When it comes to using digital technologies to enrich teaching and learning, the devil is often in the details. Yes, students should be given assignments that ask them to incorporate visual materials in expressing ideas and making arguments. But how should staff members and faculty members coordinate support for such assignments–and does the word “support” communicate the right message to students? Yes, it makes sense to collaborate across institutional boundaries to make Moodle work for liberal arts colleges or to create a true community of practice for faculty members isolated by discipline. But how do you really make collaboration work across distance? Yes, innovators on small campuses have developed projects that push students to engage rigorously with historical research or current, global concerns. But what did it take to develop–and what will it take to maintain–these projects?
With this issue, Academic Commons and the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) join forces to provide the liberal arts community with an opportunity to share and discuss the details that make a difference. Each of the case studies presented here closely examines how practitioners developed specific projects and collaborations and explores the lessons learned along the way. We invite you to read these studies, offer comments, ask questions, and share them with colleagues. What lessons have you learned from your own work on campus that would apply to these cases? What insights do the authors offer that might influence you to work differently? And, as Academic Commons has historically asked, how do these cases help us understand what it means to be liberally educated in a digital age?
Finally, a word about the Academic Commons-NITLE partnership. Late last year, as the economic crisis unfolded, Academic Commons and NITLE saw an opportunity to work together to promote the effective use of digital technologies in liberal education. The NITLE Community Contribution Award recognizes exemplary projects and offers awardees a small honorarium and an opportunity to publish a case study with Academic Commons. In challenging times, innovation makes a difference, as does sharing knowledge developed in process; where we can learn from good projects developed by our own practitioners and leaders, we should. It is in this spirit that Academic Commons and NITLE offer this issue, “Innovative Practices for Challenging Times,” and thank the featured authors for their work. If you would like to nominate a project for the next round of awards, please contact Michael Nanfito (firstname.lastname@example.org) by November 16, 2009.