Using Computers as a Classroom Tool
by Judi Heitz
How can you use a computer in class work that expands the function from the computer from a tool for word processing to a resource, a communication tool, and a notetaker as well?
First, I have to say, I LOVE my computer. I use it as a word processor, to keep financial records, to keep in touch with friends and family, and as a research tool (Where do I apply for a passport? What does apochromatic mean? I need a picture of meiosis for class today - I can download one!).
My students, however, basically see a computer as a typewriter. "The dog ate my homework" has been replaced by "the printer wasn't working!" A few of my students use search engines to find materials on the internet, a fewer still use email.
I wanted to create a multi-week project that would teach my students the basics of various careers in the biotech industry and give them an inkling of the work, both individually and in teams, that is required to create a product that can be sold. EnerGene is the result.
How does the project work in the classroom?
The project requires the students to apply their academic knowledge and work both cooperatively and collaboratively in designing a genetically engineered product and presenting it in a classroom seminar.
By placing the requirements, grading rubrics, and job descriptions on the Internet, the students were given a definite reason to use computers for a reason other than word processing. The web also allowed the students to access this information at any time of day and at any computer.
The active links I included allowed me to guide the students in their choice of jobs and in the beginnings of their research. In class, we would talk about how to determine the validity of information on the web. They learned to evaluate, determining critically if the information was sound. Once they learned the basics, they were off on their own, searching the web, following links. They began to use the computer as a research tool.
How did students communicate with one another?
As part of this project, each student was required to have an email account. They used email to communicate by email to me and to their group members. I taught my students how they could, while searching on the Internet, open their email account. When a student found material of interest on a website, they could copy and paste the web address and the text into a new mail message and they could email themselves the information. They learned to use the computer as a communication device and as a notetaker.
Using the computer in a guided yet independent way helped many students. The quicker students tended to delve more deeply in research on their subject than on a traditional written assignment. Students, especially those who traditionally had difficulty completing assignments, did work online and the partial results - having emails of material they could put together for a paper and presentation, spurred them onto completion.
The students learned business, they learned science, and they learned computer skills that took them far beyond the walls of classroom. The students learned that the freedom of the internet - that anyone can set up a website - is also the bane of the Internet because it required them to critically evaluate their sources, something they don't really need to do with books in a library.
But the bottom line for me, as a teacher, is that they were engaged, they were invested in their work and they had fun while they learned. What more could I ask?