Feature Stories

The New Age of Learning

By Debby Denehy

Dr. Pat Burr
Dr. Pat Burr helps grad students (l-r) John Grevera, Maria J. Vasquez and Maribel McElroy master the art of multi-media pod-casting.

Technology is changing the way we teach and learn. Since the 1990s, universities have been taking giant leaps into the “wired” arena, enabling students and faculty to abandon their workstations and plug portable computers in anywhere. It was president Dr. Louis Agnese's goal for UIW to be completely connected to meet students' needs, and accomplishing a “wired” state by 1991 placed us ahead of other area learning centers. But today, wired is a thing of the past - now we're “wireless.”

To see for yourself, visit any class in either of our newest science buildings. Dr. Glenn James, dean of the School of Math, Science and Engineering, explains, “Instructors can use touch screen panels to write directly on the computer screen and project it to the class.” So, what's the advantage over writing on a white board? He points out, “The computer can capture notes immediately and make files available for students to review anytime later.”

James is describing the Polyvision Walk and Talk®, a high-tech system that lets instructors walk around conducting class while using a remote device like a mouse, writing to the screen.

Instructors are no longer chained to the computer controls at the front of the room. This state-of-the-art technology seems space age compared to the blackboards and overheads of just a few years ago. And they're a common sight in UIW classrooms.

Adela Gott, multimedia specialist, remembers 21 years ago when she came here, “typewriters and overhead projectors were the basic tools. When personal computers took hold in the 1980s, it opened doors to new technologies, and universities jumped on board. Now there's no limit to where we might go next.”

Advances have brought about new ways to teach, and students are benefiting. Just ask MBA student Maribel McElroy. “Professors like Dr. Pat Burr integrate technology in class to demonstrate how it's used in business today.” McElroy has been collaborating with other students on a project in Dr. Pat LeMay Burr's marketing class in the H-E-B School of Business and Administration. They recently produced a multi-media pod-cast to market grocery products on the web.

Pod-casting is an increasingly popular method of transferring information like text, music or video to and from the web. Burr's students say hands-on projects like these help develop digital skills many young teens instantly have - skills they'll need in today's workplace. Other classrooms across campus are also doing this. And programs like the student-run KUIW radio station are interactive too. It operates entirely through the internet and uses instant messaging to communicate with listeners.

Incoming students are comfortable with the electronic world. They know about online chatting and blogging -- simple methods of interaction that create stimulating forums for discussion. Current classrooms everywhere are catching on; they're integrating blogs, games, 3-D modeling, simulation and other internet-based learning into curricula to reach a new generation of students. These days, the digital learning possibilities are limited only by the speed of internet connection available.

“We're keeping pace with other universities nationwide and have even been a local frontrunner in implementing new technologies,” says Dr. James Parlett, chief information officer. ”Students who enter UIW now have increasingly sophisticated needs technologically, and they will enter a complex workforce. We have a responsibility to provide a level of sophistication that meets their expectations and provides the tools they need to be successful here and when they leave us. We not only teach technology, but we mandate its use. Every student must have a laptop computer and the know-how to use it as part of their learning experience.”

To help them, Parlett says we provide laptop tablet computers. The university is now an authorized Gateway service center, so students who need a laptop can buy one affordably right here. UIW was the first area campus to do this six years ago when the program was started with another vendor. The latest model offered is cutting-edge with its flip screen and handwriting translation capability. Parlett adds, “This is our way of making sure every student is connected and actively engaged in his or her own technological growth.”

He adds, “We're fortunate at UIW to have a powerful infrastructure to manage our data and to have the technical support necessary to maintain it and assist users.” Parlett oversees an instructional technology group that teaches faculty, staff and students how to use new software and equipment via classes, online or one-on-one. “When you add up our capabilities, we're right on par with the top educational institutions today.”

But UIW isn't settling there. The new Feik School of Pharmacy leverages the latest tech tools to enhance teaching and assess learning. Pharmacy students use electronic response technology to indicate extent of comprehension so faculty can adjust the pace and content of lesson plans. Dr. Arcelia Johnson-Fannin, founding dean of the program, says, “These tools help us redirect material and bring the classroom to new levels of efficiency in learning.” She says that pharmacy students routinely use high-tech tools to assist learning, take exams, build electronic portfolios, correct written work, and simulate disease states and clinical situations using 3-D computer models.

All this adds up to additional computing power. When the doors open in fall 2007, the pharmacy school will have its own server to handle the increased computing load to support the latest scientific research data. A goal of the pharmacy school is to combine its capabilities with internal and external partners to position UIW as a credible research institution. “We want to move in a research direction that contributes new information, promotes the talents of our faculty, and involves the students in the process” says Johnson-Fannin.

“Our reasons for enhancing the technological capabilities of the university are two-fold,” explains Dr. Agnese. “We want our students to have access to the latest innovations so they'll have a heads-up when they enter the workforce. And as Incarnate Word continues to grow, we want our faculty to have greater opportunities to conduct original research that will compliment what they do in the classroom.”

Today's students are entering a world in which most jobs require technological competency. Through advancements in cyberspace degree programs such as Universe Online, high-tech resources such as the Mabee Library's electronic database, and interactive internet-based methods of teaching, UIW plans to stay on the front wave of technology integration to support our students. They expect it, and we deliver it.