Connecting Information and People with Technology

In the main atrium of IU Bloomington's new Wendell W. Wright Education Building, electronic information kiosks driven by touch-sensitive computer screens replace the traditional building directory with a kind of encyclopedia: maps, full-color photos of the faculty who occupy the offices, extensive displays of current IU events, and even CNN broadcasts all day long. By the time visitors finish with the stations, they know exactly where to go--and a whole lot more. The kiosks, created at the Center for Excellence in Education (CEE), demonstrate how technology helps users connect with both the information and the people they need to solve problems effectively.

So that students and teachers can enjoy those same opportunities, CEE researchers are developing the Virtual Textbook, a problem-solving environment that links students to one another and to the immense on-line resources using the latest in hand-held computing devices. Others are constructing the World School for Adventure Learning, which, according to CEE Director Howard Mehlinger, professor of education, "tries to imagine a time in which kids can take an electronic field trip. We've actually worked with a group of international Arctic explorers who are planning a trip across the North Pole in the summer of 1995." Nearly a hundred schools around the world communicate with each other, and they communicate with the "explorers" about real projects and real problems. Teachers carefully coordinate curriculum activities to the exploration event, immersing students in a rich, problem-solving environment.

Teachers and other education professionals also benefit from the CEE's commitment to a national technology demonstration program, a pledge that boosted fund-raising efforts during the 1980s. Visitors typically come to the center for a day to view technology demonstrations, visit the Wright Education Building's well-equipped classrooms, and sometimes consult with experts from across the country through live, interactive teleconferencing. The day might begin in the round Presentation Room, where a "smart podium" with a built-in, touch-sensitive computer screen controls everything in the room, from the lights to an overhead projection system to a bevy of electronic resources: VCRs, personal computers, cable TV, CD, and videodisc players. Resources like these drew more than 3,000 visitors in 1993.

Visitors look to the center not just for information but also for training. Mehlinger notes, "Sometimes schools spent money for computers and were not quite sure what they were going to do with them." The center offers extended planning seminars to school districts implementing new technology programs, as well as semester- and yearlong sabbatical experiences for teachers and administrators through the CEE Associates program.

The most popular training seminars, though, offer help with one of the hottest educational technologies--distance learning, the transmission of educational material, even live class sessions, to an audience elsewhere. Extensively equipped studios in the Wright Education Building are part of the $3.5 million buildingwide technology and communications network donated and installed by AT&T. Faculty members use the facilities to teach Bloomington-based classes to Indianapolis students and to team-teach with colleagues at other universities. Meanwhile, the center offers two-day seminars and weeklong summer sessions in distance learning to teachers, administrators, college professors, and corporate trainers who want to know how to teach effectively in this new and demanding environment.

Ultimately, activities at the Center for Excellence in Education confirm that the technology revolution is as much about people as it is about technology. Students, teachers, and communities are changing rapidly to take advantage of technology and improve the learning process. Making those changes is a challenge that will continue to require the leadership and research that the center offers.

--Jonathan Barclay