In a computer lab in Oesterle Library, elementary education major Kristen Robledo ’11 uses an interactive SMART Board to practice a lesson she’ll give to first graders the next morning.
The SMART Board is today’s high-tech equivalent of the blackboards that older generations might recall from their school days. Each is mounted on walls in front of classrooms, but that’s where the similarities end. “Elementary kids think SMART Boards are awesome,” Robledo says. “And employers are looking for teachers that can use this technology.”
In addition to SMART Boards, North Central students are finding clickers, wikis and other technologies in classrooms across campus, preparing them not for the future, but the present. “Our faculty members are using these technologies in very innovative ways,” says Kathy Wilders, assistant vice president for Information Technology Services (ITS). “And these technologies can be adapted to nearly every subject area, from music to math to foreign languages.”
The College has made great strides in instructional technology over the past 10 years. In 1999, North Central had one ceiling-mounted data projector and computer, and one mobile data projector that circulated from the library. Today, North Central is one of the few colleges that has installed a computer with a data projection system in every classroom. In addition, at least one SMART Board is located in every academic building on campus.
SMART Boards’ touch technology detect user input in the same way as a mouse or keyboard. A projector displays a computer’s video output on the whiteboard, which then acts as a large touch screen. The user’s finger drags objects around the screen or switches panels. “One of the coolest features is that the lessons on the screen can be saved to a computer and accessed later by the students in the class,” explains Wilders.
“SMART Boards are big in the K-12 crowd,” says Rebecca Clemente, professor of education. “Our students are expected to know how to use them. We’re asking our students to create a SMART Board Notebook as part of their lesson plan.”
Educators are also finding that clickers are useful to engage students. Short for Classroom Response Systems (CRS), clickers are devices about the size of a television remote control. The ITS staff recognized an innovative way for faculty to encourage student participation and made clickers available within months.
Students use clickers to answer questions posed by an instructor. Jeffrey Bjorkland, professor of chemistry, sees two main benefits. “First, students have to be thinking about what the instructor is doing because they have to respond,” Bjorkland says. “Second, right away the instructor receives a measure of how well students understand the lesson.”
With clickers, summaries of student responses can be shown in real time to both instructors and students. Yet students do not need to raise their hands or risk embarrassment for not knowing an answer. “I also use them to give quizzes,” Bjorkland says. “With paper quizzes, it takes at least a day to return grades to students. With clickers, students and instructors get immediate results. This saves time and paper.”
Advancements in technology also encompass software tools like wikis and blogs, which encourage student collaboration and participation. Steve Macek, associate professor of speech communication, makes extensive use of blogs in his Introduction to New Media class.
“Students are connected to the course blog via an RSS feed,” Macek says. “They read other students’ blogs and post their own comments. Students come to class expecting to be introduced to new forms of media communication. Half the class is very conversive in this—they’re wired. The other 50 percent are terrified of anything you have to plug into the wall.”
Adapting the new tools can require a lot of preparation work. SMART Board users can spend up to four hours creating a lesson, and wikis and blogs need to be set up, maintained, read and evaluated. The payoff comes from more academic engagement and collaboration among students.
A wiki is a collaborative community website that allows the perpetual creation and editing of linked web pages. With the help of ITS, Gregory H. Wolf, associate professor of German, started using wikis two years ago as a new pedagogy for language acquisition. He sets up a wiki for each section of his German classes, from 100 through 400 levels, and students write their work on the community site for others to read. Wolf then uses student posts to generate new assignments.
“A wiki allows students to take ownership of the language and to take control of their learning experience,” Wolf says. “Students might work collaboratively on the interpretation of a film, upload images associated with that film, and discuss the film in German. I give them very constructive feedback on content and grammar, and students are expected to go back and edit their contributions. The technology makes it practical and convenient.”
As a pioneer in these wiki applications, Wolf is a frequent lecturer at conferences about using wikis in higher education and foreign language acquisition. He’ll present at conferences in Illinois and Nebraska this spring.
In coming years, the campus is likely to see increased use of mobile devices, like smart phones, tablets that function as miniature versions of SMART Boards and digital Kindle-style readers that make printed textbooks obsolete, Wilders says. “Learning is an individual activity and it’s enhanced when students have multiple options for their learning. That’s why mobile technology has such promise in education,” she explains. “Mobile technology not only enables students to learn and review anywhere, but it can also make possible a new array of interactions in the classroom using new applications. Our goal is to make sure that the College is poised to take advantage of these new developments.”
North Central NOW Winter 2010
For more photos from the Winter 2010 North Central Now, visit northcentralcollege.edu/now-album.