Straightening the Learning Curve

Can you surf the Internet, carry on a conversation and listen to your favorite CD—at the same time?

Most of our students can and do.

As director of UT’s Innovative Technology Center (ITC) in the Division of Educational Technology, Jean Derco’s job is trying to make sure faculty and staff can keep up with their technology savvy students.

Jean DercoDerco, who has been a UT employee since 1997, says students’ knack for multitasking presents a unique challenge to faculty hoping to maximize learning.

"Millennial students have grown up with technology," she says. "They are comfortable searching for a topic on the Internet while playing music in the background, instant messaging a friend and talking to their roommate."

The question remains whether all of this simultaneous activity can be done effectively, but to Derco one thing is clear: faculty must search for new ways to fully engage students who are used to such constant stimulation.

To help them, Derco keeps an eye on emerging teaching technologies, how other universities are using them and how they might be applied at UT.

She says technology-integrated teaching practices are gaining ground at UT.

A case in point is Online@UT, the Blackboard-based course management system, which allows students to view course assignments, download course files, participate in class discussions and communicate directly with faculty. This semester more than half of all courses have activated Online@UT sites, and 90 percent of UT students are taking at least one class that utilizes this technology.

"Today’s students want things on their own terms, like TiVo," says Derco. "They want to review materials when it’s convenient for them, so tools like Blackboard help meet that need. Faculty can place a variety of content on Online@UT so students can review it at their convenience 24/7."

Derco assisted one professor who traveled to Europe to attend a seminar and was able to maintain his courses in Knoxville through podcasts and Online@UT.

Clickers in the ClassroomOther professors receive instant feedback by having students use clickers, TV-remote-like devices that quickly tally individual responses and track overall class progress.

Although there’s a sea of tools out there for faculty who want to use them, Derco acknowledges not everyone is ready to take the high-tech plunge.

"Some faculty members feel they’re progressive enough by having Web sites. Everyone has a personal preference. Some professors are intimidated by the idea of exploring new technologies for their courses, but good teaching is good teaching. Technology should support the teaching message and not be used only because it exists."

"Faculty members are busy," says Derco. "They have little time and many priorities. For those who have an idea and don’t know how to implement it, that’s where we come in."

The ITC web site, https://itc.utk.edu, spotlights ways UT professors are using new teaching technologies. ITC’s main offices will relocate adjacent to Tyson Park during the spring semester; however, the center will maintain its presence in Hodges Library.

Jean Derco lives in West Knoxville where she enjoys many artistic endeavors including making jewelry. She enjoys traveling and recently returned from a trip to London where she saw the Queen.

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