Teaching With Tech
Podcasts, back channels, and bookless libraries come to campus
It's in courses like Schauman's that hand-held technologies might do the most to enhance the learning experience outside the classroom. Eric Klopfer, who directs the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's teacher education program, is testing a gaming concept called "Environmental Detectives," in which students receive PDA s with global positioning system capabilities and use the devices to go around campus collecting data and conducting interviews to solve a mystery, such as the source of unusual health problems. The next version in development now gives each student a specific role--a doctor, an environmental scientist, etc.--and based on who they are, they can get only certain information with their PDA s. As a result, classmates will have to learn to work together to figure out the answer. "They need to be able to problem-solve and think creatively as active learners," says Kurt Squire, a University of Wisconsin assistant professor who worked on the MIT project. It's a teaching model that can be applied to many subjects, he adds, wryly suggesting "Grand Theft Shakespeare."
Even the most venerable symbol of higher education--the campus library--is not safe from this extreme technological makeover. The University of Texas-Austin, for instance, took a radical step this summer by removing all 90,000 books from the undergraduate library to open more room for a Wi-Fi-powered learning space. The building, open 24 hours and packed with computers, has retained five digital librarians, who help students navigate the vast world of electronic media. The library website has a virtual reference desk with a chat function, and librarians are augmenting course Web pages with recommended E-books, journals, and databases.
On demand. The book is not dead, says Fred Heath, vice provost and director of the University of Texas libraries. In fact, those 90,000 volumes were reshelved in the campus's other libraries. "A book that's been on a shelf for 500 years, you can open it and read it. I can't say the same thing about electronic media." Many of the documents of the 21st century will be electronic, however, and libraries need to prepare, he says. And many are--Emory and the University of Michigan are among the schools with similar digital libraries.
Colleges are also improving their information networks to give students access to these digital resources outside of libraries. This fall, Dartmouth's computer network gained TV service with some video-on-demand capabilities, so lectures and other educational materials can be available to students anywhere and at any time. English Prof. Tom Luxon says this will make it possible for his students to see a film for his Shakespeare class without having to crowd into a lecture hall. As these applications become more common, he hopes students use multimedia to present arguments in unconventional ways. "You could have block quotes of video and audio--although that means you certainly can't have a printout," he muses. In the evolving world of high-tech campuses, "maybe we won't call them papers anymore."