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University hires digital officer

Lesley Stevenson | Thursday, April 11, 2013

Among several technology-based initiatives in the works for next year, the University created a new position called chief academic digital officer to promote digital learning and appointed Elliott Visconsi to fill the position, according to a University press release.  

Visconsi, associate professor of English and concurrent associate professor of law, said he will work to guide and support students and faculty in technology research, investment and application.

“What we are trying to do is figure out [is] how do we integrate digital tools into our overall educational mission?” Visconsi said. “How do we integrate these things in a meaningful way that doesn’t demote the quality of the student experience, that enhances the bond between students and faculty?”

The need for this position comes as the University explores the role of digital tools in higher education, University provost Thomas  Burish said in the press release.

“Online learning and the digital academic environment in higher education have been growing and developing rapidly over the past decade, and the potential advantages and pitfalls for the higher education industry and institutions like Notre Dame are both enormous and complex,” Burish said.

Visconsi said he envisions a digital strategy that “will expand the campus a little bit and give people newer options that are non-competitive with the options on campus,” he said.

Visconsi said his goals for the coming academic year include promoting and facilitating student engagement with digital media and technology, assisting with the increased use of digital tools by faculty and expanding Notre Dame’s involvement with digital solutions, particularly through expanded online course offerings.

“At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do with this job is really build an integrated University-wide strategy that is always going to put quality at the very forefront,” he said. “We must protect the quality of the student experience, we must protect the quality of the faculty experience and use these tools as enhancements to get people further into the curriculum.”

Students who create digital solutions to existing problems might benefit from the new digital initiatives through increased University support, Visconsi said. Incentives for innovation may include grants, prizes or general recognition, he said.

“There’s so much we can do to harness the creativity and energies of students,” he said.

Visconsi said he also hopes to see cutting-edge technologies find a physical home at Notre Dame.

“I would like to put student creativity and energy to work potentially in the form of something you’d call an innovation lab, meaning a hub or a space where students can come at all hours, where there are certain kinds of hardware [like] 3-D printers and fancy technology that would be a gathering space,” he said.

The space could also support visitors from corporations like Microsoft and sponsor events discussing digital solutions, Visconsi said. In addition, he said hopes to foster connections among students in a variety of fields sharing a common interest in digital strategies.

Visconsi’s resume and academic research focus primarily on literature and law during the 17th and 18th centuries. He developed an iPad app called “The Tempest for iPad” to give users an immersive experience into the Shakespeare play, an experience he said offered him more insight into digital media.

“What is literary studies but a subset of the analysis of mediation? We can think in really historical, philosophical or ethical ways about the relationship between form and content,” he said.

Ultimately, Visconsi said he hopes new digital strategies will complement Notre Dame’s pre-existing academic ideals.

“The most importantly social network that we will ever build is the network between faculty and students, the personal connection,” he said. “That is the core of what we’re trying to offer as a University. These digital tools are not meant to replace that effort but to enhance it.”

Contact Lesley Stevenson at lsteven1@nd.edu