October 6, 2001
The Innovative Learning Center doesn't yet have a sign on its doors in Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, but the opalescent orange walls say it all. "It makes a statement," executive director Hugh Lester says of the striking appearance. "We wanted to show we were different."
The Innovative Learning Center, formerly known as ACLRT, moved into a new 3,500-square-foot space in August, giving the ILC a space where Lester says it can better fulfill its role as a one-stop shop for faculty interested in incorporating technology in the classroom. The facility, which the ILC shares with the Center for Library User Education (CLUE), boasts seven workstations and two high-tech computer classrooms designed expressly for teaching technology.
Faculty members can stop at the center to scan images, digitize audio or video, burn CDs or attend workshops on the use of Blackboard, PowerPoint, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash or other multimedia software. The center also conducts custom training sessions for departments and personalized training and consulting. "This is about new ways to explore the discipline and studying how students learn," says Lester, who became executive director of the center in June when Barbette Spaeth left to accept an appointment at the College of William and Mary.
"That's why it becomes logical for us to partner with the library. We're supporting faculty and the library is supporting students in the same way. The roots of the ILC go back to 1998 when an ad hoc committee of the University Senate proposed a center to support learning. We did a number of focus groups, and one of the things that kept coming up was the lack of support for technology, which encompassed everything from hooking up your computer in your office to getting on the Internet," Lester says.
In addition to upgrading campus computer infrastructure and tech support, $250,000 was earmarked for a center to support faculty interested in using the university's technology to develop innovative pedagogy. The center was founded in February 1999, and its mouthful of a name, the Academic Centers for Learning, Research and Technology, was pared down at the beginning of the summer to better reflect its mission.
The area of support the ILC is most associated with--and probably its biggest success story--has been Blackboard, the university's online course-management system. Faculty members can use the Blackboard system to do everything from posting syllabi and assignments to hosting student message boards and chat rooms.
Associate provost James Maclaren, who used Blackboard to post his Powerpoint notes for his Physics 135 course online, says his students reaction to the system was overwhelmingly positive. "You look at their access times," he notes. "They log on when I'm asleep in the middle of the night and they access all of the notes. And I think that's great."
Maclaren even used Blackboard's chat function to hold online office hours. "Sometimes it's difficult in a large class to schedule a time of the day when everybody could be there, but most people had time in the evenings," he says. "So I would go online for an hour and answer any questions that they had on the course."
Lester adds that student demand is fueling the growth of Blackboard as more and more faculty members encounter students who have come to expect courses on Blackboard. In spring 2001, 280 courses were on Blackboard.
As of late August, the number for the fall semester was 300 and rising fast. In addition to supporting and training for Blackboard, the ILC also provides support for unique technology-oriented projects. Bill Tronzo, professor of art, brought to the center an idea he had for an image database to accompany his seminar, Landscape and Memory. Tronzo was interested in making available to students archival drawings depicting New Orleans gardens of the 19th century.
Rather than simply letting students browse a list of drawings, Tronzo wanted to link the drawings to a city map. The resulting database enabled students to geographically visualize the gardens. "It gives them the possibility to conjure up the city three dimensionally," Tronzo says. "It positions these images in a topographic matrix so you see them in relation to the plan of the city."
Tronzo says he was thrilled with the result and hopes to tap the ILC for other projects that utilize technology to enhance learning. "I'm all for technology if it makes a substantive contribution to teaching," Tronzo says. "Its entertainment value is high, but it also contributes to learning in a substantive way."
A complete list of Innovative Learning Center programs and services is available at the ILC Website, http://ilc.tulane.edu.
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