The Tide of Technology

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June 1, 2002

Technological enhancements don't stop with Duke's professional programs, although they are clearly leading innovations on campus. Elsewhere at Duke, technology is affecting undergraduates and helping extend the boundaries of the traditional classroom.

"Over the last three or four years, Duke has made very significant strides in its application of technology," says Lynne O'Brien, director of Duke's Center for Instructional Technology. "We have hundreds of courses using the Web for course materials, and many of these classrooms have been upgraded or enhanced. A lot of the classroom changes are a reflection of the priorities of the various schools."

Ethernet cables, close up

Duke now has wireless network access in many public areas of the campus through the deployment of more than 150 wireless access points. Blackboard, an enterprise-wide courseware system supporting the delivery of online materials and learning opportunities, is available for more than 600 courses. The university has begun to measure the technology skills of incoming undergraduate students and has created a way for students to obtain scheduled and "just in time" technology training.

The university also has expanded the support of faculty academic technology projects and skills. The Information Science Information Studies (ISIS) certificate program has been approved, to allow undergraduates to learn more about information technology and how its surrounding issues can be applied to their academic pursuit. The ISIS Research Center has already begun to facilitate study between information technology and other disciplines through collaborations, events, and community outreach. Duke also has begun support for researchers to use high-performance computing, visualization technology, and mass storage.

A mosaic of other ways that technology is being used is seen in "Life in the CITIE," a paper co-authored in May 2001 by O'Brien and Nevin Fouts, associate dean for information technology at Duke's Fuqua School of Business. Here are some excerpts:

Duke students in an African Studies course use e-mail and electronic chat sessions to converse with a class in Ghana and compare perspectives on African news events.

Research fellows at the National Institutes of Health, at a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey, and at Duke meet weekly via videoconferencing, submit assignments via the Web, and access electronic library journals as they work together on a degree in clinical research.

Using her wireless laptop computer, a student starts a paper during a teacher-guided class session on writing. After sending an early draft to her writing partner, she takes her laptop to The Perk, Perkins Library's coffeehouse, to prepare comments on another student's first draft. Later that evening in her dorm room, she checks the suggestions her writing partner has e-mailed to her and consults with a reference librarian using the small video camera built into her computer. Her professor is asleep when she finishes her paper at two a.m., but will see the paper early the next morning when he retrieves it from the electronic "drop box" in his course website. When the class meets later in the week, students will have reviewed several writing excerpts posted to the course website and be prepared to engage in a lively group discussion.

An environmental studies professor draws his students into the research process by having them upload spatial imagery and GIS map data for a portion of Duke Forest using hand-held computers. The data collected during this fieldwork is available not only to the students who collected it, but to future classes as well.

Meanwhile, in a biological anthropology class, students use hand-held devices to record observations of lemur behavior at the Duke Primate Center. The database they develop allows individual students to use far more information than they could collect on their own to support the conclusions in their course research projects.

Neither instructors nor students need to wait for the first exam to find out how well students understand the concepts in their introductory physics course. Each week, students submit their answers to homework problems via computer and receive immediate feedback on their answers. Their professor checks the summary of student responses before the next class session and tailors his presentation to address the specific errors students have in their approach to solving the problems.

In a Duke sociology course, students work in teams to conduct research and to organize their findings into a final presentation. Drawing on current information in a library database on global trade, students decide whether to illustrate their conclusions with charts, graphic images, or digital video clips. Next, they summarize their information into an easy-to-navigate web page and make a presentation using computer projection. A panel of judges from local businesses attend the final presentations and offer feedback. The best presentations are then archived on a course website that will help set high standards for the student projects in following semesters.