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    EDUCATION, OUTREACH, AND TRAINING | Contents | Next

    Redesigning Classrooms for Social Interaction with eTEACH

    PROJECT LEADER
    Greg Moses, University of Wisconsin, EOT-PACI co-chair

    W hen Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana was teaching at Harvard in 1907, his teaching aids were simple--his classroom was filled with books, paper, pens, and a chalkboard. In stark contrast, today's professors have a technological suite of computers, laptops, and presentation software. Though advanced technologies can create digital libraries and explore the mysteries of the human body, educators still face the same problems that Santayana faced earlier this century. Teachers are still unable to fully advance a student's creative and critical thinking and problem solving skills. "The great difficulty with education is to get the experience out of ideas," he said. EOT-PACI researchers at Wisconsin are developing software that has the promise of spurring organizational change and enhancing the learning experience for students.

    "We need to eliminate passive lecture halls and have more active learning format where instructors and students devote time to solving problems in class," says Greg Moses, a professor of Engineering Physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and co-chair of the Education, Outreach, and Training Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (EOT-PACI). Moses is leading an effort to develop eTEACH, software that serves as an information system and an authoring tool. In the coming year, researchers will be testing the software in a number of courses within the College of Engineering Physics. They hope that eTEACH will become an indispensable part of classroom tools, reinforcing individual learning needs and making way for more student-teacher interactivity.

    CLASSROOM REDESIGN AND NEW COURSE FORMATS

    LEARNING ON DEMAND

    CREATING COURSES

    EVALUATION


    The eTEACH Interface
    Figure 1. The eTEACH Interface
    The eTEACH development team has the potential to become an indispensable classroom tool, reinforcing individual learning needs and making way for more student-teacher interactivity.

    CLASSROOM REDESIGN AND NEW COURSE FORMATS

    "We want to reformat the way we teach the class," says Moses. "There will be a reversal of time and place between the lecture and the homework. Homework will be done in class under a professor's supervision. The idea is to provide individual treatment to help students understand the material."

    One of the problems with the traditional lecture format is that students are more information vessels than they are active participants. They are unable to control the rhythm of the information that is being presented to them. Each class involves a flurry of note taking: bullet notes, key terms, discussion questions. Due to time limits, students cannot stop the class for any length of time to explore points they do not understand or ideas they feel passionate about. The opportunity to pursue these interactions takes place during the professor's or teaching assistant's office hours. But providing this kind of individual attention to every student is a difficult task.

    "Learning is a very social activity, so it is important to meet with students," says John Strikwerda, computer science professor at Wisconsin. "You have to talk to someone and interact with another human being--that's the way learning takes place." The capabilities of eTEACH have the potential of providing more time for professor and student interaction. Professors can use the software to integrate their video presentations, demonstrations, and slides into one information system. This resource will also include related data such as research papers and articles, making the information system a dedicated and expert resource for any course.

    Next spring semester Moses and Strikwerda will be teaching a new computer course entitled CS310--Problem Solving using Computers. "This course is a perfect test ground for eTEACH," Moses says. "It has a large enrollment of 140 engineering students and it represents what NPACI is all about--using computers to solve scientific problems. It is a first course in computational science."

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    Figure 2. The MAESY Authoring Tool
    MAESY allows teachers to choreograph eTEACH courses through a complete point-and-click interface with lists, scroll bars and menus.

    LEARNING ON DEMAND

    The eTEACH system, funded by a National Science Foundation "Foundation Coalition" grant, includes a dynamic table of contents and master timeline that will allow students to customize the way they view the material (Figure 1). Since students will not have to concentrate on the large task of organizing their course notes, they can focus on more hands-on activities. The class itself will still involve lectures and tutorials, but professors will divide the class into smaller activity groups where students can focus on homework problems, discussions, and laboratory work.

    The idea behind eTEACH grew out of a research project called Learning on Demand, led by Moses and Andy Porter of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER). Using extensive video in the K-12 grade classrooms, social scientists were able to determine what teaching practices generated the best outcomes in student comprehension and retention. "It became clear that it could have a broader impact on students if we turned it into a Web-based presentation viewer," Moses says. So he brought on a computer programmer, Michael Litzkow, to expand the technology of video presentations and develop a unique information system for students and a course-authoring tool for professors.

    To access course material, students must have a computer running Microsoft Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows NT. Computers must also be equipped with Microsoft Media Player, which can be obtained free from Microsoft's Web site. The Web page is embedded with JavaScript and is automatically downloaded into the browser as part of viewing the presentation. At this point, eTEACH does not support either Macintosh or Unix clients. Adapting platforms and providing advanced search capabilities will be part of the software's future enhancements.

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    CREATING COURSES

    One of the important elements of eTEACH is that course preparation occurs once, prior to the start of class instruction. After the information is stored, revisions can easily be made. Creating course content is a three-step process: professors must create all of the lecture material (including their PowerPoint slides); tape the video; and compose and import this data into eTEACH to construct the information system.

    The first step is to prepare slides and lecture material. The slides have to be in a format that can be displayed by a Web browser, such as HTML, GIF, or JPEG. In practice, most professors are using Microsoft PowerPoint to produce GIFs. Tools such as Microsoft FrontPage, Adobe PageMaker, Microsoft Word, or even plain text editors are excellent for composing course content.

    Videotaping can be done a number of ways but it must be captured directly to a computer's hard disk. A capture card costs between $100 and $200. For CS310, Strikwerda will shoot his lectures in a professional quality studio, which is maintained by the College of Engineering. The studio will provide a Betamax tape, which is then encoded into asf format in the computer lab. Live lectures can be captured by digital video cameras and encoded using an inexpensive video capture card. Others can simply shoot video in an office, using a piece of black cloth from the remnant table at a local fabric store thumb tacked to the wall for a background. Sony Handi-cams can also provide sharp and clean looking video. Any editing to the video must be done before adding slides and other materials. Litzkow suggests using on campus studio services or purchasing inexpensive do-it-yourself editing software.

    Once a person has slides and video in hand, he or she is ready to put them together in a coordinated presentation, adding a table of contents, and possibly links to related Web sites. eTEACH's authoring tool is called the Multi-media Authoring and Editing SYstem (MAESY). MAESY offers a complete point-and-click interface with lists, scroll bars and menus. Also, there are three or four different formats that allow users to choreograph how the information system will appear (Figure 2). "MAESY is easy to use," Litzkow says. "I've seen a complete novice create a nice 15-minute presentation in his first hour of work with it."

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    EVALUATION

    In the next two years, the Learning through Evaluation, Adaptation, and Dissemination (LEAD) Center at Wisconsin hopes to conduct a quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the impact of eTEACH on the CS310 course and the students who participate in it. Through such an evaluation, NPACI, the makers of eTEACH, and interested educators nationwide can learn of the benefits, drawbacks, and future potential of using a tool like eTEACH in undergraduate instruction.

    While eTEACH has the promise of advancing distant learning technologies, the software's success depends on the impact it has on students. "We want to reach more students and help them get the most out the traditional learning environment--the classroom," Moses says. "We hope eTEACH will be the model for how to successfully integrate technology and education." --EN*

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