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Monday, January 6, 2003

  • Here comes the winter term
  • Big future is seen for online research
  • Grebel prof honoured with a book
Chris Redmond

And how will you be celebrating Twelfth Night?

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  • Here comes the winter term

    Classes are under way, on this snowy January morn, and will end in just 88 days (or sooner in engineering and mathematics, which have a shorter "reading" break in mid-February). But a lot can be done in 88 days -- there should be time to drop in at the first party of the year, "Fed 102" tonight at Federation Hall.

    The libraries resume regular hours today. And the bookstore, as well as the UW Shop and Techworx, will have extended hours today through Thursday, operating 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to deal with the textbook rush. Also to help with the beginning-of-term rush, key control will be open 8:30 to 4:30 all this week, without the usual noon-hour closing.

    The executive committee of UW's senate will meet at 3:30 today (Needles Hall room 3004) to set the agenda for this month's meeting of the full senate, two weeks from today. One major item is a report on the past year's entrance scholarships.

    Students who will graduate this spring will want to make time for an information session about jobs, tomorrow morning in the Humanities Theatre. The co-op and career services department will be briefing students about the graduating interview process, "developing a personal career goal", and the services the department can provide, for students in both co-op and regular programs. Tomorrow's session runs from 10 a.m. to noon; there will be a repeat session on Thursday at 1 p.m., same location.

    For new graduate students, "Welcome Week" runs tomorrow through the weekend, with special events and a chance to meet leaders of the Graduate Student Association and the university. First up: "refreshments and prizes" tomorrow from 1 to 3 p.m. at the "fishbowl" lounge in the Davis Centre.

    Now back to the matter of snow. UW grounds supervisor Les VanDongen sends a reminder that shovellers are wanted: "Any time we have an inch of snow or more, show up at the Grounds Section of the GSC building at 7:30 a.m. ready to work outside. Shovels are provided. Pay is $9.00 an hour." Got questions? Call VanDongen at 888-4010.

    Big future is seen for online research

    Much more research should be done by part-time graduate students working in "distributed teams" from wherever they happen to be in Canada, says a report to the three national granting councils.

    [Carey] The report, titled Expanding the National Research Base, comes from a Task Force on Virtual Universities and Online Learning, chaired by Tom Carey (right), who is associate vice-president (learning resources and innovation) at UW. It came as a discussion paper late in 2002 to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

    The report explains that its "initial inquiry focus was defined by NSERC around the opportunities and challenges presented by 'virtual' graduate programs -- programs using information and communications technologies to mediate interactions amongst students and research scholars (and thus to potentially replace some, or all, of traditional campus-based interactions)."

    But the scope got bigger, as the task force "concluded that the emergence of new forms of graduate study was one aspect of a larger trend to distributed online research communities. As a consequence, our recommendations bear on all three areas in the mandate of the granting agencies: (1) supporting Canadian research communities, (2) research training to recruit and prepare the next generation of scholars and researchers, and (3) research-based innovation, specifically to ensure that Canada takes full advantage of the new opportunities for learning."

    Some excerpts:

    The new forms of electronic communication are encouraging research projects to become much more collaborative, as scholars in separate locations share not only the research findings but even the research process itself -- the data and analytical steps -- often in real time. The result is that the research community for a project expands beyond the walls of a single institution to encompass an online network of researchers located anywhere, even travelling. A project can therefore draw upon physically distant expertise; and an expert can take part in a physically distant project. Project participation is facilitated as electronic presence supplements physical presence. Research communities are therefore increasingly geographically distributed and more mobile in composition and duration. . . .

    Canada has a competitive need and a national strategy to greatly expand its research potential, a deep pool of underutilized research resources, and an exceptional penetration of broadband Internet access. These needs and advantages can be put together through distributed online research methods and groups. The Task Force therefore calls for a national program of support for distributed online research collaboration. . . .

