Steven Jackson believes a university should be, first and foremost, about educating students, and that core belief will inspire him in his new role as vice provost for academic innovation (VPAI).

“My interest in the position really came from my central commitment as a teacher at Cornell,” said Jackson, professor in the Department of Information Science in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, with a dual appointment in the Department of Science and Technology Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S).

“Teaching is at the center of what we do,” Jackson said. “For me, teaching and research go together; they are very tightly intertwined.”

Jackson’s term officially begins July 1, although he’s been conducting meetings and easing into the role for several weeks, he said.

“Steve is passionate about his teaching and helping students realize their full potential through his work, both in the classroom and in the lab,” Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff said. “He is also a conscientious university citizen whose commitment to continually improving Cornell’s teaching and learning environment for students and faculty makes him an ideal fit for this role.”

The position, created in 2017 along with the Center for Teaching Innovation, was initially held by Julia Thom-Levy, professor of physics (A&S) and associate vice provost for physical sciences. John Siliciano ’75, professor of law in Cornell Law School and former deputy provost, has been in the role on an interim basis since October 2022.

“I also want to thank Julia for her dedication in five years as our inaugural VPAI, as well as John for stepping in on an interim basis,” Kotlikoff said. “So much has been accomplished since the center was launched and Julia’s leadership and vision have helped keep Cornell at the forefront of pedagogical innovation.”

While some people might equate innovation with technology, Jackson said, that’s only part of the story.

“Technology is a tool, to be sure, but for me, innovation in teaching is really about inviting and empowering a group of committed teachers to use their imagination, their creativity and the tools around them to think and do teaching in a different way,” said Jackson, whose fields of study include technology ethics, law and policy, and human-computer interaction, including the study of how users and groups collaborate around new computational tools and infrastructures. “And we should invite students to also engage in that process and be part of the ways in which we reinvent and reimagine teaching at Cornell.”

Jackson, formerly the chair of information science – as well as house professor-dean of Keeton House on West Campus from 2015-21 – hopes to engage faculty and students and do “a lot of listening” as he grows into his new role.

“The diversity and range of teaching that goes on at Cornell has become increasingly apparent to me. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said. “There are deep disciplinary traditions of teaching, and exciting examples of innovation and experiment that have been going on for decades.

“There’s also no one-size-fits-all when it comes to students, who aren’t just blank slates or empty vessels waiting to be filled,” he said. “Our students are coming from all kinds of backgrounds and perspectives, and it’s incumbent on us to bring this in as a resource and opportunity for learning.”

Jackson received his bachelor’s in English and creative writing in 1994 from Concordia University in Montreal; his master’s in political economy in 1999 from Carleton University in Ottawa; and his Ph.D. in communication and science studies in 2005 from the University of California, San Diego.

He spent six years on the faculty at the University of Michigan before joining Cornell in 2011.

By Tom Fleischman, Cornell Chronicle

This story was originally published in the Cornell Chronicle.