Professors look to technological innovations to enhance the classroom

By Annie Urso

Chalkboards and textbooks used to rule the classroom, but some professors are applying new approaches to teaching.

New technological tools and scenarios are motivating students to take a more interactive role in class, said Kathi Kern, a history professor.

Professors are utilizing more technology — like programs to create digital documentaries and podcasts, as well as the Second Life virtual world — to allow students to work together and to give them a new approach to learning, Kern said.

“When my students were only writing papers, it was a very private, individualized learning experience,” Kern said. “Now students are actively engaging each other with the content of course.”

Kern assigns students in her history of women class (HIS 405) to create short, digital documentaries.

“For most students, it’s a totally positive experience,” Kern said. “They like it because they are doing something creative. Sometimes there’s a tad of frustration with the technology — like when it fails — but for the most part, students really end the semester with a sense of pride and achievement.”

Hannah Alsgaard, a student in Kern’s class last semester, said using the documentary program in the classroom is a good alternative and is effective. Alsgaard enjoyed the digital documentary so much that she used the method on a final project in a different class.

“(The technology) can be frustrating at times, but the sense of achievement when you have managed to produced a digital story is phenomenal,” Alsgaard said. “It is something different, yet it still achieves academic goals because there is so much research that goes into putting a digital story together.”

Kathy Swan emphasizes using technology in her programs training teachers. Swan, who works in the curriculum and instruction department, develops Web sites for educators on how to apply technology in classes, which she believes helps motivate students.

“I’m trying to train students to teach, so I take into consideration the technology available in most schools,” Swan said.

Swan co-created the Digital Directors Guild, which explores applications of digital movie making in the classroom, and the Historical Scene Investigation Project, an organization focused in part on bringing more social studies resources to students through the Internet.

The virtual world of Second Life is also a new program that students are beginning to use. Beth Kraemer is a librarian at the W.T. Young Library and has a profile on Second Life.

Although Second Life is a new approach to teaching, Kraemer believes that it will not replace textbooks and other “well-established educational tools that we use today.”

“I do think it has educational potential,” Kraemer said. “It’s like the early days of the web where the technology is evolving, content is being developed, and people are exploring the potential.”