March 13, 2007

Colleges increase use of technology

Podcasts, online courses, ‘smart classrooms’ now prevalent at TC3 and SUNY Cortland

Smart Classroom

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer    
Lisa Ford has a wide array of multimedia teaching technologies at her fingertips in her Tompkins Cortland Community College English composition “smart classroom.” TC3 has 14 such classrooms that use Internet, computers, audio, DVDs and other technologies.

Staff Reporter

The days of sitting in a class and taking notes as the professor lectures may be coming to an end as technology in college classrooms becomes more sophisticated.
SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College both have expanded use of technology in the classroom and elsewhere in the daily lives of students.
Bill Demo, associate dean of Instructional Technology and Learning Resources at TC3, said the college has 14 “smart classrooms” — classrooms with a central control unit for Internet, audio, DVD and other technology — on campus now and five at the Ithaca Extension center. There are also plans to build five more at the main campus in Dryden by fall, he said.
“We’d like to do as many as possible within the budget,” he said.
Scott Anderson, director of the Center for the Advancement of Technology in Education at SUNY Cortland, formed in 1998, said the center supports technology based on faculty needs.
The goals of CATE include increasing the number of technology-based courses within disciplines, such as the new media design major within the art/art history department or geographic information system within the geography department.
Many TC3 students said seeing the material on a big screen in the “smart” classrooms was easier than following along in a book. Amanda Barnett, a freshman from Trumansburg taking a composition class, said she could “see what the teacher is talking about.”
Lisa Ford, who teaches English composition and screenwriting classes at the college, said she can draw and write on overhead projections.
Toby Reese, a sophomore from Skaneateles, said he is a visual learner, not a listener, so this approach works well for him.
Nontraditional students — those older than typical college students — like the technology as well.
Ford’s classroom has four computers for student use in addition to the instructor computer setup that includes computer access, a projector, DVD and other technologies all controlled by buttons on a controller unit.
The setup allows Ford to be more spontaneous, for example, being able to pull up a Web site.
She said for her screenwriting class, students can compare screenplays on a big screen rather than a small TV. “It’s the little things like that that make a big difference.”
TC3 student Lois Evener purchased a laptop computer to help her with her studies. She said she sometimes needs help connecting to the wireless Internet network on campus. She does not have Internet service at home.
“I like the smart classrooms. It really enhances learning,” said Evener, who noted that she struggles with writing.
Reese said he also signed up for a text messaging service available to students at TC3. The college lets students know if their classes have been canceled through a text message on student cell phones.
SUNY Cortland last year initiated a new program using iTune technology through Apple. It allows the college to make audio and video from lectures, interviews, audio books and other sources available online. Students download the content to their personal computers and then transfer the information to their iPod, allowing them to listen, for example, to a lecture whenever and wherever they want to listen.
Another of the new pieces of technology used at SUNY Cortland is podcasting in classes ranging from art to health. A podcast is an audio or video file that can be downloaded to a personal computer and then transferred to iPods or other media players and listened to anytime.
Beth Klein, childhood and early childhood associate professor at the college, said her students have worked with both Cincinnatus first-graders and McGraw sixth-graders.
This semester a group of college students are working with McGraw sixth-graders in John Pinto’s class to introduce the book “Hawk,” and homework to the students.
“It’s motivating them, I think,” Klein said of her students doing the podcasts. “It forces them to reflect on their own research,” she said, adding that using the technology seems to “raise the bar” on the quality of work.
Ashlee Rashford, another college student, said the podcast introduces the student assignment — developing a food web of what foods each animal eats in the book “Hawk.”
Sixth-graders Jaimee Griffin, David Levitskiy and Nicole Purcell said the technology was easy.
Another digital tool professors have employed is WebCT, which allows them set up discussion boards, mail systems and live chat along with content such as documents and web pages on line. Students log in from a computer.
Anderson said many instructors use the WebCT to some degree for course management at SUNY Cortland. This allows students to at least view a course syllabus online, sometimes take an exam online or even read course material online.
According to the 2005-06 instructional resources annual report, 93 teachers had been trained on WebCT that year and 165 faculty members used in to teach 408 courses. Anderson said many teachers also use PowerPoint for lecture material.
While creating online courses is encouraged at SUNY Cortland, recognizing what students want is a priority and most like face-to-face interaction with teachers even though most students have all the new technological gadgets such as cell phones and iPods.
“We as a campus are very concerned that we understand who our students are and what they need,” he said.
Anderson said there is a new three-year coaching master’s degree program that is almost entirely online, catering to the needs of coaches who cannot get to campus on a regular basis.
Anderson said one of the most important improvements to the campus was making sure everybody has online access that is fast.
“Much of the campus has gone wireless,” he said, including renovated dorms. Also, the library has grown in its offerings of databases available online.
Demo also noted that technology has been a major consideration in the master plan at TC3 that is expanding the college and will consolidate some of this technology within the learning commons.
Construction on this begins after graduation and will convert the current gym in the academic building into the new learning center. SUNY Cortland also made technology and training a focus when a Learning Commons was created within Memorial Library and opened in April 2006.



