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Wired for Success

For students, a bus ride across campus usually means jamming out to the latest Lady Gaga hit on their iPods.


Hand-held clickersHand-held clickers that Peter Anderson, a professor of materials science and engineering, uses in his classroom allows students to answer questions electronically, enabling them to interact more and giving him more immediate feedback on whether they underThe class is a relatively new one-credit course teaching students the C# (C-Sharp) programming language. Crawfis has developed a new way to teach technology courses by posting his lectures, broken into brief sections with relevant PowerPoint slides, on the Internet for students to download, making it easy to listen to and watch a lecture on their own computers or even via their iPods or MP3 players.But those in associate professor Roger Crawfis’ computer science and engineering class are more likely listening to his newest lecture.

Kenneth Thompson, a computer science and engineering major, is one of those students catching any opportunity he can to get ready for his next class with Crawfis.

“I watch them in a variety of places, including my home, the bus from West Campus and just about anywhere else that I can get an Internet connection and have a few extra minutes,” says Thompson. “The extra availability of the lectures makes time in the classroom different by allowing me to finish all of the lectures before class so I can then get help on projects or get questions answered in class.”

This accessibility is exactly what Crawfis aims for by prerecording his lectures for students.

“I can sit there and I can talk about the core material, but really the students are going to learn more by doing,” says Crawfis. “When they do, there’s a thousand little things that can hiccup and throw even the computer science students off. So it’s better if I’m available to look over their shoulders and tell them, ‘Here’s what you’re doing wrong here,’ than if I’m lecturing during the entire class.

Like Crawfis, Peter Anderson, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, sees innovation as a much-needed tool in today’sclassroom.

Anderson takes advantage of technology by giving his students hand-held clickers, similar to those seen on the America’s Funniest Home Videos TV show. Instead of voting for videos, students are answering questions within Anderson’s PowerPoint lecture. Anderson encourages dialogue by having students work in groups to work out the question and settle on one answer. 

“It’s not only about the students comprehending, but if you run a question-and-answer session with clickers in certain ways, it’s also about the instructor finding out what’s coming across clearly or not,” says Anderson.

Because of an increasing number of students, Anderson’s class had to be moved out of his department to a large lecture hall across campus. To avoid having to haul the experiment equipment there, he uses the Internet, which allows him to access the IP camera in his department that is recording the live experiments being performed by someone in his department.

Anderson can guide students and the experimenter through the experiment, even through the bumps and bad camera angles along the way.

“This is not a polished show, and so it’s got kind of a Letterman-on-the-street feel where the camera might come up to someone’s face and then back up because you’ve  gotten a little bit too close,” says Anderson.

While these videos are not Sundance worthy, they still give students a chance to further their understanding and enjoy the class at the same time.

“The fun part about this is we can have a dialogue,” says Anderson. “And you get this dynamic going on that’s more exciting, more conversational. These experiments are enriching experiences, so they reinforce some of the concepts in class.”

Throughout the College of Engineering, faculty and staff members like Crawfis and Anderson are using technological innovations and embracing new ways to give students skills they will apply in everyday work situations.

Katelyn Vitek is a student communications assistant for the College of Engineering.