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Technology grant puts human factor into computers, and computers outdoors

Student Kelly Williams
2/20/2006 —

Technology grant puts human factor into computers, and computers outdoors

When you think about the great outdoors, you don't necessarily envision laptop computers and scanners.

But as Penn State DuBois wildlife students are learning, technology is a valuable tool when recording data in the field. And in a unique partnership, wildlife students are learning to implement technology, taught by information science technology students at Penn State DuBois.

The proposal to use students to teach other students was conjured by Instructor in Wildlife Technology Keely Roen and Instructor in Information Science Technology Jason Long. IST students have created a training program, will train the wildlife students, then will continue to provide technical support for this semester's Wildlife Management Techniques course.

For Long, the partnership also meant the opportunity for his students to learn something he couldn't necessarily teach – the human factor.

"I can teach my students how to configure a computer system, how to do coding, and all that fun tech-y part of the I.T. world," Long explained. "But part of the customer service end is dealing with people. When you are working the support line and the customer says my computer doesn't work, well, where do you go from there? What questions do you ask?"

The innovative approach won Penn State DuBois a $75,000 Hewlett-Packard Technology for Teaching grant. Tablet personal computers, digital cameras and an LCD projector were purchased for the students to use. The idea for the wildlife course, Roen said, is to transform one course and integrate technology to enhance learning of a concept. But for Long's students, the project provides the opportunity to support real-life technology users.

"Our wildlife students are not necessarily technology savvy," Roen said. "In the workforce, you need to know how to be computer literate. And that means being able to enter, manipulate and analyze data."

Having a field computer will also make it easier for the students to learn, Roen theorizes. For example, when students are learning about bird songs, she will play the songs in the classroom. When the students then go out in the field to identify birds by sound, they previously had to rely on their memories to make a positive identification. With the tablet PCs, the students can upload the bird songs and listen to them again in the field to compare with what they are hearing.

In another lab, students have been catching, tagging and releasing snakes, using one paper master list to record data. Roen found it was difficult to keep the master list up to date when numerous students were collecting data. With a shared Excel file, students can be assured that when they log on to record, they are seeing the latest results.

Long's students have created the training package and have trained the wildlife students, and will now support the wildlife students just as they would for a customer.

"We have to keep them happy," Long said.

Penn State University's Schreyer's Institute for Teaching Excellence is also supporting the joint endeavor. Roen and Long presented their project Feb. 1-3 at the Hewlett-Packard Technology for Teaching Conference in Monterey, Calif.

For more information, contact Erin Chorney, Public Information Officer at Penn State DuBois, at 814-375-4776 or by email at edc11@psu.edu

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