November 19, 1999
Slowly, surely, the present is looking a lot like the future. Technology-driven support that would have been unimaginable to most members of the faculty only a few years ago has arrived at Tulane, and, while it is not necessarily revolutionizing the way courses are being taught, it is an important evolutionary step in the changing pedagogical model.
This fall, a growing number of instructors representing a cross section of Tulane’s schools and colleges are taking advantage of a new way to organize and present their course materials to students.
“Our sense was that faculty really wanted to put course material online,” says Hugh Lester, vice provost, “so we began to explore the possibilities for an integrated software package that could place syllabi, class notes, sample problems and test reviews on the Web, as well as provide for discussion options such as chat rooms for instructors and students.”
Meet CourseInfo, a powerful, friendly, Web-based software that allows instructors to move any information generated for the classroom onto the Web. The charge of first identifying and then managing the use of such a software package fell into the hands of the Academic Center for Learning, Research and Technology (ACLRT), which was formed last spring to provide a broad array of support to faculty.
According to Barbette Spaeth, associate professor of classical studies and interim director of the center, the endeavor has been a success. After selecting CourseInfo, ACLRT trained 14 faculty members in how to use it during a summer institute. It was a pilot program that quickly caught on with instructors across the university.
“Since we introduced the software in the summer, we have been advertising it and giving workshops on how to use it,” says Spaeth.
Currently, there are 135 instructors using CourseInfo in 142 courses. More than 2,700 students use it to get information about their classes. CourseInfo, which can be accessed by a Web browser once a course account is established through ACLRT, allows students and instructors to enter a virtual classroom where syllabi updates, supplemental reading, course assignments, sample quizzes and other information can be managed by the teacher.
There is a “digital drop box” that allows students to submit papers online and, if the instructor chooses, share them with other students. Students can use CourseInfo to communicate easily with each other and their instructor by e-mail or through chat rooms.
“I use the chat room the day before the test for review,” says James MacLaren, professor of physics and one of the original 14 faculty members to pioneer the use of CourseInfo. MacLaren says he is waiting on the delivery of an electronic graphic tablet that will allow him to scrawl equations onto CourseInfo’s “white board,” much like he would use a blackboard in class.
MacLaren has also begun to set up sample problems online in which students can plug in different numerical values to achieve different results. Other uses are more mundane. “I can remind them to wake up early on Tuesday because it’s test day,” he says.
Spaeth finds the flexibility and interactivity of the program exciting. “This technology facilitates active learning, which is what master teachers have promoted for quite a while,” she says. “It engages students in relational learning because they are better able to communicate with each other and their instructor.”
CourseInfo, which allows students to easily access multimedia simulations and interactive problem solving, also promotes experiential learning. When students in MacLaren’s introductory physics class go online to create a simulation of pool balls colliding with one another, they, in effect, become part of the physics lesson.
Currently, the center, which is staffed with four instructional technologists, is holding open workshops on a regular basis for faculty interested in getting up to speed on CourseInfo. Departmental and even one-on-one training also is available.
“We teach them how to scan images, use peripherals and use the software,” says Linda Wright, manager of instructional technology. “Lately, we’ve been bombarded by CourseInfo calls. We give phone, e-mail and walk-in support.”
The Academic Center for Learning, Research and Technology is temporarily using office space in the Educational Resources and Counseling Center. While ACLRT was chartered to support teaching and learning on the uptown campus, CourseInfo is a universitywide resource. Any members of the faculty wishing to open a CourseInfo account or find out more about CourseInfo can contact the center at courses@mailhost. tcs.tulane.edu.
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