Chattahoochee Technical College Links Students and Teachers
The severe lack of technically trained staff in the IT industry has created a demand for highly skilled workers, and those with the training and ability can command high salaries. As a result, demand for software application and programming training is on the rise. But colleges offering this training must remain on the cutting edge of technology.
By its very nature, this kind of training is best accomplished in a hands-on environment with students actively working on their computers while receiving instruction. Keeping track of what students are doing during a lesson and giving individual instruction is a problem many instructors face. But keeping students' attention focused when an interesting computer screen distracts them makes teaching in this environment a real challenge. Instructors also find themselves fighting "back-of-the-room-syndrome," where students sitting beyond the first few rows of the classroom have difficulty seeing detail, even when the instructor's monitor is projected onto a large screen. These students tend to lose interest, often playing games and surfing the Web, instead of following the lesson.
An Equal Chance to Learn
At Chattahoochee Technical College, a school that specializes in teaching software application and programming, instructors were plagued with these problems. After class, students regularly asked questions about the material that had just been covered. "It is most frustrating for instructors," says Dave Giberson, instructional technologist at the college. "Clearly transferring the information in a lesson is critical in computer programming and software application. When the students can't see what you're doing, you get this non-optimum beha-vior." Chattahoochee Technical College needed to find a system that would give instructors control of the computers in the classroom, and allow them to interact directly with the students. While at an industry trade show, Giberson found such a system.
The LinkNet-II system, manufactured by Applied Computer Systems, a video networking company, provides the classroom instructor with full control over all computers by linking the instructor's console to every student's workstation. Instructors can transmit data to students, input data from students' screens or blank-out their screens completely to get students' full attention. This eliminates the time-consuming requirement of "roaming the classroom" and repeating instructions.
"LinkNet greatly improves the ability of the teacher to show clearly what is being done on the computer to the entire class," says Giberson. "We've used projectors for years, but with LinkNet you can project what you are doing directly onto the monitor of each student. This is a great feature, as everyone gets an equal chance to learn."
Since ACS came to Chatta-hoochee Technical College to set up their free demo unit, four of the 15 computer laboratories at the school have been equipped with the system. "You feel so much better up in front of a classroom when you know the students can actually see what you are trying to show them," says Giberson. "Students really like this system because they don't have to guess and make it up as they go along. You no longer have to go back there and show them individually or manually how to do something. It's a great load off my mind when I am lecturing."
Multiplying Classroom Efficiency
The heart of the system is the Instructor Console, which features an easy touch-screen with basic commands, such as transmit, blank/receive, keyboard control and clear. The signal is transmitted off the display computer, to the receiver/transmitter at the instructor's console and then out to each student's station in a daisy-chain configuration.
From the Instructor Console, teachers can display directly onto all student monitors by simply touching the transmit icon. This disconnects all student workstations from their PCs and displays what is on the instructor's screen. Using the scan function, instructors can see students' workstations and intervene to demonstrate a task. Instructors can also freeze the keyboard and mouse, stopping all input. To gain students' full attention, the instructor can completely blank-out their screens. Also, a trainee call function alerts the instructor to a student having difficulty. "I really don't like using a classroom without it now," says Giberson. "I have to completely change my way of teaching when I instruct in a classroom that d'es not have this system. I become much more of a policeman and less of a teacher."
Because teachers can take control of a student's computer and assist them without having to walk around the classroom, the system multiplies classroom efficiency. "At Chattahoochee we are finding this increases the instructors' use of time by 30 percent, so they accomplish a lot more in a given period of instruction," says Giberson. Students are also able to grasp the material more quickly because they can see exactly what is being demonstrated. And with the instructor watching their progress onscreen, anything students do not understand is immediately resolved. Chattahoochee instructors say the system is particularly useful when teaching a step-by-step procedure.
The system is hardware driven and can run on any operating system. It has a host of features, including true/false or 1-5 multiple-choice quizzes, which can be set up ahead of time allowing the instructor to continue working on his or her PC. Results are saved in a spreadsheet-compatible format and immediately displayed onscreen.
"The system is very popular with the teaching faculty, the administration and the students, so each time we have the funds we buy another system," says Giberson. "We intend to have all our labs on the system as soon as we can. Instructors are assigned to teach in the LinkNet classrooms on a rotational basis, but it is starting to get a little contentious."
Applied Computer Systems, Inc.
This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.