The chalk markings on a board in John D. Green's humanities classroom at BYU have been replaced by multi-color images projected from a computer. Everything the humanities professor needs - art images, music, poems, architecture, films, dance, and graphics - are accessed with the touch of his finger.
This high-tech classroom is not an unusual scene at the four Church higher education campuses - BYU, Ricks College, BYU-Hawaii and LDS Business College.More and more professors are using new technology - computer assisted and mulit-media lectures, expanded classes on the Internet, increased communication through electronic mail, and dozens of other new technological developments - to improve the learning environment in their classrooms.
However, the Church Educational System is more concerned with efficiency and productivity than in being on the forefront of new, unproven technology.
"The use of technology in the Church Educational System falls within the total Church's use of technology," said Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve and Commissioner of Church Education. "We are always exploring what is available and what is possible, but we implement it carefully to be sure that efficiencies are achieved and above all, in the case of the Church Educational System, that students are really blessed.
"We have some very specific things we would like to do," Elder Eyring explained. For instance, "We will be able to extend the benefits of the campuses out across the world [over the Internet]."
However, he explained, there are challenges to offering an education over the Internet. There are the questions of less-human interaction with an Internet education, the technology is still mainly in English, and many people throughout the world do not have access to computers. "In Africa alone, there are hundreds of languages. We will baptize people in various parts of the world in many languages. The important thing is not to forget the person who you might exclude. And in the Kingdom, every individual matters.
"Technology, if you use it right, can be inclusive. If you're not thoughtful, it can be exclusive," Elder Eyring noted.
Speaking of the benefits and challenges within the campus classroom, Elder Eyring cautioned it is easy to become enthusiastic about unproven applications. "If you're going to take advantage of technology, be disciplined in evaluating. You can spend lots of money, thinking you've got the efficiency, and it turns out you've spent more than you've saved. You can get wonderful features, but you ask, `Did the students have a better experience?' "
Despite the challenges, Elder Eyring said, "I'm very optimistic about the contributions technology can make to the education of our students."
The following are a few examples of ways technology is being used at BYU, BYU-Hawaii, Ricks College and LDS Business College:
- March 11, 1997 - in its first venture into cyberspace classrooms - BYU placed a home-study Doctrine Covenants class on the Internet.
Almost a year later, the university has 10 courses, with two more to come soon, taught over the Internet, said Dwight Laws, BYU director of Independent Study.
"These courses are catching the attention of the campus," Brother Laws explained. "People are interested. The environment is right. You are just going to see this thing grow and grow."
Today, more than 100 students are enrolled in BYU Independent Study Internet classes. He said the potential for the classes are still quite small because only a portion of the student population owns a personal computer that has the capacity to access the Internet. As technology spreads, he noted, the number of students enrolled in independent study classes on the Internet will go up proportionally.
- Erin D. Bigler, a BYU professor of psychology, uses a computer-assisted program as he lectures on the correlation between brain damage and psychological problems.
His research assistant, Tracy Abildskov, recently demonstrated his program to a Church News reporter.
On the screen a viewer sees the life-like image of a head of a young girl, who was injured in a car accident. The image was created with data produced from medical scans on the child's brain.
With the touch of a button, the skin and then the skull on the three-dimensional image disappears. Left is the brain - which shows obvious damage from the car accident.
"Let's turn it around," Brother Abildskov said. The brain on the computer can then be seen from every angle.
This program and the visual images it produces, he explained, helps students understand the direct connection between brain damage and psychological problems.
"The program brings things home. You start to say, `Hey, this individual has a head injury.' It makes the subjects real," he said. "We can see where the damage is, and then start to relate certain behavior problems to the damage."
- This year all students at BYU - as well as the students at other Church schools - are being offered electronic mail at no cost. Students who do not own personal computers can access their e-mail from one of the increasing number of computer labs on campus. The main focus of the project is to increase the use of the computer as a communications tool, said Kelly C. McDonald, executive director of university computing services.
He said the students are the driving force behind increased use of e-mail. "Students are also pushing for new uses of e-mail," he said. "They are asking, `Can I submit my homework via e-mail?' "
Brother McDonald predicts that within a short period of time, most of BYU's faculty will post their class syllabuses on the Internet - where they can be updated on a daily basis, if necessary.
- John Lamb began using multi-media lectures in his chemistry classroom in the early 1990s. "After a few years, I realized that technology had the ability to solve a problem that I had worried about for several years."
He said that the traditional teaching method was to teach as much as possible in an hour - leaving behind some students who could not grasp the concepts as fast. "I used technology to solve the problem," he said.
He developed a program he calls "Chem Tudor." When students sign up for his class they buy a CD-ROM and a workbook if they have a computer, or work at the computer lab on campus with the workbook if they do not, and study concepts before they are ever presented in a lecture.
Students can view 1,600 slides on Chem Tudor, study vocabulary words, and solve problems - learning one exercise at a time, at their own pace.
Brother Lamb said the program is especially helpful for foreign students who may not understand everything presented verbally in the classroom.
