UniServe€Science News: Newsletter of the Science Software Clearinghouse Vol. 3, March 1996

Some observations on the use of IT in teaching at some US universities

John Mack On a recent visit to the USA, as a participant in a very useful study tour organised by Management Frontiers, I was asked by my UniServe*Science colleagues to inquire about IT-related work in science education among the teaching staff I met at the selected universities and higher education centers (I'm using the correct spelling!) visited. I have few general comments, since my overall impression is that IT in education in the USA shows as much variation as here but more money is spent ($60M for Annenberg/CPB project alone). I was impressed by the level of involvement of the American Association for Higher Education in IT-related developments and suggest that interested readers contact Ellen Shortill there (email: shortill@clark.net). She is the program coordinator for technology projects. The AAHE's Change magazine is also directly relevant to IT in teaching issues.

At the University of Maryland, College Park, as well as meeting Jim Greenberg, Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, I also had a demonstration of their electronic classroom by Kent Norman, a psychologist who has several WWW publications that may be of interest. Drew University has, for 11 years, issued each new student with a computer plus accessories (now including Web access) and its staff have considerable experience in learning how to cope with the pace of change in hardware and its cost implications. Bob Fenstermacher (rfenster@drew.edu) is a physicist there with long experience in utilising IT in lab and other classes and in evaluating available software, including computer simulation material.

At the New Media Center at Princeton, I was able to ask about some general issues, eliciting regret that there was yet to be developed in the USA reasonable `clearing house' type evaluation on networkable materials and that network-specific barriers to importing others' packages was still a problem. Further relevant comment came from Janet Daly at MIT's Academic Computing Center, on web servers: "There is a tendency to forget the `least common technological denominators' of the audience and to produce overly complex web pages. There is a need to promote design and technology simplicity."

Finally, it is clear to me that the `Design' above must rest upon a sound underlying instructional design and that this aspect of many high-tech aids to teaching and learning at university level is not well appreciated. The message that it must be was reinforced at all places I visited.

John Mack

John Mack is the Chair of the Academic Board at the University of Sydney

Some links of Interest

The laboratory of Automation Psychology:

HyperCourseware: A set of interlocking modules for interactive teaching and learning in the electronic classroom and beyond.

The Switched-On Classroom: Teaching in the Switched-On Classroom: An Introduction to Electronic Education and HyperCourseware (a WWW book).

The Psychology of Menu Selection: Designing Cognitive Control at the Human/Computer Interface (a WWW book).