Tools for teaching and learning:
Technology center encourages experimentation and innovation
At the University of Denver, technology is at the forefront of efforts to differentiate the academic experience. Since it launched its groundbreaking laptop learning initiative more than a decade ago, DU has sought new ways to harness the power of technology for the benefit of students.
Julanna Gilbert, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is director of DU’s Center for Teaching and Learning, which serves as a hub for the exploration, development and dissemination of technology for instruction and scholarship. Gilbert’s philosophy about technology arises from her own experiences. She remembers her first calculator, which performed only basic functions such as addition and subtraction. She also remembers that math teachers at the time lamented its use, claiming children would never learn rudimentary skills.
“That is obviously the wrong way to think about technology in the classroom,” Gilbert said. “The right way is to think, ‘We have a new tool. How can I use it to take a leap, to achieve the outcomes I want to achieve?’”
For more than 12 years, the CTL has been helping faculty members think about technology as just such a tool. It also has nurtured a handful of DU-developed resources that enhance both classroom and online learning. For example, CourseMedia is a content-management system that functions much like an online library of digital images, videos and audio files. It was the brainchild of the School of Art and Art History, which had more than 100,000 images to share and a burning desire to dispense with the slide-show carousel.
The CTL provided the school with a $20,000 grant to digitize its collection. That done, the concept quickly grew to incorporate media used by faculty across campus. Today, CourseMedia allows faculty to stream videos and access rare prints in an organized system. They can deliver that content online to students, who can access it via their laptops.
Many professors have been eager to experiment with nontraditional delivery of content, whether through blogs, video lectures or online discussions. In spring 2011, Mike Keables, associate professor of geography and associate dean of natural sciences and mathematics, won an award for a course he teaches through the online delivery system known as Blackboard. Keables captured Blackboard’s Catalyst Award for an Exemplary Course for his environmental systems class on climate and weather.
Creating and delivering that course, he said, forced him to “think about teaching in a whole new way. It was beneficial to me as a teacher, and contrary to what people think about online learning, the students got a lot more of my time than students in my lecture course. It’s more of a one-on-one environment.”
Keables also makes use of another tool, Adobe Connect, which allows him to set up virtual face-to-face meetings, run online PowerPoint presentations and share computer screen images.
As DU embraces the many emerging technologies on the horizon, Gilbert looks forward to an enriched learning environment. “Having enough information is no longer the problem,” she explained. “We have a ton of information. We also have a generation of students that is very good at entertaining itself with new technologies. What we can and should do as educators is actively integrate the technologies into our teaching, so that our students will be prepared for the world in which they live. That’s what education should be about.”