Last year he tried the program with an experimental section on his chemistry class. The students did slightly better than those studying chemistry without a computer. But most importantly, said Brother Lamb, the students who had the benefit of the computer program "came away from the experience with a better attitude about chemistry and science."
- When the Ricks College Humanities Department moved to the new John Taylor Building, faculty members decided to leave old technology and convert to computer-generated media. This meant moving the visual art library from slides to computer files.
"I spent months doing nothing but scanning thousands of slides of works of art and creating a computer file for each," related Rick Davis, a humanities instructor. The next step was finding the appropriate media software robust enough to handle large single computer files. During the early stages of the faculty members' search, they were told, "The program you want doesn't exist yet."
Finally, they found the software they needed. Today, instead of slides and slide projectors, "we're ready with computer-generated art" - which makes for easy, quick access, without the cumbersome job of preparing slide trays and carrying around a slide projector.
- Students in three departments worked together recently to design, simluate and build a small, working version of a backhoe. According to Garth Miller, an instructor in the Division of Engineering and Technology, students in the Design and Drafting Department used computer-aided design software, which replaces the drafting board and pencil with a computer and mouse, to create the initial design. The students then simulated the design using three dimensional software.
Then, the Welding Engineering Technology Department, using a computer controlled cutting tool, cut out the parts and, with the help of students in the Manufacturing Department, welded them together and painted the finished backhoe. The project was displayed at a recent President's Club open house.
- Students from throughout the United States have a "wonderful way to distance learn" by registering for and taking classes through the Internet, explained Mary Lou Welch of the English Department. Sister Welch teaches online English 111 (Composition) and students access class materials on the Internet, and send assignments and receive responses via e-mail.
"I opened a chat room
communication via InternetT for the class to give the additional feeling of community for class members who felt isolated," Sister Welch added. "All these students were tremendously excited to be taking the same course as someone . . . who also planned to attend Ricks in the fall. Many of them made plans to meet their web pal as soon as they arrived on campus."
- A Japanese language instructor at BYU-Hawaii is using a program called "Sound Edit" to record two- or three-minute messages, which include questions. His students then respond to the questions. They listen at a work station on campus and record verbal answers, in Japanese, on a floppy or Zip disks - which the instructor then reviews and grades at his office computer. "This has proven interesting and challenging to students who like the challenge of improving their comprehension and pronunciation skills," said Ed Harvey, chair of World Languages at BYU-Hawaii.
- Gary Frederick, chairman of the Chemistry Department at BYU-Hawaii is currently using technology in his classroom. Rather than marking a blackboard, he shows color images projected from a computer.
Occasionally, to illustrate a point, he uses computer technology to give his students a better idea of what is happening on a molecular level. "We will take a picture of a molecule, then turn it slightly and take another picture," he explained. The computer program then runs the pictures in rapid progression showing rotation.
The students in Brother Frederick's class also have a copy of the exact program he uses during class discussions, so they can take it home or to a computer lab and study it, he said.
Calling technology one of many teaching tools, Brother Frederick said the computer-aid lectures have helped to make some concepts he teaches more understandable to students.
"The chemical world is also a dynamic 3-D world," he explained. "A combination of computer graphics, molecular modeling software programs, and animation capabilities make it possible to more effectively show this dynamic, 3-D world. We find that our students simply enjoy the process of learning with these presentations."
- Edward A. Jensen is the director of the "Academic Center for Excellence" at BYU-Hawaii. His role is to help faculty at the university understand new technology.
"Part of the focus of the Academic Center for Excellence is to provide assistance to those faculty who would like to effectively utilize technology in their classes," he said. "This utilization could range from using computers to support their lectures with presentation software; to designing and producing interactive CD-ROM materials that could be used in the classroom or individually by students; to developing courses for the Internet, making it possible for students from anywhere to have access to their materials at any time."
Brother Jensen explained that educational literature and observation indicates that teachers who don't have an understanding of technology will be at a disadvantage. "Today's teachers must be skilled technologists and have a sound understanding of effective applications of technology if they are going to prepare their students for the future.
LDS BUSINESS COLLEGE
- College officials are "pushing heavily" for more student work over the Internet, said Ken Larson, program director for Computer Information Technology. Thus, Brother Larson said, instructors can send grades to and communicate directly with each student via a computer and the Internet, creating a nearly 50 percent paperless environment. To ensure each student has easy access to a computer, 300 of the school's 400 computer are for students - one computer for every 2.5 students. Students working from computers at home can do homework via e-mail.
- In addition, LDS Business College has equipped every classroom with a computerized instructor's station, complete with a small video camera attached to a rotating base. The station is linked to a computerized overhead projector via the camera. Thus, the instructor can display multi-media presentations - using the CD-ROM and a video machine - directly from his/her computer station. And instead of making overhead transparencies - used with old overhead projectors - the instructor simply directs the video camera to the computer screen, the textbook or other classroom materials, and the images are projected on the wall screen.