Some professors go untrained in high-tech gear

Introductory science professor Martin Zysmilich is one of a few tech-savvy professors on campus.

In addition to utilizing PowerPoint, an LCD projector, and a camera that enlarges textbook pages for his 300-student class to see, Zysmilich has taken the initiative to introduce an infrared receiver system used to answer multiple-choice questions. Before each lecture, he installs five receivers around the classroom, which register answers from the tiny $5 keypads students have to buy for his class.

“I use basically everything,” he said.

The only GW professor using the system, Zysmilich first introduced it last semester and said the response was overwhelmingly positive.

But many professors do not utilize available technology as well as Zysmilich. They are not able to effectively use new software and classroom aides, said Richard Robin, an assistant professor of Russian and international affairs who helps train faculty to use new technology.

“The trouble is that technology has a high learning curve. You have to spend a long time just playing to learn,” he said.

He added that while Blackboard is as easy to use as Hotmail, there are many features, such as the grade book, that professors do not use because they require more time and exploration.

Senior J. David Grossman, chief information officer of the Student Association, said more faculty members could incorporate new technology into the classroom.

“The University has invested a lot in Blackboard, yet most semesters I only have one class using the system,” he said. “More and more the University is placing multimedia centers into classrooms, which can include projectors, VCRs, DVD players, and computers, but they often go unused.”

Learning to use Blackboard takes under two hours, said Robin, and there are many opportunities on campus for professors to gain new technology skills.

The Center for Instructional Design and Development trains professors how to use instructional materials such as Blackboard and audio and video media. They offer face-to-face group sessions and Web-based tutorials, as well as a walk-in facility where faculty can receive training.

“Our sessions are not mandatory, but in some cases like Blackboard, we strongly recommend that faculty take advantage of our training and services,” the center’s director, Bill Koffenberger, said.

He said feedback on the training was very positive from most faculty members. But some complained classes were too long, so the center introduced “Tech essentials” workshops that teach the basics in less time.

The Center for Academic Technologies offers more specialized training, such as Windows XP assistance in classrooms. It offers one-on-one and on-the-spot training to coordinate with instructors’ schedules.

This fall, more than 100 professors have been trained in high-tech equipment, which is close to double the number who reported for training in the spring, according to center statistics. Classrooms are dubbed “high-tech” for featuring Pentium IV computers, DVD players and LCD projectors.

Last year, nearly 700 professors received some type of instructional technology training, said P.B. Garrett, assistant vice president for academic technologies. Garrett meets with new faculty each year to introduce GW’s instructional technology offerings.

Senior Blake Ehrlich, who is in Zysmilich’s class, said the professor’s use of technology not only aids the learning process but also helps her get better grades. The infrared receiver system is used for bonus credit in the class.

“The points are just added onto your grade. If you never go to class, there is nothing deducted from your grade,” Ehrlich said. “It’s nice to know attendance counts for something. Last semester my grade was moved from a B to a B+ just because I came to class and answered most of the questions right.”

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