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Technology advances enhance classroom experiences for teachers, students

Nov. 30, 2005

by TIFFANIE BLACKMON, staff writer

Multimedia teaching has become the norm for educators who once relied on little more than a chalkboard or an overhead projector. As the use of technology in the classroom has grown over the past decade, students have come to rely on the Internet as a primary tool in their educational experience.

In 1995, when the Internet was introduced to the public, Baylor professors were still in various experimental phases of implementing technology into their classroom lectures.

Ten years ago Dr. Reagan Ramsower, associate vice president and chief information officer at Baylor, spoke to Focus magazine about the introduction of technology at the Hankamer School of Business.

"I suspect (the use of technology) will never be embraced by every professor in the business school, but we will continue to expand our technology. ... We're growing into it fairly carefully," Ramsower said.

While professors and administrators were working out appropriate options for implementing the Internet into classrooms at Baylor a decade ago, students were learning how to control its uses to best benefit themselves.

Electronic mail and Web browser searches dominated student Internet usage in 1995. In 2005, students are talking to friends across the world with real-time messaging, researching the latest periodicals from academic and research institutions across the country and reading books and other information online.

Online correspondence courses have allowed learning to occur on a virtual scale, and students are turning in papers and taking tests online.

"The Internet has allowed students to research information and have an ability to access the Internet anywhere, anytime, any place in the world," said Dr. Roland Eichelberger, senior information systems lecturer at Baylor.

Current Baylor students were elementary school-age when the Internet was introduced to the American public. With its inception into curricula across the country, the face of education began to change.

Elementary students began learning with computers through computer programs such as Microsoft Word, MS-DOS and interactive educational games.

"Oregon Trail" was an educational computer game based on America's pioneering era. It taught students planning and logic, as well as, math and history. However, the Internet has allowed the educational aim of games such as "Oregon Trail" to enhance research and learning across various levels of academia by forcing students to learn through interaction.

In the 1950s, communications researchers defined a need for communication between people through computer networks. Such research led to the development of the ARPANET, which became a catalyst for setting up the Internet.

"The Internet has been around since about 1969 for private use by universities and research companies," Eichelberger said.

It wasn't until 1995 that Internet became mainstream and fully accessible to the public.

Today, the Internet has allowed for the availability of "research and student involvement with computers and online courses," said Eichelberger. "Through programs like Blackboard, professors can communicate with students, to access assignments among other things."

Blackboard is a course management system for faculty and students at Baylor that is accessed through the Internet.

Professors, too, understand the benefits of technology and the Internet in areas like research and lecturing.

Eichelberger said Internet usage and networking had become a "huge tool for students," but it has also allowed professors to "collaborate with colleagues at other colleges and universities to share their work and see what other people are doing."

Sandy Bennett is the program manager for online teaching and learning support at Baylor's electronic library and helped introduce Blackboard in the spring of 2002.

When Bennett arrived at Baylor in 1995, she and her department taught professors how to use Microsoft Power Point, a computer application used to aid oral presentations and lectures.

"Power Point was a big deal then. It was just starting," Bennett said. "We were showing faculty and staff how to use the Web and manipulate browsers to find 'good' content."

Bennett said at that time the public considered much of the content found on web browsers opinion pieces and anyone who knew how to write HTML codes could distribute information over the Internet.

However, Bennett explained the quality of content available now is far better than when she began her career at Baylor. Still, professors and students were searching for a medium of communication to enhance the education experience.

"We tried other online course management programs before Blackboard, but it was the first to really take off on campus," Bennett said.

Bennett said she believed Blackboard was successful because it is easy to use and is connected to the university registration system. Bennett said Baylor students wanted an application like Blackboard because they were familiar with using the Internet to research information since the library had begun introducing more online content.

According to Information Technology at Baylor, the number of technology-ready classrooms has increased. Classrooms are now equipped with Internet accessibility and technology such as personal computers, projector screens and televisions.

"I think the next big technological advance will be audio and video delivery," Bennett said. "The demand for it by faculty and students is becoming greater."

Bennett said the delivery of audio and video to augment classroom lectures on campus could become more apparent within the next few years.

"Pod-casting is catching the buzz right now," Bennett said. "It's the direction lots of places are going."

Pod-casting is an online subscription to audio or video materials that allow a user to subscribe to a desired content. That content is then distributed to the user or subscriber. Pod-casting allows automatic transfer of materials to the user's computer for later consumption.

"The biggest struggle with online content is Internet copyrighting," Bennett said.

Technology and the inception of the Internet to the world of academia have changed the way students and professors learn, study and research.

Online books, academic journals and articles have replaced the use of hardbacks and paper journals.

What has remained the same is the public's need to consume information.

Technological advances with the abilities of computers and the Internet have become the tools to allow them to do so.