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Teaching With Bells and Whistles
by Katie Dean

3:00 a.m. Mar. 24, 2000 PST

   

No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers putting the same old lessons using clunky publishing tools on the Internet. OK?

That sentiment erases the dirty looks from forward-thinking educators who want to pull online learning into a new technology age -- an age in which students are more likely to be dazzled by multimedia and interactivity than words on a screen.


    



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Just because schools are connected to the Internet and teachers can post class information online doesn't mean students are getting a richer learning experience, says at least one educator.

"I'm skeptical that these text-based materials will be acceptable to the kids of the multimedia generation," said Elliot Soloway, a University of Michigan professor of education and engineering.

"The text is boring," he said. "That's not what the kids are about."

And so far, neither are many of the new tools designed as teaching aids.

Education sites like Blackboard.com, Highwired.com, and bigchalk.com help teachers build their own sites for posting homework, notes, and class information for free. General community sites on the Web also allow teachers to post materials free of charge.

"It offers another tool for teachers to supplement their traditional classes," said Michael Chasen, Blackboard.com's president. "Just using the Internet makes the class more interactive, even if the student just goes online to get a syllabus."

But what kids really want, Soloway said, is an interactive, multimedia environment.

"Their learning environment has to mirror their entertainment environment," Soloway said. "Otherwise they're going to reject it. Adults have great difficulty hearing this because they didn't learn that way."

He believes that in order to fully embrace the technology tools that are available, educators must think outside the box. Most existing education sites are not leveraging technology, but are simply providing an electronic version of a textbook.

"It's using new technology to imitate old technology," Soloway said.

Soloway points to sites like Mamamedia as a shining example of the combination of text and media for cognitively challenging activities. The site effectively blends such basic skills as reading, writing, and arithmetic with new media tools.

Moving beyond sites that use technology to look up a word in the dictionary or online flashcards, Mamamedia encourages kids to experiment with basic animation, build multimedia towns, create characters, and write stories.

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