Jill was home with her parents over Thanksgiving break. At the dinner table her father asked, "Well, Jill how is the dreaded statistics course that you are taking?" He braced himself for the probable news that she had for a second time dropped the course.
"Dad, its really great! I never thought that I could learn statistics, let alone enjoy it. I love going to that class!"
Jill's mother put her fork down and asked, "Is this our daughter Jill, who struggled with math?"
"So what's up? How come the big turn around?" inquired her father.
Jill started her explanation, "Well, you see, the stat course is taught by this crazy professor in an electronic classroom. We all have computers ..."
"But you hate computers too!" interjected Jill's mother.
"But this is different. They don't like to call them computers. They call them, "EDS" for "electronic desk spaces." Here's how it works. We sign on and all of the lecture notes are shown on our screens. The prof usually starts with some topic and then shows a five minute video. They're really good. Like a marketing study for Pizza Hut or a quality control study for potato chips. You get to see how the statistics are used before we talk about the details."
"Then the prof lectures for about ten minutes going over the notes on our screens. We can listen to what he says because we're not madly trying to copy down the equations and all of what he says. There are just a few things we have to write down. But what's really neat is doing the problems ..."
"Oh my! Now this I gotta hear!" said Jill's mother to her dad.
"All of the problems are shown step-by-step on our EDS. We can type in some numbers and see what happens. But we don't just see the answers. We get to see how each step works. It does all of the computations so we don't even need calculators. I really understand what's going on because I see it.
"Then the prof will go over several sets of data, even data we collect in class. We can do a lot because the computer, I mean the EDS does it so fast. If we have dumb questions we can type them in anonymously and the prof will answer them. Usually, at the end of class he will ask us type in questions and comments. I like his jokes too."
Rob was a good student, but he was one of those students that never communicated with anyone in class or out of class. He never asked questions; he never volunteered to say anything in class; he never talked to his fellow classmates; and he never spoke to the instructor. It wasn't that he was pathologic; it was just not his nature to be out going and sociable. Most of his teachers just let it go. It was too much of an effort to teach the required material and worry about every student speaking up in class. They and Rob were just thankful for the few students in each class that did volunteer to say something.
All of this changed in his junior year. Rob registered for a psychology class entitled "Introduction to Social Psychology in the Electronic Age." The class was scheduled in an electronic classroom. When Rob entered the class the first day, he sat down behind one of the workstations. He felt rather comfortable with the computer as a sort of social barrier between himself and the rest of the class. Although he was not a computer fanatic, he was quite at ease with them.
During the course of the semester the instructor, Dr. Jones, not only lectured on social psychology and the effect of technology and telecommunications but he also experimented with a number of social interactions on the computer. First was an exercise in self-disclosure. Rob had to type in three autobiographical sketches: one for the class, one for the instructor, and one that was fictitious and anonymous. Second, when the Dr. Jones asked a question of the class that would in a traditional classroom have been answered by only one or two students, they all had to type in a response. Sometimes it had to be between 25 and 50 words. The computer constantly showed the number of words typed. All of the responses were shown to the whole class. Sometimes they were anonymous. Sometimes Rob's name appeared with his response. Third, they had to participant in on-line dialogues and contribute at least three entries.
At first Rob felt a little uneasy about expressing his opinions, but since it was electronic he found himself opening up quite a bit. He was a reasonable typist and he found that he could hold his own. In fact he noticed early on that all of the students in the class, no matter how outgoing or introverted, seemed to contribute to the discussion equally including himself. After a while Rob started to initiate interactions. He found himself sending questions and feedback to the instructor. We was corresponding with two other students about hobbies and common interests. All of this lead to his exchanging phone numbers and talking to others outside of class.
Then something strange happened about halfway through the semester. Some of the students were getting a little irritated that the Dr. Jones was limiting classroom interaction to typing. Even Rob missed hearing from others face-to-face in class and the opportunity to speak up himself. It all came to a head when the instructor divided the class into four subgroups one day. The groups had to discuss a class project using an electronic chat facility. As the discussion progressed it changed to how much more effective it would be if they all met face-to-face in small groups. Rob couldn't believe he was doing it. He raised his hand in class and asked, "Dr. Jones, couldn't we just meet in small groups to do this rather than use the computers?"
Dr. Jones smiled as if he knew this was going to happen and that it was all a part of his plan. "OK, you can move to each of the four corners of the room. Group A over there, Group B over here ..."
Software does not educate. It can only provide multimedia materials and interactive tools. It is the proper integration of these materials and tools by the instructor in the learning process that results in what we call education. These scenarios illustrate some of the successes in applying the tools and techniques available in the switched-on classroom to achieve the educational objectives desired.
In this section we will see how HyperCourseware and the ideas of interactivity can be used to create interesting and engaging lectures. We will explore tools for polling of opinions, aggregation of ideas, electronic dialogue, and collaborative projects. We will look at how tutorials and intelligent agents can be used to bring some students up to speed and accelerate the activities of others. We will integrate the need for tests and evaluation in the learning process. Finally, we will discuss issues of managing all of the information and materials generated.
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