Friday, February 22, 2008

Technology to support learning

Audio Loop signI went along to the Australian National Unviersity briefing for lecturers and tutors on "TEACHING AT ANU IN 2008". Technology is used in lecture theaters, online accessible from home, from campus wireless and from workstations in libraries and other locations. This is particularly relevant to the ANU Graduate Studies Select Program which lets students mix and match subjects from different disciplines.

A lecture theater might just look like a room with seats and a white board, but they are packed with technology. Much of the technology in lecture theatres is almost invisible and so needs to be explained to the staff and students. Some seats have "Audio Loops", for those with suitably equipped hearing aids. There are fixed and wireless microphones, both to help people in the room hear and for the Digital Lecture Delivery (DLD) system (which can record the lecture and make it available within seconds on the web site and as a podcast). There is WiFi in some areas.

The lecturer's podium has a touch screen to control lights, screens, audio and video. There are one or more computers built into the bench, Ethernet and video sockets for laptops. Some standard software is provided.

There are also computers in some labs and libraries. Students have quotas for printing and data access. Those doing computer intensive courses may get an extra quota.

Staff receive official information and so they are required to be on some mailing lists. Spam filters block 96% of messages sent to the ANU. Anti-virus software is provided for staff computers. However, phishing is still a problem and staff are warned to be wary about clicking on links in messages.

Web CT is currently used to deliver course materials online. This will be phased out in 2009. The DLD records audio and recording of images is being considered for 2008.

The Alliance collaborative environment is available for course use. This is an implementation of the Sakai learning management system.

Some of the technology is specifically provided for those with a disability, such as the audio loops, others such as digital lecture recording help.

The ANU uses MyDropBox plagiarism detection software. Students can check their work themselves before submitting it.

One online high technology service that many people overlook is the library. Unfortunately staff have to go to the ANU Library in person to register, even though they already have a staff card. Staff (and students) can log in off campus to access materials which are not publicly available. Copies of academic papers and book chapters are delivered electronically to remote staff. (with strict controls for copyright reasons).

ANU has a Flexible Learning Project to help staff with designing e-learning content.

The ANU also has an Emergency SMS System to send short text messages to registered staff and student mobile phones about urgent matters. Of course, technically speaking, this is not a cell broadcast system and so it might take many minutes for a message to be sent to everyone.

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