More courses are supplying materials over the Internet

Megan Whinnery

Brandon Weber just got a bill for the textbooks he charged to his credit card. The bill, which includes a $29 overage charge, makes Weber wish he could go to college without buying books.

“I wouldn’t have went over my limit if I didn’t have so many books to buy,” said Weber, senior political science major.

His wish may soon be granted, with more and more courses supplying materials entirely online and through interactive personal response systems.

Ashleigh Hrabak, sophomore French translation major, is taking a French composition class in Moulton Hall that provides everything she needs online, including the books.

“I can imagine in the next 10 years there won’t be textbooks anymore,” Hrabak said. “Or maybe it’s the hope of the broke college students.”

Hrabak enjoys the class because all the readings are posted on the Web site, which means she didn’t have to buy any books for the class.

The class is taught by French professor Richard Berrong, who designed and updates Web sites he uses for his French composition and French novel courses. Berrong decided to make Web sites for his classes because he could do things with the Internet he couldn’t do in class.

“Cultural differences can be broken down if I show them what it looks like,” Berrong said. “If I can remove the cultural barrier, they can focus on getting the language down.”

Berrong said showing students pictures of characters in the books make them come alive. “I can use pictures to show what the novel can’t.”

Many of the pictures on the Web site are from Berrong’s visits to France. The Web site also lets students watch movie versions of chapters and hear dialogue that comes from the novel.

“How would I describe what Tahitian church music sounds like?” Berrong asked.

The site also has a test bank that gives students immediate feedback when they answer questions.

“One problem in teaching intermediate foreign language is students need to learn how to proofread,” he said. “It’s getting them to catch their own mistakes in their writing.”

His students can do just that, and with instant results.

Technological changes in teaching and learning have created classrooms where students get more out of their education. Berrong said his students’ comprehension with French literature has changed radically since he started designing his courses online.

“It lets me craft the book,” he said.

Technology in education is creating new opportunities, but they don’t come without a cost.

“The technology in an ideal world lets instructors radically improve teaching, but two problems Kent State can’t deal with are the time it takes to create the technology and the technology itself,” Berrong said. “Moulton Hall is wonderful, and it’s a thrill to teach there, but we only have one Moulton Hall.”

Not all instructors agree with Berrong. Some professors find technology disruptive to the learning process. Mark Pike, assistant dean of Library and Information Services, led a selection committee that conducted a pilot study about personal keypads last fall. The study compared two types of interactive personal keypads, the TurningPoint and the CPS systems. Pike is still waiting on a recommendation from the Provost’s office about the outcome.

Pike said instructors who participated in the study who didn’t use the keypads before were the most likely to find the technology disrupting.

“Faculty who have (previously) used the keypads like them and will continue to use them,” he said. “It is interesting that this technology has been around for decades but has only become popular in higher education in the last year or two.”

One of the benefits of interactive technology is increased student participation. The keypads give students who might not otherwise interact in class the chance to do so. The keypads also allow instructors to administer many different versions of the same test.

Pike foresees technology in classrooms moving in a wireless direction.

“In the next five years, students might be able to use cell phones, laptops or iPods to communicate wirelessly,” he said.

Contact academic computing reporter Megan Whinnery at [email protected].