Students Paired with Faculty
to Share Technical Know-How
ynthia Peterson was tired of fumbling in a dark planetarium, wrestling with clumsy mechanical projectors and synchronizing audio and video at the same time as working in special effects. The physics professor was looking for a smoother way to run the shows she puts on for students and the public in the planetarium on North Eagleville Road.
That's where Jeff Morang came in. Morang was assigned to help Peterson as a Student Educational Technology Assistant (SETA), part of a program launched in the spring by the Institute for Teaching and Learning.
Morang turned Peterson's show into a seamless digital movie using a single projector. He turned panoramic still shots into mini-movies, as if the audience were scanning the horizon with binoculars. He also created an opportunity for the audience to vote at several points, and Peterson then chooses one of several endings to the show.
Peterson says Morang's work far exceeded her expectations. She describes his idea as brilliant and creative: "I hadn't expected him to do that at all."
This semester and last, students like Morang have been helping faculty members like Peterson. The SETA program taps students' technological savvy to help faculty members.
"Everybody wins," says Keith Barker, director of the Institute for Teaching and Learning: the SETAs get training and build their resumes; faculty members get technical assistance; students in class get an enhanced course.
Barker got the idea from a similar program at Seton Hall and the concept is spreading. Based on UConn's success with the program, says Barker, the University of Rhode Island has adopted a similar model.
Of the 18 SETAs in Storrs this semester, six are participating in the program for the second time. The program is also expanding to the regional campuses: Stamford has two SETAs, and Avery Point has one.
Kate Wrigley, a seventh-semester instructional technology major, is one of the returning SETAs. Wrigley helped Jane A. Goldman, associate professor of family studies, develop a WebCT component for her courses. WebCT is a set of Internet-based course tools being used increasingly by UConn professors.
"It's a really easy way to get current news and current information to the students," Goldman says. "It encourages students to e-mail you."
For Wrigley, the job dovetails with her individualized major in instructional technology. She wants to work in the school system and combine her interests in education and technology. As a SETA, she is interested in finding out how people learn better with WebCT.
Wrigley says many resources are available to SETAs who need to expand their technological skills. They can request a training session with the Institute for Teaching and Learning, for example. The SETAs also trade ideas over the web, and experienced SETAs help train the new ones.
Goldman says many faculty members would find it a challenge to try and use a tool like WebCT without assistance. She adds that faculty members should not be afraid to learn about technology from students: "If we're going to think about the University as a learning community, we want to break down the barriers. Students have a lot to offer."
Steve Shepler, a seventh-semester management and information systems major, worked with Ray Joesten, a professor of geology and geophyscis. Shepler helped Joesten develop WebCT aids for his course.
He says working with faculty involves a reversal of roles. "Being a student, you often don't get to know your professors. But meeting them every week, you get to see them as people," he says.
Shepler says the experience may help him with his future career. "One of the occupations I'm looking at is consulting. This is probably as close to a consulting job as you can get without actually having a consulting job," he says. "Whenever I mention it in interviews, people seem to be pretty impressed."
Brent C. Evans