Technology Mentoring

University of Wisconsin - River Falls

Feb. 14, 1997

Students Bringing Technology to Classes

Political science Professor Tracey Gladstone-Sovell is confronted by some "quirky" concepts each semester when team-teaching the general education course, "Introduction to National, State & Local Government."

The basic political science course is taken by about 600 students at UW-River Falls each year. But many of them have difficulty visualizing such esoteric concepts as the role of the Electoral College.

This semester, Gladstone-Sovell is getting help at solving that and other curricular problems from two of her new mentors: junior-year political science majors Erin Graham of Cottage Grove, Minn., and Kelly Frederick of Roberts.

Yes, mentors.

Through a ground-breaking new seminar and practicum, 10 students are engaging in mentoring relationships with faculty to strengthen their curricula by introducing wide-ranging information technology and multimedia applications as classroom teaching tools.

The project is coordinated by Professor Sally Standiford and associate Professor Mary-Alice Muraski. Standiford, a specialist in information technology, directs the Education Technology Center in the College of Education & Graduate Studies, while Muraski teaches computer systems in the College of Arts & Sciences School of Business & Economics.

The students represented widely differing levels of information technology familiarity when they enrolled last fall in a special seminar, "Teaching and Learning Through Information Technology." Their majors include political science, biology, geographic information systems, horticulture and education. "Some students had no concept of the scope or the impact of technology."

Muraski said. "They didn't know how pervasive, dramatic and common place it is, even in their own disciplines." Others had exceptional skills, but only limited experience in applying their technological expertise to the content of other disciplines in a meaningful way.

But the students were quick learners, Standiford says. During the fall, they covered nearly all the fundamentals of multimedia and information technology: from learning how to prepare PowerPoint presentations to building Web pages using Hypertext Markup Language to, in some cases, scripting in the JAVA programming language that makes Web pages interactive.

Students studied how faculty members can use technology to teach. They also were coached in how to make the leap from the traditional student-faculty relationship to working as mentors and collaborators. An outcome of that relationship is that the faculty must learn the technology, and then assist in grading how well their mentor taught them.

The invasive use of information technology and multimedia in the classroom is particularly suited to political science, says Gladstone-Sovell.

"Part of the value of information technologies in political science is that there is an incredible amount of information available on the Internet. It's also become a vehicle for people to participate in the communication process with elected leaders. One of the objectives of this course is to instill citizenship in our students."

Within the discipline, Gladstone-Sovell notes, it's common for textbook companies to incorporate multimedia, whether through CD ROM or a website presence, to support college texts.

"The faculty in our department are all committed in principle to working with our students to develop a common course. The biggest obstacle we have faced is the time to work on this," she notes.

The multimedia government course to be launched next fall will represent a total curricular revamping in much the same way as when faculty traditionally update their courses.

"The value of using students is that they know the course and the areas where there is difficulty in conveying information. They can tell us the areas that they think can best be enhanced by adding multimedia," says the political science department chair.

Erin Graham is excited about the opportunities she says the Spring semester represents: the chance to make the government process clearer to other students; a new avenue to cultivate her relationship with faculty, developed earlier as a major and as the president of the campus College Democrats; and learning technology and educational skills to bring into the workplace.

Her understanding of student needs and the course content will aide her in suggesting ways that technology can enhance it. "The course is so broad and general; it covers a lot of material at one time. Basically, at that level students need to see things. They only recently left high school, and many of them are used to a lot of overheads and visual aides. I hope to work in PowerPoint demonstrations and a lot more (technology) interactivity between the faculty and students," she notes.

"I'm really excited about working with the faculty because they are such nice people. Once we get past the professor-student relationship, it will be easier," Graham says.

Gladstone-Sovell agrees: "Our students are enthusiastic and the department's faculty are committed to doing this with the course. I think it will work out well."

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