Digital media introduced in U classrooms

by Erin Ghere

Overheads, filmstrips and even VCRs are on their way out of many University classrooms as newer technology moves in.
PowerPoint presentations, CD-ROMs, listservs and Web pages are taking over as faculty members increase their knowledge and usage of technological advances.
In recent years, the University has requested increased legislative funding for technology initiatives, including nearly $1 million last year.
Recent funding helped the University establish the Digital Media Center and has aided faculty members, including political science professor Steve Smith, to keep their courses in tune with technology.
Although Smith has had a course-information Web page for some time, this fall, Smith’s students will take eight online quizzes through a password-protected program licensed by the Digital Media Center.
All of the quizzes are open-book, objective exams available from any Internet-connected computer for a five- to seven-day period.
“You are a generation of students who live with computers, and you think of that as the new way to learn,” said Fred Morrison, law professor and Faculty Consultative Committee chairman.
Students expect to see technology in their classrooms, and it is the way people learn today, Morrison added.
The student advantage
Using technology in classrooms has advantages for students and faculty members.
“(Technology) does give us access to a much wider variety of material that we can bring to the classroom and make come alive for students,” Morrison said.
J.D. Walker, a faculty consultant at the Digital Media Center, said technology has three main educational benefits.
First, technology enhances course content, he said. Through Web pages, CD-ROMs, interactive tutorials, graphics, sound files, movie files and more, faculty members can cater to a variety of learning styles.
“Professors can organize their classes to appeal to different kinds of learners within the same class,” Walker said.
If students are taught in the way they learn best, teaching is more effective, Morrison said.
Second, technology can make education more accessible. Walker said he is working with a veterinary medicine professor to prepare a distance-education course for out-state Minnesota veterinarians who would not otherwise have access to University courses.
Lastly, technology allows students and professors to interact in new ways, including chat rooms, listservs and e-mail.
Smith said the biggest advantage of online course work is the increased time he can spend teaching.
“Three hours are freed up for more meaningful interaction between me and my students,” he said, referring to time when students would be taking tests in class.
In addition, he said students have more flexibility in taking quizzes, can get instant grade feedback and are able to track their grades online.
“They really can take the quizzes anytime they want,” he said, adding that some students might be at a better position to take the exams in the evening than during his afternoon class.
Each 25- to 30-question exam has a 30-minute time limit, so students cannot look for answers for too long.
Smith said that exams are written ahead of time and are programmed to be available during certain periods of time.
But Smith said the program is flexible enough so that if he is behind in lectures, he can change quiz dates.
History professor Sara Evans said technology makes her classes “smoother,” without filmstrip or video complications, for example.
In lecture courses, technology will also help students to see and hear the material, she said.
“The use of technology allows you to teach in ways that enhance learning,” she said.
The faculty advantage
Technology not only allows faculty to enhance their teaching, it also gives them contact with new information.
“Technology allows for more contact with sources, information and students in other places,” Morrison said.
Walker said faculty members who come to the Digital Media Center are often looking for ideas or help implementing ideas they already have.
“We do a lot of consulting with faculty about the uses of technology in the classroom,” Walker said.
He said part of the center’s mission is to advise faculty in applying digital technology to education.
Linda Jorn, director of the media center, said the two main barriers for faculty are access and time.
To alleviate faculty members’ concerns, the center offered faculty workshops and distributed free CD-ROMs with information about classroom technology in late September.
The University is also “moving forward in imaging, wireless communication, e-commerce and other technologies,” University President Mark Yudof said during his Sept. 30 State of the University address.
Other advances
Other examples of increased technology can be found all around campus, including the Murphy Hall renovation. After renovation, the journalism building will include multimedia classrooms, modern research labs and new production facilities, giving students the most up-to-date information and experience in print and broadcast journalism.
Additionally, the College of Education and Human Development recently received a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to train education students and current teachers to better utilize technology.
“We (must provide) adequate opportunities for teachers to learn to teach with — not just operate — new technologies,” said Sara Dexter, grant coordinator and a researcher at the college’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement.
Other Minnesota schools are going even farther than the University in getting technology in the classroom.
“In one of my classes, everyone has a laptop,” said Kris Junker, a Winona State University senior studying marketing. “There are some people that type like mad taking notes, but there are others that send e-mail during class.”
Winona State University is one of several experimental laptop universities in the state.

Erin Ghere covers faculty and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3217.