Ed Tech Practices

Putting Emerging Technologies to the Test

Hope College, a liberal arts institution in Michigan, isn't afraid to put technology in the classroom and to get faculty involved in the process.

When college professors shy away from new technologies designed for classroom use, Tom Ludwig jumps in with both feet, ready to experiment with those new innovations. A professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, MI, Ludwig used his first computer in class back in 1980 and six years later developed PsychSim, a social simulation tool that's still being used today.

"The tool has been through five editions since being introduced in 1986," said Ludwig, a Hope College faculty member since 1977 who teaches courses like introductory psychology, developmental psychology, and gerontology. Along with PsychSim, Ludwig other's projects include PsychQuest, PsychInquiry, and PsychOnline--all of which fit well with Hope College's quest to integrate technology in a way that many liberal arts colleges have yet to achieve.

"Traditionally, liberal arts schools lag behind major research universities when it comes to technological innovation," Ludwig explained. "We, on the other hand, have a long history of using technology across various departments."

Take Hope College's 2003 adoption of Moodle--an open-source course management system that has only recently been embraced by institutions of higher education.

"Other colleges and universities were using WebCT, Blackboard, and other course management systems," said Ludwig, "but we latched onto Moodle as our standard seven years ago. It turned out to be a very effective choice for us."

Ludwig said numerous colleges and universities followed suit. "Schools that were using commercial vendors have switched to Moodle for its flexibility and adaptability," he explained, "and the fact that you can get into the source code and make changes that are unique to your own institution."

Hope College's willingness to try new technologies didn't stop there. Just one year after adopting Moodle for campus-wide course management, the school implemented student response systems, which allow professors to request information, and students to respond, using hand-held clickers. Most useful in lecture halls where 200 to 300 students are being taught by a single instructor, the systems have "been extremely effective for teaching large groups," said Ludwig.

To encourage innovation and participation among its faculty, Hope College established its own "Instructional Technology Innovation Fund" in 1999, with the goal of enticing instructors to propose ideas and to get them funded. "Faculty members make a public presentation about their ideas before they can get the financing for them," said Ludwig. "This has turned out to be an incubator for dozens of exciting, individual faculty projects."

One of those projects garnered attention from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), which, according to the FIPSE Web site, "supports and disseminates innovative reform projects that promise to be models for improving the quality of postsecondary education and increasing student access."

Developed by Hope College's German department, the project comprised a two-year, interactive instructional program for teaching that foreign language. FIPSE awarded the professor a $500,000 grant to develop the program, which is "now being used in colleges and universities across the country," according to Ludwig.

In another example of how Hope College's innovation fund has helped faculty members spread their technological wings, a music teacher proposed a program that would enable real-time recording and note-taking and then analyze the associated sound waves. "Using this technology, singers can alter their mouth movements and watch how the sound wave changes in real-time," said Ludwig.

The technology allows music teachers to document singing sessions, and then use the information to help improve vocal performance quality in a "scientific way," said Ludwig. "You wouldn't necessarily expect the music department to get so involved with technology," he said, "but this was an exemplary project."

Not all of Hope College's technology investments have paid off. Take online exam administration, for example. According to Ludwig, the school tossed around the idea of offering such a service to students a few years ago but couldn't come up with a viable way to prevent cheating and/or use of resource materials during graded quizzes and tests.

"We still don't have that figured out," said Ludwig, who pointed out that the school does use online quizzing and testing for student instruction and review. "We know that there are colleges and universities relying heavily on the Internet for testing and grading, but we just don't believe it's feasible."

Ludwig, whose current tech project is "Concepts in Action," a set of 109 brief instructional computer activities embedded in a larger resource called PsychPortal, said there's more innovation ahead for Hope College. Electronic textbooks, he remarked, will likely be part of that "next wave" and will probably be used as an adjunct to current textbooks. "Electronic textbooks will add a crucial, interactive quality to the student experience," said Ludwig.

Speaking more generally, Ludwig said the next wave could include even more revolutionizing of education through technology--something that has been hyped and touted, but not necessarily delivered on. "We've made progress with classroom technology," said Ludwig, "and now we're starting to see the promise of students using technology to study and learn outside of the classroom become a reality."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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