Technology and Learning

A team approach and extensive communication are critical in order to select the best technology for presentations and other learning requirements.

Students today are more technology savvy than ever. Their personal use of computers, video devices, and other products has transferred to the classroom, where they expect to be taught using more than just a blackboard or an overhead projector. Selecting and using the right presentation products requires communication between a variety of stakeholders, while also planning and investing for the future.

A Team Approach

Cindy Phillips, director of IT customer service at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in DeKalb, maintains that selecting and using the most appropriate presentation methods requires a team approach.

“We have back and forth discussions with our faculty, administrators, and media, facilities, and IT staffs,” she said.“By working together we are able to ensure that our distance learning and other presentation requirements are fulfilled.”

Four of NIU’s colleges — education, engineering, nursing, and business — include distance learning as an integral component of their course offerings. NIU also has three outreach centers, so being able to effectively communicate between various locations is important.

“We constantly analyze trends in higher education and poll our faculty regarding intended technology needs and uses,” Phillips said.“A product may initially appear cool, but if it won’t be used or doesn’t fit with our existing technology and master plan then it’s not an option to consider.”

Phillips said that one challenge is not being able to provide technical staff in classrooms during presentations. For this reason, any presentation or distance-learning product must be easy to use, including all end pieces such as speakers, cameras, PCs, and DVDs.

NIU’s faculty development and instructional design group offers an orientation for new faculty regarding in-room technology capabilities. Faculty members are trained in the use and operation of the university’s smart classroom products, including network connections, podia with workstations, DVDs, overhead Elmos, and SMART boards.

The portable “clickers” assigned to each NIU student are an integral part of many classes. The product interfaces with software technology that allows instructors to poll a class or to have students answer questions. The standardized, handheld devices enable students to select an answer from set responses — a much faster alternative than putting the answer on paper.

Creating a Dynamic Environment

Michael Callahan, product marketing manager with RGB Spectrum, said that students want a stimulating learning environment. “Retention and comprehension improves when students are engaged, and visual stimulation relates to cognitive learning,” he said. “Colleges and universities must employ technology to create a dynamic environment to transfer information.”

Callahan echoes the belief that selecting the right technology involves a team effort. Bandwidth needs, room sizes, signals, and both current and future applications must be carefully analyzed and discussed. “You can’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish,” he stated. “Invest wisely, don’t build presentation technology in a piecemeal fashion, and work to make sure that the products you select won’t be obsolete in three to five years.”

RGB Spectrum has a product line for integrating multiple computer and video sources. Audiovisual specialists at Rice University used the company’s 4View processor to display multiple classroom videos on a 17-in. touch-screen computer. The system, which has a 1280 x 1024 output resolution, includes the processor, two video quad splitters, and a touch panel controller. Up to eight classroom image sources can be displayed on the controller screen and can include feeds from two video cameras facing the instructor, two video cameras facing the students, one document camera, one video conferencing unit, one scan converted computer-generated PowerPoint presentation, and one DVD/VCR player. According to the specialists at Rice, a single operator can control a production that normally would have required several individuals.

“Our multiple-image display processors and products of this type enable information from a variety of sources to be easily shared,” Callahan said. “They are very appropriate for use in classrooms, lobbies, and other settings where sharing lots of information from multiple sources is desired.”

Beyond Flipcharts

“Adopting and integrating technology in a meaningful way is vital to the learning experience,” said Mike Dunn, chief executive officer of PolyVision. “The technology must be as real as possible and easy to use or people won’t seize the opportunity to use it to enhance learning.”

PolyVision markets an array of chalkboards and whiteboards for education. “We invest extensively in analyzing and understanding our user requirements,” Dunn said. “We know that the longer information is in front of someone — information persistence — the more likely they are to remember the material. That and watching our users led us to look at the tried-and-true flipchart in a new way.”

The result of PolyVision’s research was the Thunder Virtual Flipchart System, which allows data, video, and other information to surround participants on classroom or office walls. All information is shared and updated in real time and provides a highly collaborative experience. Information can be input from almost any laptop, scanned images or video.

“Thunder allows everyone to see all information simultaneously regardless of location,” noted Dunn. “Simply touching an icon allows participants in other classrooms or facilities — across the campus or around the world — to see all posted information or to exchange data.”