Imagine a class where students use hand-held computers complete with class notes, study images and related readings instead of a textbook. Dr. Betty Black and Dr. Marianne Niedzlek-Feaver have done more than imagine it; the two Department of Zoology professors in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, with the help of Hal Meeks in N.C. State’s Office of Information Technology, began experimenting last fall with using mini-computers in class.
The experiment is so new that Black and Niedzlek-Feaver were swamped by inquiries at the N.C. State University Technology Expo this fall when they demonstrated their classroom use of computers. Their display was among 15 exhibits and presentations from the College at the annual event to showcase how the university is using technology.
While the hand-held computers have not yet replaced textbooks for their classes, Black, Niedzlek-Feaver and Meeks see a day when that will be possible. Through grants from the University of North Carolina General Administration and N.C. State’s Learning Technology Services, the teachers purchased 27 Handspring Visors, hand-held computers about the size of a calculator, and 14 Jornadas, mini-laptop computers capable of wireless World Wide Web surfing. The computers are loaned to students in their classes and returned at semester’s end.
“The idea was to use the smallest and largest hand-held computers to see what we could do, which the students liked best and which worked best,” says Niedzlek-Feaver, associate professor of zoology, who used the Jornadas last fall in her philosophy of evolution class. “I wanted the class to gain a better understanding of the history of evolution by reading some of the primary literature.”
She plans eventually for students to use the computers to access literature wirelessly during class and have dialogues about it with classmates. In the fall, students developed class presentations using the computers to surf the Web for references.
“Students love the idea of a computer they can take and use anywhere,” she says. “They like the portability of it mainly because they were able to surf the Web at any time.” In fact, base stations around campus that make possible wireless Internet access, are becoming very popular, she says.
Black, professor of zoology, took a different approach in her course on developmental anatomy and histology of vertebrates. The hand-held Visors used by her students contained a Flash module with all the notes and images presented in class. Students have the ability to take notes directly into their Visors, making them complete study tools, as well as portable.
Later in the semester, she used the units more interactively, asking students to label parts of images on their Visors, then compare their labels with a correctly labeled image. And both teachers plan to use the hand-held computers in the future to generate more interaction between instructor and student.
“Most educators are eager to reach their students, but lecturing is a poor way to motivate and serve this new generation of students,” Black says “This is a good way to introduce active learning and group interaction during class.”
Other college exhibits at the Technology Expo included three-dimensional slides created for classroom studies in the College’s Center for Electron Microscopy. Curious observers wearing 3-D glasses crowded around the exhibit of Dr. John Mackenzie, center coordinator, to get the full effect of the slides.
Melissa Taylor, Extension food safety specialist who has earned acclaim for her food safety Web site, is launching a new project, a “Teacher’s Toolbox.” The project will be a Web site to help middle and high school teachers in North Carolina connect agriculture and life sciences in their classroom. The toolbox will be a valuable tool for helping teachers apply science in the classroom and ultimately for exposing students to the magnitude of careers open to graduates of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Tom Creswell, manager of the College’s Plant Disease and Insect Clinic, demonstrated the clinic’s system for delivering diagnostic reports via the Web. The system allows the clinic to post reports to the Web, then send an e-mail note to a Cooperative Extension agent or producer giving the URL where the report is posted. When the same disease or condition shows up in multiple samples, the clinic can refer all who submitted a plant for diagnosis to the same Web site.