Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 23, 1995

The New Pedagogy--Part III: Balancing Innovation and Time
Finding The Time To Use New Tools

Mike Field
Staff Writer

     When Nancy Norris agreed to lead her class into the new
world of interactive computer technology she began with only
limited expectations. 

     "I went to a faculty meeting which included a presentation
about Mosaic and the World Wide Web, and I thought it would be
great to access chapters and articles electronically," said
Norris, a faculty member in the School of Continuing Studies and
director of the school's MLA, MDS and BLA programs.

     Norris, who has been teaching for 30 years, currently has
six courses active on her teaching roster. Many of them make
extensive use of additional reading lists which, in the past, she
has put on reserve at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library. If her
students could access the same material from their computers at
home or work it would be, in Norris' words, "really wonderful"
both for the time saved and the logistical problems it would
solve. "I thought that was all we could do," she said, "but then
it just mushroomed."

     In a trial program that may serve as a model for future
interactive courses, Norris' Evil from Greek Tragedies to Gothic
Tales class in the MLA program was brought fully into the
computer age. A World Wide Web homepage was created as an online
gateway to the class. It is still accessible at
ml. But instead of serving merely as a repository of resource
materials, the site soon became the intellectual nexus of the
class outside the classroom.

     In addition to the source materials, the page included the
complete course syllabus, a list of recommended secondary
sources, study questions, a glossary, and guidelines for writing
papers and documenting sources. Students' papers, submitted in
electronic format, were posted for classmates to read and two
special sections allowed students to communicate (via an e-mail
format) with either the professor or the entire class about
issues pertaining to class work. In time, the online discussion
section came to play an important role in the group dynamics.

     "Teaching doesn't end when the period is over," Norris said
of the electronic experiment. "This project dramatizes that
learning is not expected to take place only within the four walls
of the classroom. It goes on afterwards, and the computers
enabled students to continue to share and exchange ideas for the
rest of the week. In a seminar at the graduate level at Hopkins,
it's extremely important to have this interchange."

     Norris identifies four components she deems essential to the
electronically enhanced classroom of tomorrow: a homepage, the
opportunity to access supplemental reading in the form of
articles and chapters from books, the ability to communicate with
the instructor and classmates, and a place where students can
post their papers and read the work of other students in the

     Yet these features do not magically leap onto the Internet
of their own accord. Designing a homepage and loading it with
information are labor-intensive tasks that require fairly
specialized knowledge. Many professors simply do not possess the
requisite skills to make their classes fully computer
interactive; most lack the time it takes as well. 

     "It's fairly simple to come up with the tools to make a
course interactive," said Candice Dalrymple, associate dean for
external programs in the Whiting School of Engineering and chair
of the Committee on Electronic and Distance Education. "More
problematic is the unresolved issue of time. Making a course
interactive is a labor-intensive activity on the part of faculty,
and they end up with a product that has a limited shelf life."

     Dalrymple estimates that each fully interactive class could
require as much as three to four extra hours per week from
faculty members, an enormous additional commitment from
individuals who are expected to conduct research, apply for new
grants and participate in the academic affairs of the university.

     "There is always a tiny number of faculty who catch the bug
and will spend a great deal of time with their computers simply
because it interests them," she said. "But is it reasonable to
expect all the faculty to do that? I don't think so. Most faculty
members who would welcome the benefits of the interactive
technology are not interested in becoming computer programmers on
the side. Technology will be used to the extent we manage to make
it easy to use."

     Others have voiced Dalrymple's fear that the new interactive
technologies might require a large additional time commitment
from faculty. Yet not all observers consider this a cause for

     "I think it's both a problem and an opportunity," said
William Engelmeyer, chair of Information Technology in the
Business Department of the School of Continuing Studies. Students
from Engelmeyer's class helped design and implement the
interactive computer elements of Norris' Evil from Greek
Tragedies to Gothic Tales course. That experience, combined with
similar projects Engelmeyer has directed, lead him to conclude
the benefits of the new technologies will ultimately validate the
extra time involved.

     "The interactive classroom represents tremendous potential
and the issue of teaching load can be addressed," he said. "There
is already a growing body of literature on this subject. Maybe an
interactive course that requires extensive computer work can be
counted as one and a half courses taught. There are ways to
compensate the extra time commitment."

     One way to overcome the technological barrier has been to
bring additional help into the classroom in the form of technical
assistants and computer specialists. Norris' interactive class,
with its customized home-page, electronic text reserves and other
features, needed the assistance of several individuals, not only
to design the Internet presentation, but also to type or scan
printed material into an electronic format.

     Yet extra help requires extra funding. Evil from Greek
Tragedies to Gothic Tales was made interactive only through an
estimated $4,000 of in-kind services provided by the School of
Continuing Studies and the Eisenhower Library. Other courses
could be much more costly to produce. Willis K. Shepard Professor
of the History of Science Robert Kargon's new course "The City"
will cost more than $25,000 to create, using the latest
technologies and including the development of specialized
software. Clearly, financial constraints will prevent widespread
use of the new technologies unless ways are found to deliver
similar services at a lesser cost.

     "The first task in developing new ways of teaching is to get
the right infrastructure," said Provost Joseph Cooper. "This
involves creating a comprehensive network with ample bandwidth,
and we are making good progress on that front. The second part is
the encouragement of innovation on the part of faculty, which is
what we need to concentrate on in the future. No one will be able
to dictate or control how this will develop. We need to encourage
and help people with ideas to innovate; at some point soon we
will need to provide an institutional set of production and
distribution capabilities to promote and support both classroom
and long distance learning."

     For now, the new pedagogy is developing in bits and pieces
in classrooms throughout the university. It is somewhat
tentative, as all new technologies and approaches are at first;
but already, there are those who are proclaiming a new way of
teaching is at hand. 

     "This is something I could have thought up myself if I knew
it was humanly possible to do it," Norris said. "I wasn't sure
all this was necessary at first; I thought the old ways aren't
broken, so why fix them? But the increased learning I witnessed
makes me a believer. Now I'm spoiled. I want this same capability
for all of my classes."

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