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October 13, 1997

Instructional technology offers new tools for teaching at UCSC

By Robert Irion

(This article is the first in a series spotlighting new teaching efforts on campus that draw from a variety of instructional technology tools. Future articles will focus on key programs and individual courses.)

Newsgroups. Online tutorials. The World Wide Web. A few years ago, not one of these tools was widely available to university instructors. Now, with high-tech in full bloom, enterprising educators are finding ways to enhance their students' experiences, both in and out of the classroom.

Few campuses are moving ahead as quickly as UCSC to create a virtual environment within which these instructional changes are possible. Teams of faculty, students, and staff are working to bring more of their colleagues online in ways that complement, rather than replace, UCSC's honored approaches toward liberal arts education.

"Everyone knows the intensity with which we developed the Financial Information System," said Fred Siff, associate vice chancellor for Communications and Technology Services. "It's time to do the same thing with instructional technology. In a community as creative as the one in which we work, people will learn to use these tools to tremendous advantage if they are accessible to everyone."

Added James Willis, instructional laboratory coordinator for the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department: "We have an incoming generation of students for whom the first mouse they knew was a computer mouse. The technical literacy and expectations of these students are likely to challenge the traditional format of textbook to blackboard to exam."

Already, many instructors are placing course materials on the World Wide Web and creating interactive forums for their students, expanding their learning beyond a classroom's walls. Virtual field trips and links to useful resources give students the flexibility to make their classes far richer. Further, communication between students and instructors and among students becomes easier, especially for large classes.

This ramping up of instructional technology efforts at UCSC is a direct result of a systemwide conference on the topic, held last spring. Officials from UC's Office of the President (UCOP) urged attendees to take action toward encouraging faculty to augment their teaching methods with new tools. UCOP then provided $4 million in funding for campuses to use this year for instructional technology improvements. UCSC will receive $257,000 from that pool. The funding originally was to come from a quarterly student fee, but it now is part of the state's budget for UC.

A group under the aegis of the campus Instructional Technology Policy Council (ITPC) will recommend using the UCOP funds to increase student access to instructional technology tools, mainly via these actions: setting up more workstations, making software available on a "check out" basis over the network, improving technical support, and buying subscriptions to electronic journals and databases.

Some of the funds also will subsidize a new agreement with an off-campus Internet Service Provider to give students inexpensive ($30 per quarter), unlimited access to e-mail and the Internet. Such a service will decrease reliance on the campus modem pool, which limits access during prime hours and often is busy. Although the program is now in a pilot phase, Siff anticipates heavy student demand.

After the systemwide conference, an ad hoc campus coordinating group arose from conference participants (including Siff, Susan Schwartz, Eileen Tanner, and Beth Riddle) and divided into four working groups. These groups envision other specific programs, already in place or under development. They include:

Willis and his colleagues also are working on "modular tutorials" that students could take regularly to gauge their grasp of recent lessons presented in lecture. Instructors could see the group results of these tutorials, providing guidance on which concepts to review in subsequent lessons.

Both Siff and Willis emphasized that neither ITPC nor the campus are mandating that faculty incorporate some, or any, of these tools. "It is not true that the best way to teach in the 1990s is to put everything on the World Wide Web and communicate primarily by e-mail," Siff said. "We need to figure out how to make these new tools work best within the framework of UCSC's traditional values. But we cannot engage in that discussion intelligently without having the tools in place and widely available."

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