Ralph C. Richardson’s skepticism of educational technology faded–and eventually vanished–with the introduction of electronic tablets that allow more comprehensive note taking and instant student responses during professors’ lectures at Kansas State University.
Two years after the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine–where Richardson has been dean for 10 years–began doling out multi-purpose Toshiba tablet computers to incoming students, Richardson said the school would pursue more technology that supplements the college’s intensive coursework.
"If you would have asked me five years ago if we would use this kind of technology, I would have told you, ‘No, ours is a professional school, and we need personal interaction,’" said Richardson, who practiced veterinary medicine in Miami and served as an assistant professor and head of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Purdue University for 23 years before joining Kansas State. "I’ve done a 180-degree turnaround with the increasing reliability of technology. It’s a tremendous part of how we educate students today … and I think it will continue to expand."
Kansas State’s Veterinary College also has joined peer schools, including the University of Kansas and Iowa State University, in converting lecture notes to electronic form, making the school paperless.
The university’s veterinary students have seen their library revamped in recent years, transforming the former book repository into Digital Instruction, Support, and Creative (DISC) Services. The center offers classes that teach students how to use software such as Windows Movie Maker, Camtasia, Adobe Photoshop, and Microsoft Office. Students can reserve the school’s high-tech gear–like digital voice recorders and underwater-capable digital cameras–with an eMail message or phone call to the center.
DISC also provides scientific and presentation poster design, poster mounting, and scientific illustration for students preparing a demanding class project.
When students began clamoring for online notes and faculty members saw the benefits of updating lecture notes on class web sites, Richardson said the school weaned itself off its pricey paper habit.
"We were spending a lot of time and money providing paper notes," he said, adding that alumni of the veterinary college have requested up-to-date class notes to stay current in their profession. "It will help graduates in the field keep up to date. We’ve had alumni ask for electronic updates … because they want to remain current. It’s a way of staying close to our alumni base."
The cost of the tablet computers is covered in the $350 technology fee charged every semester–meaning students pay a fraction of the cost of a store-bought tablet PC. Students can take the tablets with them after graduation.
Richardson, who earned a biology degree and a veterinary doctorate degree from Kansas State in 1969 and 1970, respectively, said students in their 20s have taken to the tablets, while older students have taken some time to adjust to the computer-based classroom.
"It has been interesting to observe the generational learning style changes," he said.
The electronic tablets allow students to take notes, zoom in on images and diagrams introduced by professors, cross reference course material, and interact with faculty using the audience-response system. Professors can gauge students’ comprehension of a topic by asking questions via the tablet throughout a lecture. If most of the class is clearly misunderstanding the lesson, the professor can backtrack and reinforce the lecture concepts.
"If [faculty members] realize their audience is not getting a concept, they can go back and refresh that," Richardson said. "It’s a way of testing the connection between the instructor and the students during the lecture, rather than waiting for a quarterly examination."
Providing a chance to review has become essential for Kansas State veterinary professors. A lengthy lecture packed with dense concepts, Richardson said, can drain even the most dedicated students.
"There’s only a certain amount of concentration a person can endure," Richardson said.