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April 1, 2002

Conference celebrates IT, teaching marriages

By Michael Terrazas


Last week more than 200 people attended the University’s inaugural “Educational Forum on Academic Technology at Emory (EduCATE),” held March 25–26 as a celebration of the many ways faculty have incorporated new technologies into their classrooms.

“We really accomplished what we wanted, and that’s a focus on the faculty,” said conference organizer, Don Harris, vice provost for information technology. “We wanted to give them an opportunity, without a lot of direction from us, to show what they were doing. And I think people appreciated the fact that there was no ‘hard sell’ on the technology.”

Headlining the conference was Carl Berger, professor of science and instructional technology education and director of advanced academic technologies in the Collaboratory for Advanced Research and Academic Technologies at the University of Michigan. Berger delivered the event’s keynote address at a dinner March 25 in the Carlos Museum reception hall after being introduced by former Emory chancellor Billy Frye. The two men are colleagues and friends from the days when Frye was provost at Michigan.

Berger talked about the search for the next “killer app,” or technological application that “fundamentally changes the way we think about what we do and enables us to do that which we could not do before.” Using a PowerPoint presentation, Berger walked the audience through his vision of what the next killer app might do, using such acronyms as “WISIWIG” (What I See Is What I Get) and “WINWINI” (What I Need When I Need It).

Berger also discussed how he felt technology is changing the very nature of learning. In the past, he said, students regurgitated knowledge imparted to them by teachers, but in the future he sees students and teachers working in collaboration to create new knowledge.

The next morning, Berger delivered a breakfast lecture in which he charted the growth in information technology (IT) use among Michigan students. Beginning in 1986, the university surveyed students every two years to gauge what kinds of technology they used for what purposes, and Berger traced the meteoric rise of such applications as e-mail and Internet surfing over the decade of the 1990s.

“People worried about technology reducing the amount of personal interaction with students,” Berger said. “But far from losing personal contact, faculty said they were being overwhelmed by it [with the advent of e-mail].”

The rest of the conference featured presentations by 12 Emory faculty—the “early adopters” of IT in teaching, Harris said—describing how they use technology in the classroom. Harris said he was pleased that a wide, multidisciplinary range of professors from across the University participated in the conference, both as presenters and as attendees.

“It was neat to look at people’s nametags and see one person from, say, surgery and another from English, talking about how they use Blackboard to promote an interactive experience for the students,” Harris said.

According to Jason Lemon, business analyst for the Information Technology Division, when Blackboard was first introduced on the Emory campus in the summer of 2000, just 12 courses incorporated it. Today some 350 courses encompassing roughly 3,000 students use Blackboard. And LearnLink, which made its appearance at Emory in 1993, is now an integral part of daily life on campus.

Harris said this EduCATE conference is the first of what he hopes will be a yearly campus event, and he hopes the lessons gleaned from it will encourage more faculty to incorporate IT into their teaching. Perhaps next year, he said, he won’t have to rely on “the usual suspects” to serve as presenters.

“As host, my main objective was to bring people together,” Harris said. “It was good to see faculty connect with each other, and I hope those will be ongoing relationships.”