October 30, 2000
Building a virtual community
By Stacia Brown
Being one of LearnLinks public faces has its moments. Theres
the satisfaction that comes from seeing more than 648 Emory courses each
semester utilize Learnlink to enhance their learning environment. Or theres
the feeling of accomplishment from teaching technology-wary faculty to
navigate the system with ease.
But it also has its ironies. I have to buy a new pair of glasses
every six months, admitted Adam Lipkin, educational analyst for
ITDs Teaching and Research Services. They dont even
last long enough for me to donate them to Lenscrafters charity giveaways.
For Lipkin, who began his technology career with an unlikely degree in
English, working for LearnLink requires two kinds of vision: the foresight
to construct a user-friendly educational tool for faculty, staff and students,
and the imagination to shape a network community at Emory
Lipkins liberal arts training is more relevant to these visions
than one might think. Being able to talk Shakespeare or Marlowe helps
him connect with humanities faculty, particularly those whose eyes glaze
over when phrases like ethernet connection or file transfer
My work is actually helped by the fact that I studied English rather than computer science or technology, he said. I can go into a humanities classroom and understand more quickly the project or course that a professor wants to put online.
An increasing number of faculty are taking Lipkin and his colleagues
up on their offers of assistance. Carol Herron, professor and chair of
French and Italian, uses LearnLink to house a number of course conferences.
Anyone can do it, she said. It has helped to create
the paperless classroom in our French language classes; all compositions
are sent to instructors via LearnLink.
The growing number of LearnLink enthusiasts also means an increasing
amount of traffic. ITD reports indicate system use has risen by nearly
50 percent since last year, with anywhere from 75,000 to 250,000 messages
routed daily and 40 percent of the Universitys classes online and
Since the systems creation in 1992 by Sean Murphy and Pat Marsteller,
LearnLink has expanded to more than 20,000 users, including both Emory
users and K-12 teachers across Georgia.
The LearnLink gurus have their work cut out for them. While Lipkin works
primarily with faculty, Kathy Gardner serves as educational analyst for
students. Patricia Goddard works as LearnLinks business analyst,
and Kelly Laurie is the system administrator for Enterprise Service Systems.
Their combined vision is one of the reasons Lipkin feels at home with
LearnLink. As an Emory senior, he worked as a sales clerk in the Computer
Store. Shortly after he graduated, ITD offered Lipkin a position as a
local support specialist within teaching and research services.
But it was not until Gary Falcons departure from LearnLink in 1999
that the possibility of working full time with the system presented itself.
It was an opportunity Lipkin couldnt pass up.
I want to stay in academics and technology, he said. Its
an incredibly rewarding area. And although its more work than if
I worked in a business or technology firm, its actually less stressful.
Were not in it for the bottom line; were in it for education.
This pursuit of an online educational community keeps him hopping. There
is no typical work day for me, Lipkin said. I
answer e-mail questions. I present to classes. I train faculty and graduate
students and facilitate orientation sessions. I work on special projects.
I use LearnLink to help coordinate major Emory events like the presidents
town hall. I work on grant proposals.
Despite his busy-ness, Lipkin doesnt believe in all work and no
play. When hes not solving faculty conferencing crises, hes
writing reviews for
www.rambles.net, an online journal for mythic fiction and
Theres this horrible fallacy of fantasy being all elves and
hobbits and Mercedes Lackey-style pap, Lipkin said, when most
of the bestand adultworks are much more subtle.
That passion for the imaginative also has Lipkin envisioning the future
of LearnLink. Id like to see it help Emory students overcome
the sense of apathy they are reputed to have, he said. And
Id like it to provide a way for Emory to be more involved in metro
Lipkin imagines LearnLink as a place for public forums on local concerns
such as environmental issues and MARTA restructuring. LearnLink
could be a tool for this on the web, he said. Since LearnLink is
accessible through the Internet, he explained, the possibility exists
for certain conferences to be opened up for public or local discussion.
While these public forums are still in the envisioning stage, the success
of various internal Emory forums bodes well for future expansion. Anthony
Martins Ask a Scientist conference offers students the
chance to ask any and all questions related to scientific study. Steven
Kraftchicks Ask a Dean site offers theology students
the opportunity to pose questions to their administrator without having
to schedule appointments first.
LearnLink is becoming our online community, Lipkin said.
In fact, some Emory students develop friendships with each other
that are almost entirely e-mail based.
While a virtual relationship may be unsettling for those
who associate their undergraduate years with typewriters and mimeographs,
for todays students, its just another way to find connections.
And for Lipkin, its a reminder that envisioning the future sometimes
requires the willingness to put on new glasses.