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Instructional Technology Sessions Introduce Innovative Tools for Educators

By Natalie Brown

Remember when a chalkboard was a common classroom fixture? The classroom as you may remember it, with a chalkboard and a projector and a couple of no. 2 pencils, has experienced significant changes.

If you were to search every room of the new Health Education Complex at USC Upstate, you would not find a single chalkboard. You would find numerous Promethean marker boards, which e-mail notes written on the boards directly to students, whose desks are no longer covered by pencils and paper, but instead by laptops with wireless Internet connections. Students access their syllabi and assignments online, where they participate in discussion groups with their peers across campus and all over the world.

SpeedgeekingAs technology constantly evolves, USC Upstate continues to offer learning opportunities to keep the campus community up-to-date. The Department of Instructional Technology recently hosted a SpeedGeeking session to introduce a number of resources for teaching and working more efficiently.

The SpeedGeeking demonstrations were led by University faculty and staff, each of whom gained experience with specific tools through their use in the classroom. These tools ranged from social networks to real-time document editors, which allow educators to collaborate with students in a variety of ways outside the classroom.

“If students are on laptops in your classroom, chances are, they’re on Facebook,” Dr. George Labanick, professor of biology, said during his introduction to Facebook as a course tool. “Students check Facebook more readily than Blackboard or their student e-mail accounts.” Labanick set up a Facebook group for his University 101 class and now has the ability to message all members, send “invitations” and reminders for students regarding tests, share class photos, and chat online with students.

Other technologies were presented that allow students to collaborate on projects both in and out of the classroom. Windows Live provides instant messaging capabilities and blogging tools, along with a workspace that allows users to share, edit, and comment on Microsoft Office documents. EtherPad is a real-time collaboration tool that allows multiple people to work on the same text simultaneously. Google Docs doesn’t require any specific software for its Web-based tools and Docs can be saved in several different formats. There are also collaborative uses of Gmail and Google Calendar for educators and students.

Several tools for improving courses and making the classroom more interactive were introduced. Music instructor Vern Weygandt presented KeepVid, a Web site used to capture streaming videos from sites like YouTube that allows videos to remain accessible even after the original links are broken or removed.

Dr. Reid Toth, assistant professor of criminal justice, introduced MERLOT.org, an online depository of peer-reviewed teaching materials including lectures, presentations, wikis, tutorials, and videos. “MERLOT is an excellent resource for those who are looking to enrich or improve their course materials,” Toth said.

“I really appreciate new technology and social networking being incorporated into our courses,” said Seth Rubenstein, a senior political science major from Spartanburg. “Dr. Trevor Rubenzer is available on Facebook to answer any questions students have. It’s really convenient to send an instant message when I need to get in touch with him, and it’s great to know that professors are becoming more accessible to their students.”

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