March 29, 2004

ITD's EduCATE conference keeps growing in third year

By Michael Terrazas

Last week's EduCATE (Educational Conference on Academic Technologies at Emory), held March 22-24, was the biggest iteration yet for the 3-year-old classroom technology showcase.

In addition to featuring pedagogical uses of information technology (IT)--and the faculty taking advantage of it--this year's conference added sessions on using IT for research, specifically in the health sciences. Richard Robb, Scheller Professor of Medical Research at Mayo Medical School and director of the Mayo Biomedical Imaging Resource, delivered the keynote address at the conference's opening banquet, March 22 in Cox Hall.

In a lecture titled "Biomedical Imaging of Today & Tomorrow: Fusion of Form and Funct-ion," Robb gave a graphics-intensive demonstration of the possibilities medical imaging holds not only for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions, but also prevention. Through examples of such procedures as a virtual colonoscopy, Robb impressed his dinner audience with "way cool visuals" (as CIO and Vice Provost for Information Technology Don Harris described them) that incorporate three, four and even five dimensions.

To name a few examples, Robb said next-generation medical imaging could provide for minimally invasive medical procedures using virtual-reality surgical "rehearsals" and nanobots that could enter the body and do the work of a scalpel without incisions. Once far-fetched medical technologies, such as those featured in science fiction tales like "Star Trek," soon could become medical realities.

"I'm a Trekkie," Robb said, "because they do things I think we ought to be able to do now."

On Tuesday, March 23, the conference followed its established format of holding concurrent sessions led by Emory faculty to demonstrate how they successfully integrate IT into their classrooms and research labs. For example, French & Italian's Judy Raggi Moore, along with José Rodriguez from the Emory College Language Center, discussed their collaboration on an "Italian Virtual Class" that provided students with rich cultural information to augment more text-based language acquisition.

Kenneth Green, director of the national Campus Computing Project and visiting scholar at Claremont Graduate University, used his March 23 lunchtime address to discuss "Beginning the Third Decade of the 'IT Revolution.'" The Campus Computing Project is the largest ongoing study of IT use on American college and university campuses, and Green demonstrated how IT trends in higher education have changed since such technologies first were introduced in college classrooms in the early 1980s.

Green called the increasing use of IT in pedagogy an "accidental revolution," saying it occurred unplanned, unanticipated and unprepared for. Ultimately how far the revolution goes depends on the teachers themselves.

"Choices about IT in classrooms really are choices of individual faculty members: 'I will or will not use technology as part of my syllabus structure,'" Green said. "Administrations cannot mandate the use of it."

Finally, on Wednesday, March 24, the conference offered hands-on workshops in such IT tools as Blackboard, iMovie and Dream-weaver in the Emory Center for Interactive Teaching in Woodruff Library. Just like last year, these workshops were filled to capacity.

"Faculty interest not only has increased each year but expanded with how they use IT, and we tried to reflect that in the conference sessions," Harris said. "We are very interested in hearing suggestions as we move forward."

Despite the fact that EduCATE is not advertised outside the University, Harris said each year some individuals from off campus find out about it and make their way to Emory--some from quite a distance. This year Harris hosted a group of five guests from Russia visiting the United States for other events who asked to attend.

"I would put many of our faculty presentations on par with the best I have heard in national academic and IT conferences," Harris said. "The difference is, we are focused on what is going on at Emory."