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April 19, 2001

CIDDE – changing with the times: Focus now is instructional development

Michael Arenth remembers the days 20 years ago when Pitt's University Center for Instructional Resources (UCIR) focused mainly on photography and overhead projectors, requests were logged and tracked by hand in log books and communication was almost exclusively by phone.

In 1995, Provost James V. Maher established the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education (CIDDE), which merged UCIR with the Office of Faculty Development and the University External Studies Program. Additionally, a number of staff in instructional computing were transferred to CIDDE.

Today Arenth, assistant director of instructional media services at CIDDE, oversees a staff of nine who provide state-of-the-art classroom-related services including interactive television; audio, video and data projection equipment; satellite teleconferencing services, and videotape duplication and conversion capabilities.

Requests for service are taken, recorded, scheduled and monitored on-line. Photography now includes electronic imaging and digital image manipulation and restoration services, and instructional computing provides systems analysis, multimedia applications and instructional web pages. Distance education support offers training in designing course materials and in computer-assisted testing services.

"Now we get more than 2,000 'support events' to handle per term, which include providing set-up and operation services in individual classrooms and handling special requests by faculty for staff support for a whole range of instructional media," Arenth said.

Arenth's unit is only one of 10 components of CIDDE, the University's main organization for instructional support and innovation. Other parts of CIDDE include: instructional design, faculty development, electronic graphics and design, a faculty instructional development lab, instructional computing, photography and electronic imaging, instructional engineering, video production and distance education support services, which altogether comprise a staff of 50.

Two decades later, CIDDE is not your parents' UCIR.

According to CIDDE director Diane Davis, "There are so many things that are happening here today, the best I can ever give is a snapshot of what's happening at a particular time. We're having guest lecturers via satellite. The School of Information Sciences has shared interactive courses with the University of Michigan. We're opening a new faculty training lab. We're using more interactive television for instruction from Pittsburgh to the regional campuses. There are new wrinkles in software that are being developed every day."

An important part of CIDDE's mission, Davis said, is to evaluate and acquire emerging technologies that support the teaching process.

"A perfect example is CourseInfo," she said. CourseInfo, developed by Blackboard, Inc., is a software package that allows faculty to use web pages for instruction. It features tools that can administer, grade and record quizzes and can facilitate instructors' efforts to communicate with students via the Internet.

"As little as three years ago, there was nothing here," Davis said. "We took out a trial license with Blackboard and we were one of their first two or three customers, and now they have about 5,400 and I believe we're their biggest customer."

The University is heavily committed to staying at the forefront of instructional development, Davis said. "In 1997, Pitt joined a learning technology consortium of nine major institutions to share knowledge and ideas about instructional technology," she said.

The other universities in the consortium are Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Wake Forest and Delaware.

"When we go to do presentations at the consortium, there are questions as fundamental as our organization itself," Davis said. "Most frequently, the distinction we see is that other schools focus on technology rather than what we do, which is to focus on instruction. Other institutions are not organized that way. It takes them more time to pull those resources together."

Arenth said, "We do a lot with technology, but we are not a tech unit. We're not a store; we don't manufacture or sell equipment. We are a unit with a strong instructional focus."

Arenth, who is a member of Pitt's classroom management team, added: "I see it with the renovation of classrooms: Technology is not installed just for technology's sake; it's installed and placed with extensive input from faculty and instructional designers."

Davis said CIDDE has established a network of school liaisons, which serves two purposes. "First, so faculty will know about our services and, second, to give schools a viable mechanism to communicate to us their needs for faculty instructional development.

"Once a year we pull the liaisons together for discussion. Sometimes ideas that come from one school open up ideas for other schools. Then we develop on-line materials for faculty and set up training sessions."

Whether faculty take advantage of CIDDE's services is strictly optional, she said. "The decision is in the hands of the faculty. If I have one message to say to them, however, it's that 'This is your resource. CIDDE belongs to you.'"

Generally speaking, Davis said, Pitt faculty are open to innovative teaching techniques. "We see that in the case of CourseInfo, for example, which [drew so much interest that it] surprised us."

One-third of Pitt faculty are trained in CourseInfo and nearly half of Pitt's students have registered in at least one CourseInfo section. CIDDE is testing the latest version of CourseInfo, 5.0. If all goes well, it will be up and running in time for this fall term.

Davis, who holds a Ph.D. in curriculum and supervision and teaches classes in the School of Education, says several CIDDE personnel offer a combination of technical know-how and instructional perspective.

"Nick Laudato is a good example," Davis said. "He has a high-level technical competence and a high-level appreciation for instructional needs and obstacles. When he's applying technology to instruction, he's thinking like a teacher, not like a technician."

Laudato, CIDDE's associate director for instructional technology, teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in the School of Information Sciences. He also holds a Ph.D. in curriculum and supervision.

An example of Laudato's ingenuity involved a faculty member who uses a wheelchair. During a recent term, the faculty member was teaching a large lecture class and complained to CIDDE that he could only reach the bottom part of the classroom's whiteboard and that students at the back of the lecture hall could not see the notes he was writing.

"So we were facing two problems," Laudato said. "One was the limitations of the instructor's reach and the other was that the whiteboard, made and sold by Blackboard, was too small for the classroom. Blackboard's business is making and selling 10-ft diagonal boards."

Laudato had a brainstorm. He combined available technologies, hooking up a PC with Smart Notebook applications that duplicated the whiteboard's capabilities, with the classroom's large overhead projector, which provided a much larger area for viewing.

What resulted were some unexpected advantages.

"I think it's a harbinger of future classrooms," Laudato said. "It's still a presentation technology, but there are aspects of this set-up that provide advantages, such as not having to block the class with the instructor's back when they're making notes on a whiteboard. I can face the class; I can see their eyes; the class is more engaged. No one is straining to see what I've written or see around my body."

Additionally, Laudato said, students don't need to scribble down every detail, because the entire lesson can be saved as a web page to be accessed outside the classroom.

"You can focus on what's being said. Even in a large classroom, it allows people to see the image. And you can recover it, save it, archive it, move back and forth between pages you've created, and the students don't need to take as many notes, if any, because they can call up everything that was written down when they get home to their computer."

Laudato has dubbed his invention "Janus," after the Roman god of gates and portals.

With technology evolving rapidly, are there other such inventions in CIDDE's future?

Davis said that while direct support of instruction is CIDDE's primary mission, she hopes to see the center as the focal point for research projects on instruction. "We're like a laboratory here. Where there are theses and dissertations and research being done on instruction, we could provide the subjects for study. We're on the applied end of instructional research, while a school would be the research unit. I would like to see more of that kind of project in the future."

–Peter Hart

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