Lotus Subhapholsiri '06 had to miss her Engineering Sciences 13 class when she came down with a respiratory infection Thursday, but she will be able to watch streaming videos of the lectures she missed on the course's website as she recovers this weekend.
"I think it is a great idea -- just because I can review notes really effectively," Subhapholsiri said.
Technology is playing an increasingly important role in classes like Engineering Sciences 13 despite concerns about whether it affects class attendance or gets in the way of a traditional liberal arts education.
English professor Tom Luxon directs the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, which helps professors use digital technology. According to Luxon, classroom technology use includes video webcasts available on course websites, "podcasts," or audio recordings that can be downloaded to digital music players, and audio books and recordings of readings made available on Blackboard, a website that allows professors to post course materials online.
Over the past 10 months, approximately a dozen faculty members have come to DCAL for help, often with questions about technology, Luxon said. While more high-tech teaching methods like podcasting are still in their infancy, DCAL is helping faculty members learn how to use them.
DCAL is working to furnish classrooms with audio and video equipment that would automatically record lectures, instructors and presentation materials. Luxon hopes to have Instructional Computing post these class recordings on a server for students to watch.
Luxon disagreed with those who argue that webcasting lectures will result in lower class attendance, noting that he has posted audio recordings of his lectures online for the past two terms and has not seen a drop in attendance.
"If they can get everything from the video, then they don't need to come to class," Luxon said. "There should be more than that. Even if it's something as simple as the professor wandering around making eye contact, it makes a difference. A lot of learning results from emotional engagement, which helps imprint things in the mind. Some of the best learning takes place when students try and reformulate the professor's ideas."
Luxon noted that institutions for the disabled often lead the way in using technology for learning, and that these technologies eventually catch on among the rest of the population.
"Captioning on television was designed for people with hearing disabilities, but when you're a guy in a bar trying to watch the game, you appreciate captioning too," Luxon said.
Luxon uses audio books and audio recordings in his classes to help students engage with the material he teaches.
"I've pioneered using audio books in teaching Milton and Shakespeare," Luxon said. "Interestingly enough, I didn't start doing this for disabled students. I did it to help everyone, because when it comes to 'Paradise Lost,' we're all disabled."
DCAL plans to offer a web conference on podcasting, titled "Implementing Podcasting in the Classroom," for faculty members on Nov. 30.
The College also co-hosted a conference with Landmark College on Thursday celebrating World Usability Day, which was designed to promote the use of technology, especially for the disabled.