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Using Technology In The Classroom

October 1, 1998

Mary Ann Travis

Think about a class in which students don't copy notes from a blackboard. During class discussion, students and professor are fully engaged in dialog. Points to be emphasized are written onto a large, computer-connected "whiteboard." At the end of class, the notes are printed out for everyone to take with them.

Hugh Lester knows this idea might not appeal to all faculty. It's just one among many options that he, as vice provost, is exploring to use technology to enhance learning.

"The reason I took this position," says Lester, "is that all the issues I'm involved in relate in one way or another to supporting and improving the environment for learning."

Lester, who also has been promoted to professor of theatre, says there is not enough technological support for faculty who want to try new pedagogical approaches. Now, however, Lester can provide support in a major way. He is ready to hire six staff members for the newly created Center for Learning, Research and Technology.

Four of the positions are for technology support personnel to assist faculty in the use of information technology. Each of the four will have a specific field of expertise: math and science, humanities and language, social sciences and social work, and fine arts and architecture.

One of the other new positions is for a Web master "to answer all of the questions that faculty have about getting their courses on line and using the Web in the most efficient way," says Lester. The sixth new position is for a faculty development specialist, who, according to Lester, is "someone who is not necessarily just technologically savvy, but who is trained to help faculty develop and explore various ways of teaching adaptations."

Derek Toten, who is currently director of multimedia, will also be associated with the center. Toten will "provide help for people who are beginning to work in the multimedia aspects of using film, video, television or CD-ROM," says Lester.

As part of the whole initiative to encourage faculty to use technology in new and innovative ways, provost Martha Gilliland and Lester announced last spring, as they will again this fall, that there is approximately $125,000 available for faculty-sponsored academic-enhancement technology projects. Ten projects from 22 proposals last spring were funded, ranging from a social work geographic field map to creation of a digital archive of the MesoAmerican pictorial manuscripts. (See page 3 for related story.)

Lester is convinced that faculty members have many other technological notions that they'd like to try. "From the simplest thing of using overhead Power-Point slides to videotapes to enrich classes to however they want to use technology, faculty have new ideas to share, but they have to have the facilities to do it," Lester says.

To meet the need for proper facilities, Lester is developing a flexible, technology-enabling plan for Room 200, Newcomb Hall, which was one of five classrooms targeted in a breakthrough project last spring. The Provost's Council, a group of young Tulane graduates from across the country, has agreed to help raise funds for the $100,000 pilot project.

One of the most innovative features of the pilot classroom will be its ability to handle 40 wireless laptop computers that are connected to the Internet with infrared or radio-frequency technology.

"If you are in class and want to share information from the Internet, you can connect to it without plugging into an outlet," says Lester.

Lester's focus on technology extends beyond the classroom to the library. He's also charged with addressing issues involved in rethinking the structure of the library and how it functions within a modern technological environment. All of this is logical, he says, if "you begin to think in terms of integrating all of the informational resources." Despite his focus on technology, Lester says his real passion and commitment are for supporting the learning community at Tulane.

"How do we learn better, all of us?" he asks. "How do we involve all of us within this endeavor of the creation, accumulation and transmittal of knowledge? That's what learning's about. Our students and we, the professors within the university, want a more active and interactive environment in which to learn. Our research is part of that. We learn from our research and from our interaction with our students and with our colleagues. I don't think I would have taken this position if it didn't involve that kind of transformational learning approach."

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