ETRA wraps up distance learning project

John Cowan and Yan Chen
John Cowan and Yan Chen

Eighth-grade students from Clinton Rosette Middle School in DeKalb received some hands-on technology training this summer, thanks to the College of Education.

John Cowan, assistant professor from the Department of Educational Technology, Research, and Assessment (ETRA), and doctoral student Yan Chen recently finished the seven-week, distance-learning project titled “Who I Am, Where I’ve Been, and Where I’m Going.”

The project used technological advancements to create a virtual time capsule for the students outlining their past, present and future.

For nearly two months, Cowan and Chen teamed up to facilitate web-based lesson plans designed to help students learn technology-focused theories pertaining to Web 2.0 software applications such as Tagul (word clouds), TimeGlider (timelines), Storybird (story creator), Weebly (web sites) and Glogster (online media poster).

The project culminated in a field trip to NIU where students had access to the university’s computers and faculty guidance. Wei-Chen Hung, and associate professor, Deri Draper, an assistant professor, and Nick Omale, a post-doctoral fellow, conducted workshops where they taught applications students would use throughout the project.

“I’ve always tried to provide service to schools to make things better for kids and teachers,” Cowan says.

This isn’t the first time ETRA and the middle school have teamed up. “For the last three years we’ve done a big project. This year, we made a DVD time capsule,” Cowan says. “We decided that we would do a distance education model. The kids visited our website and completed tasks as homework. If they had questions, they would email Yan for help.”

Wei-Chen Hung and Deri Draper
Wei-Chen Hung and Deri Draper

Chen, a native of China, spoke of her involvement with the children.

“When we first arrived, the students were a little nervous. By the end, they were so happy,” she says. “Through this project, the students learned a lot about themselves. They were able to revisit their past and envision their future.”

The students created timeline projects and word clouds (text-based visual art) and completed multiple intelligences assessments to challenge their knowledge and skills. “The projects were all done using Web 2.0 applications,” Cowan says. “We showed the kids how to do it and gave them a task to do.”

During the seven-week period, students not only made significant strides in their academic advancement, but showed an overall enthusiasm from their learning.

“They showed great interest,” Yan says. Recalling her own middle school education, she says, “I only hoped to have such an opportunity.”

“The level of engagement was high on the part of the students. We had incredible participation,” Cowan says. “There were handfuls of students who normally have difficulty turning material in. In this case, they were so engaged that they wanted to participate. If you make the activity interesting, active, and connected to their lives, behavioral issues begin to dwindle.”

by Eric Johnson

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