Technology puts URI students in a New England
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
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 www.edc.uri.edu/ecohlth).
"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