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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Technology puts URI students in a New England classroom

KINGSTON, R. I. -- May 4, 1999 -- This past semester, four University of Rhode Island students have earned graduate credit by watching television.

The four weren't the only students in the class. Their classmates in the graduate seminar in ecosystem health were students at the Universities of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. They discussed and debated the complex issues of ecosystem health from their individual campuses.

The virtual classroom was an experiment in distance learning among the colleges using PicTel technology, which incorporates computers, television screens, cameras, and projectors to produce a real-time interaction. The course also employed e-mail and websites that included course scheduling and a video archive of all the presentations (see

"I think we,d be totally crazy not to offer courses like this again, said an ebullient Dr. Peter August of URI,s Department of Natural Resources Science, who served as lead coordinator for the experiment.

"Despite the geographic distance among all the students and teachers participating in the course, a sense of personalities and social interaction emerged, says August. "It was possible to look someone 400 miles away in the eye and carry on an intelligent and comfortable dialogue. And again, our world just got another click smaller.

The Council of Presidents of the New England Public Land-Grant Universities funded the effort, which required only a modest budget. Each of the six participating universities was responsible for hosting a session and providing a speaker who addressed some aspect of ecosystem health.

Feedback from students was positive. Susan Adamowicz, a Ph.D. student at URI,s Graduate School of Oceanography, spoke for the URI contingent during an evaluation session. She noted that the group liked the diversity of topics, the ease of scheduling, and the exposure to the technology. "This would be perfect for case studies, she said.

Adamowicz, comments were echoed by the other schools. The University of Vermont suggested that future classes have more class time, more student interaction, and offer a round robin joke of the day.

The University of New Hampshire suggested exploring topics with other PicTel sites around the world.

URI students got a clear picture of the ecosystem class, thanks to URI student Alberto Sosa, a political science and economics major who is minoring in computer science. Sosa,s expertise with the technology kept URI focused. His assistant, URI freshman Peter Ricci, a communications major, said he didn,t have a clue when Tim Tierney, assistant director of AV/Production Services, offered him the job. "I,m learning so much, he says. "This takes longer than I thought. I,ve learned as much doing this than I have learned in my classes.

Distance education has been an ongoing effort at URI for the past two years. The ecosystem seminar was one of seven courses using PicTel technology this spring. Other courses, ranging from Statistical Methods for Management to Rehabilitative Audiology to Interpersonal Communication, to Nursing Seminars had students sitting in classrooms at both the Kingston and Providence campuses.

One course, "Reading Interests of Children taught 25 students at the Providence Campus in a virtual classroom with 14 students at the University of New Hampshire. One special class had pharmacy students at the URI Providence Campus linked with their counterparts at the University of Maine.

For More Information: Jan Sawyer, 401-874-2116

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Copyright 1999
University of Rhode Island

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