Oct 31 2006

Technology Separates World Class Universities

Tufts University President Lawrence S. Bacow makes the case that utilizing technology is key to achieving world-class status.

Using the Internet, Tufts extends its reach far beyond campus borders.

A great university encourages diversity in all its dimensions, including diversity of thought and ways of learning. Technology surely has a critical role to play as we bridge teaching and learning styles among disciplines, engage in innovative research, improve communications and launch initiatives that expand educational outreach to those beyond the campus borders.

The most recent example of Tufts' use of technology for the expansion of knowledge is the OpenCourse Ware project, which uses the power of the Internet to disseminate Tufts course content worldwide in disciplines such as health sciences and international relations. OCW was initiated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2002, and Tufts joined as a partner and launched its phase-one pilot project in 2005.

Anyone with Internet access can sample Tufts courses in medicine, veterinary medicine, nutrition, epidemiology, infectious diseases and nutrition public policy (tufts.edu). We plan to add courses in dental medicine and international affairs soon.

OCW is a natural expression of Tufts' institutional commitment to active citizenship. The technology enables us to extend our reach, to magnify the impact of our teaching and, hopefully, to empower others throughout the world so they may reach their full potential.

During the first month of the pilot phase, Tufts' OCW Web site received hits from China, Australia, Uruguay and Indonesia. We are already looking ahead to the second phase of the project, which will include additional course content, models and tools based on open source standards that will help other schools share course content more easily.

Tufts' OCW initiative grew out of our success with TUSK, the Tufts University Sciences Knowledgebase (tufts.edu), a fully sustainable curriculum delivery and knowledge management system that is used extensively by Tufts' health sciences schools, as well as by several other medical schools in the United States and Africa. TUSK began in 1995 as the Health Sciences Database. Its goals were to use technology to meet the clinical, educational, administrative and research challenges of training physicians and health-care professionals in a complex, volatile industry, in which managing and keeping course material current and integrated is crucial. It has achieved that–and more.

TUSK features integrated course materials such as lecture notes, anatomical illustrations, current journal articles, course syllabi, quizzes, audio and visual learning tools, course schedules and student course evaluations. We are currently piloting cutting-edge approaches that link knowledge resources to clinical care.

Technology Makes a Difference

The value of a technology-based approach to higher education is seen most visibly in the Global Master of Arts Program at the Fletcher School (tufts.edu/gmap). GMAP is a rigorous year-long graduate program in international affairs, designed for mid- to high-level professionals who are unable to attend a traditional residence-based program.

Our GMAP students live and work throughout the world, yet the class develops a wonderful camaraderie and cohesion. All students are given a notebook PC loaded with the required GMAP technology tools and are trained in their use. A Web site organizes information, posts a calendar and enables submission of assignments. E-mail, online discussion groups and real-time chat, and multimedia presentations that include video lectures foster ongoing conversation among participants.

Another example of how technology provides greater access to information, strengthens the quality of academic discourse, leads to new avenues of research and connects more people through ideas is the Perseus Project (tufts.edu). Tufts' flagship Perseus Digital Library collection covers Greco-Roman history and literature.

We have moved from having the world's largest online database of Latin and Greek texts and archeological finds to serving as a leading resource for those who study the impact of digital libraries within the humanities and beyond. Students, teachers and scholars use Perseus, but more than half our audience comes from an intellectually curious general public.

In April 2005, we provided more than 11 million pages to more than 400,000 unique users. By encouraging such projects, Tufts is furthering an environment in which scholarship is more widely available and encouraging inquiry into how technology can democratize information without compromising intellectual rigor.

Technology also plays an important role in Tufts' messaging and communications. About five years ago, we launched E-News (enews.tufts.edu), a daily Web posting of short stories and headlines that feature Tufts in media worldwide.

A weekly digest is e-mailed to 50,000 subscribers, including parents, faculty, staff and students, incoming students, alumni, other institutions, community leaders and news media. Similarly, the Tufts Today Network is broadcast to 13 oversized screens located in high-foot-traffic facilities on our campuses in Medford/Somerville, Boston and Grafton.

Once again, technology enables us to communicate better within our own community and to share institutional news with visitors. The network helps unify a university that operates across three Massachusetts campuses. Our next challenge will be to tie in our campus in Talloires, France.

Technology should bring students and faculty closer together. However, we have to resist the temptation to use it to reduce contact between students and their teachers, such as by substituting digitally archived material for live interaction.

As we go about our mission of educating students and generating new knowledge, we embrace technology to enhance teaching, learning, communication and community-building within our university and around the globe. With technology, there are no boundaries to our reach and to our ability to contribute to the education and empowerment of people near and far.


LOCATION: Medford/Somerville, Mass.
STUDENTS: 8,500 (worldwide)
SCHOOLS & COLLEGES: total of 8 undergraduate and graduate

Putting Technology to Work

• Disseminate course content worldwide.

• Share course content with other educational institutions.

• Develop a knowledge management system to facilitate research.

• Create a sense of community between students and faculty.

• Expand educational outreach to those beyond the campus borders.

• Encourage collaboration among students in disparate locations.

• Share information with the general public.

• Strengthen internal communications and external relationships.


Lawrence S. Bacow is president of Tufts University in Medford/Somerville, Mass.

PRESIDENT: Tufts' 12th, Sept. 1, 2001
DEGREES: B.S., economics, M.I. T.; J.D., Harvard Law School; M.P.P. and Ph.D., Harvard's Kennedy School of Government
PREVIOUS POSITION: Chancellor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MARATHONS: Three (two Boston Marathons)