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Intellectual convection

Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning keeps teaching ideas in motion

Moments before a "Teaching and Technology" seminar began last month in the newly dedicated Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL), Tom Luxon checked connections at his laptop. Faculty members of all ages and from every discipline began to arrive and took seats in front of a large screen. Luxon, the Cheheyl Professor and inaugural director of DCAL, was making sure everything was up and running for a demonstration of Communication Access Realtime Translation, or CART, a captioning technology that instantly displays text as it's spoken. 

Tom Luxon and Professor of German Bruce DuncanCheheyl Professor and Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning Director Tom Luxon (left) and Professor of German Bruce Duncan at the Center's November "Teaching and Technology "seminar, where Duncan presented the language software that he uses in his classroom. (photo by Sarah Benelli)

"We're all plugged in," Luxon said to an off-site but online captioner, and his words streamed instantly across the screen. "Do you have a battery in there?" someone asked from another part of the room and the question, along with several other streams of conversation, popped onto the screen.

The CART captioner transcribed and displayed - in real time - what everyone in the room was saying. Cathy Trueba, who works with students who need mobility, vision and hearing assistance, explained that real-time captioning was primarily used to help Dartmouth students with hearing disabilities. But Luxon wanted seminar attendees to see what the program was capable of, knowing that faculty members would be eager to discuss how it might be incorporated into classroom settings.

Ideas sparked across the room, creating their own real-time display of what happens at Dartmouth when teaching is the subject. Faculty members wanted to know how they could adapt what they were seeing and hearing. Could it accurately capture a professor's words if that professor spoke with an accent, asked Ana Merino, Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese? Would it add to or take away from classroom discussion?  How could CART and similar technologies capitalize on students' comfort in the online world to enhance their learning experiences off line?

That comfort level, said Professor of German Bruce Duncan, "forces us to evolve our methods while still maintaining a balance between technology and face-to-face interaction." Working with Mark O'Neil in curricular computing, Duncan demonstrated "Lexonomicon," a program they developed that allows students to log on to grammar drills, working at their own pace and preserving classroom time for more substantive discussions.

David Abbott and Tom LuxonDavid Abbott (left), Senior Lecturer in Physics and Astronomy, and Tom Luxon in DCAL's new space at the eastern end of the Baker Library corridor. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

But integrating new technology into teaching isn't always about the future. Ehud Benor, Associate Professor of Religion, shared how he and his students use "wikis" to bring the ancient past alive. Wikis are groups of Web pages that allow users to add and edit content. Benor has created an online space where students can collaborate on interpreting the Mishna (the body of Jewish religious law passed down before 200 C.E.), and dispute and comment on each other's views, thereby recreating the process those laws were subjected to by the early rabbis. "What you get in these online discussions," explained Benor, "is a debate on the laws, which is essentially what the Talmud is - a written record of discussion among the ancient sages."  

"Teaching and Technology" was just one of a series of ongoing programs and events at DCAL designed to bring faculty together to talk about what they do in class, how their students learn and how they can support one another in the enterprise of teaching. "The point," said Luxon, "is to become even more accessible to our students. DCAL gives us the resources we need and a space where we can share excitement and build community among faculty."

R. Stephen Cheheyl '67 and Gordon W. Russell '55 provided the principal funding for the Center.  "DCAL is pivotal in supporting the College's primary teaching mission," said Cheheyl, who established the Robert S. Cheheyl '38 and R. Stephen Cheheyl '67 Endowment to encourage faculty members to incorporate new technologies into their teaching. "There are so many ways to teach and so many ways in which people learn that the classic mold needs to be balanced with new tools and techniques," he observed. In addition to its support of Luxon's Cheheyl Professorship, the endowment supports DCAL Fellows in several disciplines by providing temporary teaching relief for those who want to spend concentrated time developing innovative curricular technology.

Russell established the Gordon W. Russell Endowment for the Advancement of Learning, which created the physical space that houses DCAL - a warm, welcoming refuge at the eastern end of the Baker Library corridor. "As a trustee of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, I live with the issue of best practices in teaching every day," he said. "Given all the reasons the top students in the world choose to come to Dartmouth, I want them to make that choice because Dartmouth has the best teachers anywhere." Russell has also established at Dartmouth endowments to the Native American Program, a medical school professorship and a fund for excellence in athletics.

"Another important function that DCAL serves," said Luxon, "is to orient new faculty to the Dartmouth environment. Our junior colleagues bring tremendous energy and commitment to their work. By giving them an opportunity to participate in events that appeal to them as well as to their colleagues who have been here longer, we can nourish that energy and constantly rejuvenate the way we all approach the classroom. This is the place where we can make discoveries together about teaching." 

By LAUREL STAVIS

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Last Updated: 5/30/08