The Teaching and Technology Forum

by Steve Taylor

Though it’s not a recent event, I thought it would still be worthwhile to write about last spring’s Teaching and Technology Forum.

In its eighth year, the forum is a poster session in which faculty members display and explain teaching initiatives (or in some cases, research initiatives) that make interesting use of technology. A new feature this year was the inclusion of some student-initiated projects as well.

Keynote Speaker
A special feature of the forum is its keynote speaker. This year’s keynote was Prof. Paul Ruud, of the Economics Department. In his address, he proposed a new blog, in which Vassar  faculty members would regularly post brief descriptions of their class activities. With a high participation rate, this blog would let any instructor know what his or her students were doing in their other classes; then the instructor might adapt some lesson plans to complement what students were doing in some of those other classes. It might also encourage faculty members to communicate more with each other, based on a greater awareness of what each other was teaching. The result could be a strengthening of the cross-discipline integration that is the core of a liberal arts education.

The poster sessions, while quite diverse, covered topics that might each be considered to be one of two types: those that used technology to visualize information and those that use technology to increase social networking.

Visualization Technologies
Some poster sessions show ways in which technology could be used to give students greater access to images of what they’re learning about. Lucy Johnson, with Anne Sando (2010), showed how they are building a database of photos of the archaeological artifacts; Arden Kirkland and Holy Hummel showed how they are building a database of photos of the costume collection; Andrew Tallon showed his growing collection of digital 3D panoramas of architectural sites; and Sarah Kozloff showed how she is using streaming technology to provide students with anytime/anywhere access to film excerpts. Jane Parker showed a novel use of video for skills training: projecting video of a skilled squash player onto the front wall of a squash court, for players to mirror in real time.

Visualization is also used for getting a new perspective on scientific data. Alicia Sampson (2012) and Rebecca Eells (2012) worked with Kate Susman and Jenny Magnes to build visual models of worm behavior; Joe Tanski and Bona Ko (2010) used x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to analyze the elements of art objects.

Social Networking
While these projects used technology to bring  students closer to their learning materials, others used technology to bring students closer to other people. Kelsey Forrest (2011) and others in Saúl Mercado’s class created a social networking site to benefit the Vassar community, while Leslie Williams and Adalake Barnwell created  a site to facilitate communication between local high schools students and the Vassar student mentors. Students in the Bioinformatics program created their own support group for fellow students. Some people used technology to  collaborate on their work: students in Leonard Nevarez’ class used a wiki for collaborative writing, while Tracey Holland used a wiki  to co-write with her own collaborators; Natalie Friedman’s class did their writing assignments on a shared blog site. Zeynep Gokcen Kaya, an exchange student from Turkey, presented her research on social interaction in virtual worlds.

Interestingly, two exhibits showed uses of technology that enhanced both visualization and social interaction: students in Jeremy Davis’ class used Skype to interview authors whose articles they were studying, while students in Hiromi Dollase’s class used videoconferencing to speak with students in Japan.

More information, along with photos and reproductions of each presenter’s poster can be found at <>.Watch for the announcement of next spring’s event— you won’t want to miss it.