Featured Story: Technology in Teaching

A screen from one of the computer homework programs developed at CBU on the theory of relativity.

A screen from one of the computer homework programs developed at CBU on the theory of relativity.

Many faculty members at CBU have made very good use of technology in the classroom and in their course support materials. PowerPoint provides a useful classroom tool. As with any tool, it has the potential to be abused, but it also has the power to be a way of providing clear and concise notes including images and graphs. Some of the professors post the PowerPoint presentations on their web sites as a way of providing good class notes that can be annotated by the students in lecture, freeing up time for the students to listen and participate in class. Another powerful tool is spreadsheets that can show numerical techniques and provide simulations. These also are sometimes posted on professors’ websites and can be used and experimented with by students. Some of our professors use Moodle as a tool to provide graded homework and class information.But computers provide more than just PowerPoint and spreadsheets. In the Physics Department here at CBU, Dr. Johnny Holmes, Professor of Physics, and Dr. John Varriano, Professor of Physics have created computer homework program sets that have been downloaded by hundreds of other educators around the world. This work began about 1980, so there are now plenty of CBU science and engineering graduates that are familiar with these. The programs have recently been updated so that they run on the newer windows operating systems. Based on student comments on course evaluations and student performance on tests, these program sets are a useful learning tool. Dr. Ted Clarke, Assistant Professor of Physics, is using Wiley Plus as a computer aid for his students.

Hands On learning at CBU labs

Along with all of the automation and computers, labs at CBU still have a hands-on component.

Biology is very image intensive, and our biology faculty have used the ability of the computer to store and retrieve images quickly. Particularly outstanding in this area is Dr. Anna Ross, Professor of Biology. She has shared with me many notes of thanks from around the world for her resources she makes available on the web. And the biology resources on our intranet are even more extensive! Dr. Malinda Fitzgerald is using clickers in her lecture classes to improve student engagement.

In chemistry, molecules exist in three dimensional space, so the computer is now an important tool to see these molecules in 3-D. Dr. William Busler, Professor Emeritus, wrote a program on the old Commodore computers to help students practice nomenclature, and that program has recently been updated to run on the newer windows operating systems. Many of our alums should remember that program! Dr. William Peer, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, has many chemistry resources available on Moodle for his students including the above mentioned nomenclature program, PowerPoint slides, study guides and practice exams. He also uses the OWL computer system because of the instant feedback in doing homework problems and because of the good explanations when students do not get the right answer. Dr. Anthony Trimoli, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, uses the Sapling computer system along with clickers in his lecture classes. Dr. David Dawson, Associate Professor of Chemistry, uses software to display organic chemicals in his Organic Chemistry lectures.

In the lower level mathematics courses, the Math Department uses several different tools. In the ALGebra sequence, the department uses a computer program to supplement the lectures. This program gives students guided practice on the skills and concepts being taught. In the Finite Math course for Arts and Business majors, Dr. Bedrossian has developed computer tools for a hybrid course offered in the evening to Professional Studies students but it is also useful to day students as a great study guide. In the Precalculus course, the department is using an on-line system that not only gives guided help to the student but also decreases the cost of a printed textbook.

The Mathematics Department has utilized the Moodle Program since 2003 by setting up a series of tests in Pre-Calculus, Pre-Calculus/Calculus 1, Calculus 1 & 2, and Differential Equations courses to help students with their computational abilities in these areas.

In the upper level mathematics courses, the department uses the Maple programs to help visualize functions in several dimensions (parameters). Not only do the math faculty use this tool, they also create tools that they share with others in the world. For instance, Dr. Leigh Becker, Professor of Mathematics, has worked students to develop Maple worksheets and some of these have been published by Maplesoft at its Maple Application Center web site.

The use of computers in the lab is everywhere. They provide excellent tools in the gathering of data and in the analysis of that data. Almost every instrument now has a computer interface. We try, however, in the labs to really let the students see, touch, and understand what is really going on and not just learn to push buttons. And we do use technology in lab teaching, too. One advantage is allowing students to “replay” lab activities as they study the material outside of lab time. In biology, they have tutorials using digital images (of anatomical models, dissection specimens, and photomicrographs) and video that we can link through Moodle, course web pages and made available via a shared directory.

Here is a link to a video clip from a recent embryology lab. Ebony Talbert, Biology 2014, captured this video (as well as some still images) with her iPhone through the dissecting microscope objective. It shows a stained, living chicken embryo. You can clearly see the heart beating.