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November 22, 2006

Tips on teaching: New technology tools

Pitt’s sixth annual Teaching Excellence Fair, held Nov. 8, included summaries from winners of 2005-2006 innovation in education grants and conversations on teaching methods and techniques with faculty, as well as workshops and technology demonstrations led by Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education (CIDDE) staff.


Technology is a big part of teaching today and CIDDE manager of instructional media services Michael Arenth offered a brief overview the new services CIDDE offers, upon request, to help professors make the most of their teaching.

“I’m one of the people who talks about the technology but I’m also one of the people who goes out into the classroom to try to make it work,” he said, inviting professors to contact CIDDE for technical assistance if they’d like to learn more about the ways these new technologies can enhance their teaching. “What we need to do is work together on these and choose the right time to apply these technologies so they work very effectively,” he said.

Here is a brief outline of what’s new:

• Recording to mini digital videocassettes has replaced VHS recording.

“VHS tape, as you can see at Giant Eagle and other places, is really going away; it’s almost gone,” Arenth said. The new DV recording “works similar to VHS except you can’t take it and play it at home,” Arenth said, unless it’s converted to DVD or VHS.

“It is an extra step,” he said. “It’s not as convenient as it was before,” adding that it will remain an issue until recording directly to DVD or to a server becomes available.

“If you ask us to record, be prepared for this,” he said, noting that the change has gone smoothly so far.

• Recording to digital audio files.

Recording audio to a compact flash card makes it possible to put content on the web for immediate access.

“The beauty of this is, as soon as your class is done, you can post your recording straight to Blackboard so students can listen on their iPods or computers. There’s no conversion involved,” Arenth said. “If you have an audiocassette, that would have to go on reserve in the library,” he said. That still can be done, but many students these days don’t know what an audiocassette is, Arenth noted.

The free audio-only service currently is being used for some biological science classes. “Before the faculty member gets back to his office, we’ve posted the files online and we’ve already recorded them to audio CD and sent them to his office so that he can upload them to Blackboard,” Arenth said.

• Podcasting.

More classroom content is being captured for distribution using RSS (Really Simple Syndication). That means students can subscribe to a professor’s content via iTunes, for example. Then, when the professor posts audio or video files, the content automatically is distributed to subscribers’ iPods or computers.

“This is another way to distribute information,” Arenth said, adding that professors need to be aware of podcasting because it rapidly is growing in popularity.

• Digital audio/video captures.

Professors can capture audio, video and their own annotations from a lecture then make the content available for streaming on the Internet.

Arenth said professors could post an Internet address (URL) on their own web sites or on Blackboard pointing to CIDDE’s server so students could see the entire presentation.

The downside is to those who have slow dial-up Internet connections. Because of bandwidth limitations, it may be hard for those users to access the video portion of the content.

Professors also can use the technology to record a lecture from CIDDE’s studio in Alumni Hall for immediate posting, or to be released at the time a class would meet. Arenth said it is not meant to replace in-class instruction, but serves a purpose if for some reason the professor cannot be in the classroom. And he noted, “This is another good way to deliver lectures to distance learning students.”

• iTunes.

iTunes is an aggregator, a web site where visitors can review or subscribe to podcasts.

Originally a way to sell music, now it’s a repository for a variety of content, especially for people with iPods that have a video window, Arenth said.

“This is the way most of the students are getting most of their music and lots of other content too,” Arenth said. “Professors need to be aware of it.”

• Classroom computer installation.

This is the first year for a pilot project in which Pitt’s classroom management team has installed PC-based teaching stations in rooms 1500, 1501 and 1700 Posvar Hall. Professors can use the equipment to show visuals such as PowerPoint presentations and can make annotations as they would on an overhead projector for display on a big screen in front of the class.

While individual departments have been installing computer technology in some classrooms, the machines may not have been available to all. “These will be available to anyone with a University account,” Arenth said, adding that if the pilot is successful, the technology will be expanded into other classrooms.

• Portable Tegrity.

“This is big news, not because it’s new, but because it’s free,” Arenth said. The free webcast technology means that a lecture can be recorded and streamed live to students at a remote location, then posted online.

• Expanded mCasts.

A new occasional series on accessibility services by Joan Stone is part of the weekly instructional technology multimedia podcasts broadcast at 12:30 p.m. each Thursday. The first was recorded Oct. 26 and the next is set for Jan. 18, 2007. These, as well as CIDDE mCasts on Blackboard and on instructional design, can be accessed at

• Standardized student response system clickers.

For convenience, the hardware and software for the clicker devices that allow professors to survey or collect immediate responses from their classes have been standardized, Arenth said.

• WebEx.

Useful as a distance learning tool to connect teachers and students without regard to geography, this online videoconferencing package is available to faculty, Arenth said.

• Wireless classrooms.

Computing Services and Systems Development has begun rolling out wireless service in classrooms with a goal toward making all classrooms ready for wireless within a year, Arenth said.

More is on the horizon, Arenth said. CSSD has been working with Vbrick streaming video technology to allow professors to make streaming video content available to their students. “This service isn’t available yet, but it’s coming very, very soon,” he said.

And, there’s good news coming for Pitt’s regional campuses. “Some of the things I’ve been talking about are very bandwidth intensive,” Arenth said. “If you’re from a regional campus you may feel you’re at a disadvantage. Very soon (CSSD is) going to be announcing much greater bandwidth available to the regional campuses.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 7

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