    The national Innovation Strategy requires Canada to double the number of researchers in its labour force over the next decade -- the very period when universities expect a wave of retirements of senior researchers. On the other hand, Canada has a broad population of university graduates already in the workforce who are able and eager to improve their research skills, provided they do not have to attend classes full-time. The new availability of online research training is key to matching the supply with the demand. Online technologies will enable learners to upgrade their skills in a fully flexible variety of ways while these learners support new research projects in a form of on-the-job training. Compensating for the part-time nature of their research training will be a set of advantages that come from greater experience, and often from doing daily work directly in their research fields.

    The Task Force emphasizes (with illustrations) both the variety of these new research recruits and their diverse needs. Prominent among the latter are access to well-developed forms of online interaction with colleagues and instructors to compensate for their otherwise solitary situation and access to improved online learning resources of many types. The Task Force also discusses various kinds of support and resources that would help research faculty improve the training experience they offer. . . .

    The field of online learning itself constitutes an emerging and crucial area for Canadian innovation and leadership. The leading edge is the development of new online methods within each discipline, conducted by scholars in that discipline to make their instruction more effective. Whereas international innovation in online learning has focused on education and undergraduate training, Canada has the opportunity to provide innovation leadership in online graduate instruction -- research training. Such a strategic focus would coincide with other priorities discussed in this report and utilize particular Canadian advantages: existing initiatives, a convergence of interest among agencies and potential partners, and the long-term perspectives of the research granting agencies. The Task Force emphasizes the importance of sharing best practices, calls for a special program to promote discipline-based online learning, and recommends a three-year demonstration project.

    The task force report is now to be sent out among Canada's universities for comment. It's available on the NSERC web site.

    Grebel prof honoured with a book -- a news release from Conrad Grebel University College

    Friends and colleagues gathered together on December 10 to honour Werner O. Packull with the publication of a festschrift -- a book of essays inspired by his ideas and research. The event was a surprise celebration and marks 20 years at Conrad Grebel University College and 31 years at UW.

    John Toews, Conrad Grebel president, commented that Packull "has been a model teacher, scholar, and colleague. He is held in highest esteem by faculty, students, and staff. When Werner retires at the end of June 2003, the college will miss his disciplined presence, his warm spirit, his gift for story telling, his sense of humour, and his and his wife Karin's gracious hospitality."

    Packull was totally taken aback by the celebration and the festschrift. He said, "I was very moved by this event and never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be the beneficiary of a festschrift. I'm indebted to my colleagues and all the contributors, but particularly thrilled that members of my immediate family had been invited, also my Doktorvater (doctoral father), James Stayer, and the three PhD students I had supervised. . . . It will remain the most memorable event of my career at Grebel!"

    [Two men and a book]

    Arnold Snyder (left) and Werner Packull with the festschrift at its launch last month

    The festschrift, officially called Commoners and Community: Essays in Honour of Werner O. Packull and spearheaded by C. Arnold Snyder at Pandora Press, is a compilation of original studies by thirteen leading scholars. Snyder writes in the Editor's Introduction, "It is a celebratory volume composed of essays honouring a person we value and respect highly, and his significant body of academic work. Contributors were invited to participate because of significant personal and academic relationships to Werner Packull: former PhD students, colleagues, and academic collaborators from around the world."

    As a scholar of the Reformation, especially the so-called Radical Reformation at the roots of the Mennonite movement, Packull has written several books and numerous articles, chapters, reviews, and translations. He is recognized as the world's expert in the history of sixteenth-century Anabaptist communities in Moravia, marked by the publication of the critically-acclaimed Hutterite Beginnings: Communitarian Experiments during the Reformation (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).

    During the December celebration, Edmund Pries, a former doctoral student, summed up his experience of Packull very well. He said "I was granted the grace and opportunity in life to have Werner Packull as my Doktorvater, my doctoral father, and to be his student in the fullest sense of the word. This relationship which was both an academic and a personal relationship and fortunately for me still continues in the personal vein, is one I will continue to cherish for all of my life."


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