TechTalk lecture series kicks off Feb. 12

“TechTalk Thursdays,” a series of five interdisciplinary lectures by Sweet Briar faculty on “Technology for the Liberal Arts” (TLA), will be held during lunch in Prothro Hall beginning Thursday, Feb. 12.

The series’ organizers, visiting assistant professor of business Tom Loftus and academic technology trainer and consultant Tom Marcais, will present the first TechTalk — “I Want to Sell Online … But Don’t Know Where to Start!” — at noon in Josey Dining Room.

Tom Loftus
Tom Loftus

The schedule also includes Spanish instructor Mike Brunelle, who will talk about “Applying Fundamentals of Graphic Design to the Web” on Feb. 19; mathematics professor Steve Wassell, who, with Marcais, will present on “Demystifying Web & Mobile App Development” on Feb. 26; associate professor of theatre arts Loretta Wittman and her talk on “Finding Your Light: The Use of Media Tools for Artists in the Age of Technology” on March 5; and assistant professor of English and director of the Blue Ridge Summer Institute for Young Artists Eric Caldwell, who will share insight on “Developing an Internet and Social Media Campaign for the BLUR Summer Arts Program” on March 19.

TechTalks are Visible Vixen events and are open to all interested students, faculty and staff. Participants who attend each lecture and complete a follow-up questionnaire will receive a USB stick with all PowerPoint presentations. All lectures will also be videotaped for those unable to attend the event. Lunch will be provided free of charge to faculty.

Loftus says the idea for TechTalks came up last spring, when he began developing a web and social media course for students, faculty and staff with Marcais.

“While everyone in the campus community uses the web and various social media, very few have learned how to analyze and optimize these channels of communication effectively,” Loftus says. “Also, many are interested in selling products over the web and have expressed an interest in learning more about eCommerce.”

The team offered “Social Media Analytics, Search Engine Optimization and eCommerce” as a BUSN 261 Directed Study last semester.

“We were hoping for three or four students to enroll to help us test the concept and course materials, and were delighted and surprised when eleven people chose to take the course, including four Sweet Briar full-time staff members,” Loftus recalls.

Tom Marcais
Tom Marcais

Clearly, there was an interest in learning more about technology in the liberal arts, and it extended beyond the student body, encompassing every department on campus. Creating a series of TechTalks that would take place during a time convenient for most community members seemed like a logical next step — but it is only part of the plan.

Loftus says TechTalks will culminate in “the first annual Sweet Briar TechFest,” set for 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 pm. Thursday, March 26, in Josie Dining Room. Project 306 business students will help plan the event.

“Students, faculty and staff who have used any kind of technology in creative and innovative ways will be invited to share their projects with the campus community,” Loftus says. “We are currently envisioning something along the lines of the fall MARCUS conference, with posters, demonstrations and short talks by the participants.”

Going forward, Loftus envisions even more technology talk at Sweet Briar.

“Based on the enthusiastic response we have received so far, Tom Marcais and I are also exploring the possibility of organizing a TLA summer seminar for interested Sweet Briar faculty,” he says. “In addition to improving the understanding and use of technology by Sweet Briar faculty across the disciplines, this seminar would allow participants to work together to begin developing additional interdisciplinary TLA courses, with the goal of perhaps eventually implementing a new certificate program in TLA.”

Courses for the TLA Certificate might include “Designing for the Web,” “Writing for the Web,” “Video Production for the Web,” “Music for the Web” and “Web and App Development,” Loftus says.

“We would appreciate additional ideas for appropriate new courses, as well as suggestions on which existing courses, such as “Digital Design,” “JAVA” and “Electronic Music,” could serve as electives in this new certificate program.”