Thursday, December 5

UCLA should use technology to electrify education


Education has always relied on technology. Dating back to the
invention of the paper and pencil, technology has revolutionized
the education process.

However, in a country which struggles to maintain basic literacy
rates, it is difficult to see how technology has actually improved
the learning environment.

In contrast to the corporate world, where computers are seen as
tools, the education system has struggled to define the role of
technology.

Is technology training supposed to be an end in itself? Or
should technology only be used to enhance the rest of the learning
experience?

UCLA is a good example of an institution which relies on
technology to function, but has yet to reach a digital nirvana.

Certainly, students use computers to conduct academic affairs
ranging from submitting undergraduate applications to selecting
classes.

The Internet, which we all surely use, offers a tremendous array
of knowledge, but requires patience and training to be used
effectively.

Faculty members use computers to conduct scientific research,
manage their classes, and communicate with colleagues across the
globe, but undergraduate students lost in massive lecture halls
rarely see any really revolutionary use of computers as a tool to
help them learn.

Aside from PowerPoint presentations and class Web sites,
students have yet to see a true integration of technology and
learning.

Across the board, schools and teachers remain short on hardware
““ according to the California Teacher’s Association,
our state remains ranked 50th in computers per student.

Regardless of how many computers and projectors are available,
managing large numbers of students while integrating technology can
be very difficult.

Moreover, I would venture to guess that few professors at UCLA
have ever taken a course on how to integrate new technology into
their lectures.

How can our professors and lecturers be expected to teach with
technology if they have not been taught themselves?

Of course, technology has caused important incremental changes.
Students no longer have to struggle with handwritten handouts or
ancient “ditto” copies. Textbooks designed with
computers boast rich graphics and benefit from modern color
printing.

Still, modern technologies should improve the overall classroom
experience, rather than simply streamline school business or serve
as examples of what will be in the future.

At UCLA, at least some people are working to make current
technologies impact students directly. Run by the Academic
Technology Services office, the Visualization Portal is a project
which aims to literally immerse students in a digital world.

The portal offers two components, a computer center which offers
the latest modeling software and a Trimension virtual reality
display which surrounds users with a 24-foot screen.

According to Pieter Lechner, manager of the Visualization
Portal, “You’ll (understand) a lot quicker looking at a
model than reading about it in a textbook.”

The portal seems to represent a useful integration of learning
with advanced technology. Professors can now take their students
through the ancient Myan ruins, fast forwarding them through
thousands of years, as if they were really there.

A far cry from a PowerPoint presentation with slides that depict
the same information in a less effective way.

And while PowerPoint presentations may be better than chalkboard
scrawls, they do little more than organize existing
information.

At UCLA, professors and lecturers have the technological
facilities at their disposal, and should try to develop curricula
which uses this technology to immerse students in rich multimedia
environments.

However, there are limits to what technology can do.

Technology may be able to transform a good lecture into a great
one, but no amount of technology can bring a bad lecture ““ or
a student sitting in one ““ back to life.

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