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Currents: chinese delegation visits campus

Chinese Educators, Technologists Visit Colby-Sawyer to See New Uses of Interactive Technologies

A delegation of 15 faculty and technical staff from Chinese universities visited Colby-Sawyer in mid-July to see how the college community uses Blackboard, a suite of web-based teaching and learning tools that are spreading globally across higher education.

Following their visit to the Blackboard World Conference in Boston, the Chinese educators traveled to the New London, N.H., campus to see how Colby-Sawyer faculty, students and staff use the Blackboard system to share knowledge and build communities on the web.

Many colleges in China use Blackboard's Learning Management System, which allows faculty to share such information as syllabi, course assignments and grades with students. But some of these schools are unfamiliar with the Content Management and Transaction Systems, which allow colleges to create shared archives and build dynamic virtual classrooms and communities, according to Karl Engkvist, Blackboard's senior vice president for International Strategy and Operations.

“They're a very interesting group who are teaching at many different universities or managing the technology systems at their schools in China,” says Engkvist. “We wanted to show them a college that uses the full Blackboard suite. It was also nice to bring them to a small liberal arts college in a beautiful location. The universities in China are either huge and diversified or small and highly specialized, so they don't have places like Colby-Sawyer."

Technology that Builds Communities

Every Colby-Sawyer student uses Blackboard as part of their course work or their co-curricular activities, and more than 80 percent of full-time faculty now use these tools to manage and extend the reach of their courses, according to Sophie Tagliatela, an applications analyst in Information Resources at Colby-Sawyer. She led the Blackboard presentation, which also featured the college's academic vice president and several faculty and staff members.

“The (Chinese) faculty members were very interested in how we use Blackboard to extend the learning that takes place in the classroom, not to replace the traditional face-to-face classroom,” says Tagliatela. “This includes the use of virtual hard drives, web folders and document management tools in the Blackboard Content Management System for peer review and commenting.”

Kathy Taylor, director of the Harrington Center for Experiential Learning for Career Development, showed the delegation from China how the college uses Blackboard to create partnerships for managing student internships and to foster good communication between the student intern, faculty advisor and the site supervisor. Director of the Institute for Community and Environment John Callewaert, who serves as chair of the Institutional Review Board, demonstrated how boards and committees use Blackboard tools to store and share information with board members and other interested people on and off campus.

The Chinese educators, particularly those in the medical fields, were captivated by a presentation by Shari Goldberg, assistant professor of nursing, in which she showed examples of how the Nursing Department uses Blackboard both as a departmental archive and to communicate on many different levels.

The Blackboard site for the sophomore nursing seminar, for example, has three separate sections for its classroom, clinical, and laboratory components. Student can find directions to their clinical sites or modules for their upcoming labs, view classroom assignments or enter into online discussions with other student nurses in the course.

“The Nursing Department uses the site for faculty-to-faculty communications, such as in our departmental archives for each year's courses, for faculty-to-student communications and vice versa, and student-to-student communications,” says Professor Goldberg.

This year Professor Goldberg assigned “paperless” papers, in which students submitted their research papers via the Blackboard site. Professor Goldberg corrected and returned each draft, and posted all the draft versions for each student to view on the site. “I was really hesitant to use this feature, because I like paper, I like books,” she says. “But it was so easy and convenient and saves a lot of paper.”

Students at Colby-Sawyer are also using Blackboard to build and store their own electronic Learning Portfolios, a compilation of their work over their college career which enables them to gauge and show their progress. Student clubs and organizations can also create Blackboard sites to keep in touch with their members. And more recently, a new site has been created for the incoming Class of 2011 as a way to engage them in college life and build a comfort level and sense of community among the students before they even arrive on campus.

Nothing but Blue Skies

After the presentation, the Chinese delegation toured campus, with a final stop at President Tom Galligan's office. Most of them were in the United States for the first time, and they expressed, often through their informal translator, their appreciation for the campus's beauty and the opportunity to see practical and creative applications of educational technology. They seemed content to linger outside, chatting and admiring the view, before resuming their journey.

Zhon-Shuy, director of the Technology Center at Beijing University of Technology, says he enjoyed seeing the new ways that Blackboard can be used yet he was equally impressed by “ the blue skies and white clouds” and the “warm-hearted people” he met on campus. Hu Ying Bin, a physics and computer science teacher at Capital Normal University, already uses the technology in his classroom, but he found it “very useful” to see how the college applies the content management tools.

Zhang Yichun, an associate professor at Nanjing Normal University, has taught himself to implement educational technologies on campus, but the Blackboard presentation opened his eyes to the opportunities to use the tools more broadly at his university. Yingzi Lin, a professor at the China Medical College, says she found the nursing presentation relevant to her own work in the medical field. She hopes to bring back new ideas to share with her colleagues and use in her own teaching.

“I found your college teachers very diligent and dedicated,“ she said. “(Colby-Sawyer) uses the tools in useful ways that improve students' performance and learning.“

-Kimberly Swick Slover