and training. “And having experience with things like the Camtasia software and video editing may be valuable or transferable to my future employers, so I like that aspect of it.”
First-year student Salvador Alvarez, who has been producing music since he was 14 and hosts an occasional radio show on KSTO, uses the audio room in the DiSCO at least once a week.
“I primarily use the space to mix and master tracks, or work with people to record vocals for my radio show on campus or their original music,” he says, adding that what he finds most useful is that there are a variety of microphone options. He’ll share some of his work during the urban music festival that he’s hosting on campus at the beginning of April.
In addition to providing students and faculty with the space to work on individual projects, the DiSCO will host regular workshops and sessions on technology and research. For example, an instructional technologist might partner with a research and instruction librarian to present a workshop on researching materials for use in building a WordPress website for a class assignment.
DiSCO staff members hope that the resources available in the space will provide students with the opportunity to not only learn to use digital tools, but to better understand how they can use those tools to make meaningful contributions to scholarship.
“The goal is to help students realize that they don’t just have to be consumers of information,” Paul says. “They can be producers of information, too.”