Technology-Rich Learning
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Technology-Rich Learning: Mobile computing adds value to College education--- by Art Latham.
A personal digital assistant (PDA) enables a dairy science student to enter herd data at the Lake Wheeler Dairy Education Unit. (Photo by Sheri D. Thomas)

Ornate letter "T"
he College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
is establishing and extending its high-tech communication methods to provide tomorrow’s leaders with a competitive edge in the marketplace.

“We have been positioning ourselves for mobile computing opportunities in our classrooms, field laboratories and other instructional settings,” said Dr. Barbara Kirby, assistant director of Academic Programs in the College.

Developments include faculty and student workshops, students’ use of handheld computers (personal digital assistant or PDA) in management of a dairy enterprise’s operation, and interactive zoology CDs.

Last August, 28 College faculty members took a bold step into the future of instructional technology. Ray Brown of the Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications’ (DELTA) Learning Technology Service (LTS) and the university’s only certified Palm educational training coordinator, led an orientation workshop on potential uses of Palm’s Tungsten handheld computer in the classroom.

Workshop participants, including undergraduate coordinators and other CALS faculty members, learned how to use the technology and explored potential curriculum-related applications for hand-held computing devices.

In October, an EdTech Fair at McKimmon Center demonstrated that the College is invested in developing many such projects. College Ambassadors and staff exhibited a range of handheld units and presented hands-on applications to the university community.

Thomas Young of the College’s Academic and Administrative Computing Technology unit and Hal Meeks of the University Information Technology Division (ITD) trained 26 CALS Ambassadors on Palm Zire 71 PDAs, which include a digital camera and a software applications suite that rivals that of a desktop PC.

Depending on the model selected, handheld computers can help the ambassadors collect data at field labs, share documents for group projects, access information for classes or research projects through the Web.

At the same time the Ambassadors are surfing the innovations wave. They can even deliver PowerPoint presentations from the Zire 71 with their Margi unit and a small projector.

And while they could already use the Palm’s built-in features, within 24 hours of receiving their units, they had ordered expansion cards to handle multimedia and freeware applications.

The driving forces behind the initiative are Dr. Ken Esbenshade, associate dean and director of Academic Programs, and Kirby. They envision a student population that can manage personal and professional time with a versatile handheld computer.
Dr. Ken Esbenshade, director of the College's Academic Programs, joins students in exploring PDA capabilities. (Photo by Sheri D. Thomas)

Kirby cited three basic goals of CALS technology initiatives:

• To ensure new students are prepared to meet technology-use expectations

• To provide integrated and appropriate technology-rich learning opportunities to enhance the core academic activities of the university

• To guarantee graduates leave the university with appropriate technological proficiency.

“The handheld units are customized with software containing organization, productivity, learning, and teaching applications for College faculty and students,” said Kirby. “The tool is an effective time-management device for professionals and is now fully integrated into professional schools, including medical schools and our own veterinary college.”

For instance, in the fall, Dr. Vivek Fellner’s Dairy Cattle Management students took their PDAs, loaded with dairy management software, to the Lake Wheeler Dairy Education Unit.

The unit maintains a milking herd of about 75 Holsteins and 60 Jerseys and is used extensively for teaching purposes. The unit is also a major site for conducting research projects that range from nutritional trials to reproductive performance and environmental issues.

Fellner, an assistant professor in the Animal Science Department, teaches management of economic, nutritional, genetic and physiological factors that influence a dairy enterprise’s operation.

“Several of our research stations use the mainframe PCDART. The PDA version – ‘Pocket Dairy’ – can be synchronized to the mainframe, and the functions are essentially similar, with perhaps a few features unique to the PDA version,” Fellner said.

“At a workshop conducted by the Dairy Records Management Systems at their facility here in Raleigh, we gave the students a rundown of how the PDA is used in the dairy industry,” he said.

Pocket Diary works for any size herd, and includes entries for cow or heifer pages and event lists. Workers can enter data for veterinarian checkups, breedings, calvings and more and search for any animal listed within the herd included on the Pocket Diary. The preferences mode can be set for several languages and reports.

Also, Dr. Henry Schaffer, professor of genetics and biomathematics and coordinator of special ITD projects, Drs. Betty Black and Marianne Niedzlek-Feaver of the Zoology Department and ITD’s Meeks explored wireless computing applications in zoology with the PDA brands Jornada and Handsprings.

From those beginnings, Black, Niedzlek-Feaver and Dr. Harold Heatwole, also of the Zoology Department, created an interactive CD called bioMovies, which includes a variety of clips of animals in the field for science educators and students.

The videos are accessible via links from the html contents page or directly from folders that contain movie files. The contents page should open in any browser, although all videos require QuickTime, a free download.

On the CD, Heatwole describes the kinds of presentations available, how they are organized and how they’ll be available. That’s followed by a video selection illustrating interactive techniques, including how to quiz on the material presented.

“The teachers we talked with indicated that they’d like to have such animal-related materials,” Heatwole said, “but were usually forced to buy sets, which they couldn’t afford. With our nested selection method, they can choose anything from a few short clips to the entire set, as we will be burning individualized CDs.”

The College, N.C. State and an Academic Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture support the project’s video clip production. The College’s partners in high-tech innovation include PalmOne, ITD and DELTA.

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