October Contents |
New Ways of Learning
INFORMATION TECHNOLGY has already altered teaching and learning on college campuses in subtler ways. In some classes, term papers are giving way to Web projects. "A whole new rhetoric is born when you have the freedom to create hypertext links between pieces of supportive evidence," Lotto said. "Web projects escape linear thought while maintaining a level of analysis which you will also find in the best term papers." Technology also has created new methods for studying old disciplines. Medical students, for example, can partake of a virtual anatomy lesson when cadavers are scarce, and a representative from Silicon Graphics demonstrated one such program at the conference.
But will the average teacher have the time and skill to create lesson plans with such high-tech bells and whistles? "I think as a community we are still ridiculously optimistic about the amount of work it's going to take to put a really good curriculum or even a course together using these new tools," said Dr. Andries Van Dam, GEE'63, GrE'66, technology and education professor at Brown University.
Dr. Walter Licht, a Penn history professor and associate dean of graduate studies, has taught the same U.S. history survey course more than 15 times, but creating a comprehensive Web site as a teaching tool last semester enlivened what he admits was becoming a monotonous task. "I had an exciting, wonderful time with it.
"I know my [teaching assistants'] class discussions have been much better, and I have found students asking more questions in class," he says. Now that Licht doesn't need to rush through hundreds of audiovisuals during class lectures, he can linger on topics he feels need extra attention. His students can take their time later viewing related photos, maps, and lithographs on the Web site. But Licht says he had help through a grant to construct the site, a time-consuming project that would have been nearly impossible to juggle with his other duties.
Penn senior Steven Morgan Friedman gestured with obvious enthusiasm as he praised the many educational uses of the Internet. Not only did it keep him in contact with a professor several times daily during an independent study, but it allowed him to converse in beginner German with students from Germany. Friedman also sees in technology the potential to recreate the close intellectual community that thrived on college campuses when they were smaller. (See his Web site on Penn in the 1830s). Researching life at New England universities in the 1830s, he learned that Harvard students used to print up pamphlets about themselves and their opinions -- "kind of like Web pages in a way" -- and distribute them around campus; in response, the faculty would circulate their own pamphlets. "Using these new technologies," he said, "we too can do the same thing with our own twist for the 21st century."
Rather than viewing each other as "these strange creatures" that disappear at sundown, O'Donnell agrees, students and professors can use technology to get to know each other better despite busy schedules. He recalls one e-mail desperately sent by a student before sunrise -- a smart idea, because otherwise, the student would not have caught up with O'Donnell on that particular day.
It's clear that some faculty don't view the concept of "the 24-hour classroom" with the same benign vision, however. "A number of our faculty find that notion awful and terrifying," said Dr. Judith Rodin, CW'66, president of the University. "We really do need to think about how we make it available, in what ways, and for whom."
Education Freed From Time and Place