Man pleads guilty to raping, beating child

Staff Reporter

ITHACA — A Dryden man admitted in Tompkins County Court Monday to raping and assaulting a 3-year-old boy and sexually abusing the boy’s 22-month-old sister.
Jacob J. Carter, 23, could spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading guilty Monday to predatory sexual assault against a child, first-degree assault and two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, felonies.
The predatory sexual assault charge carries a maximum sentence of 43 years to life in prison, while the other three charges each carry a maximum sentence of 25 years.
Tompkins County Court Judge John Rowley, who presided over the plea and will be sentencing Carter, said there is a possibility the sentences could run concurrently.
Carter told the court that on Dec. 31 he raped and sexually abused the boy at his home at 7 Anchor Drive while he was baby-sitting him.
Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson explained to the court that rape and abuse charges are both contained in the predatory sexual assault charge.
While showing no emotion or remorse, Carter also admitted to stomping on the boy’s abdomen on Jan. 1. The attack put the boy in critical condition at University Hospital in Syracuse, where he underwent emergency surgery.
“I stomped on his torso,” Carter said, explaining that he was home alone with the boy at the time of the attack.
When Rowley asked why he assaulted the boy, Carter simply said, “I was stressed.”
Carter also admitted to sexually abusing the boy’s sister on two occasions, once in November and once in December.
“I rubbed myself against her,” he said.
Carter was arrested on Jan. 2 after the boy was rushed to University Hospital for emergency surgery to repair disconnected intestines and a lacerated spleen.
The children’s mother was not present for Monday’s proceeding but her attorney, Jim Hickey, spoke on her behalf.
“There is still some question as to whether there will be permanent damage,” he said, when asked how the boy, who spent a month and a half in the hospital after the attack, is recovering from his injuries.


Commission OKs Elmer Sperry house demolition

Plaque will note achievements of the inventor near new clock tower building

Staff Reporter

The 19th century boyhood home of Elmer Sperry, a Cincinnatus-born inventor who held nearly 400 patents, is slated to be demolished to make way for parking for a clock tower commercial building on the corner of Main and Tompkins streets.
The city’s Historic District Commission approved the demolition at its meeting Monday morning, but has yet to review the plans for the new building, which will resemble the original Squires Building that was lost to fire in April.
“We passed having the building demolished, but contingent upon a commemorative plaque being somewhere on the premises to commemorate Elmer Sperry,” commission Chair Linda Kline said afterward.
John Scanlon, the owner of the properties, has contended that while Sperry is a decidedly important figure in Cortland’s history, the house he grew up at 124-126 Main Street has been modified extensively — it’s been a row of stores in the past, and currently houses three apartment units — and so the historical significance of the structure itself is diminished.
“We looked at it from every angle, and the consensus was it isn’t what it had been — it’s been through so much,” Kline said. “But you don’t want to lose this memory of who this man was and what he had done.”
Right after the Squires Building fire, city historian and commission member Mary Ann Kane said that she knew one of the adjacent buildings would have to come down to make way for new development.
“Overall, I’m glad that this isn’t an obstacle. But seeing the building coming down isn’t something that makes me happy, it reflects the need for parking in the downtown area,” Scanlon said Monday afternoon.
Although the commission members felt that a display inside the clock tower building would be appropriate, Scanlon said that he was not able to promise anything more extensive than a commemorative plaque outside.
“I wasn’t willing to make any commitments, because, as far as the interior, those plans aren’t finalized,” Scanlon said. “I’m not opposed to something more, but I’m not willing to commit to it at this point because there’s some uncertainty about the final design — and tenant, for that matter.”
The commission will review the final design of any marker before it is erected on the site, and Downtown Partnership Director Lloyd Purdy has volunteered to work with Scanlon and the commission during this design phase.



Special committee wraps up fact finding

Staff Reporter

The special legislative committee aimed at looking into the county’s aborted land deal on south Main Street completed the fact-finding portion of its work Monday, after hearing from County Attorney Ric Van Donsel on potential legal fallout surrounding the deal.
The committee will meet again at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the County Office Building, to go through all of the information it has gathered and to get a sense of what, if any, sort of recommendation the committee will make to the full Legislature.
At Monday’s meeting, Van Donsel rehashed the legal challenge to the county’s decision to reconsider its initial vote to purchase $894,000 worth of property along south Main Street, and said he still felt the Legislature’s action was appropriate.
He also offered estimated damages — ranging from between $6,000 and $180,000 in monetary damages, to an order to simply purchase the properties at the agreed $894,000 price — that the county could be obligated to pay should a judge rule against it.
Property owners involved in the deal claim that the Legislature’s original decision to purchase the properties represented a binding agreement, and are asking the county to go through with the purchases, or expect a lawsuit.
Because its rules allow the Legislature to reconsider resolutions any time up until its next business session, the move to reconsider the acquisitions was appropriate, Van Donsel said, as any agreement with the county isn’t formally sealed until after that opportunity to reconsider has passed.
“That’s the uniqueness of dealing with a municipality,” Van Donsel said.
Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) pointed out during the meeting that legislative rules say that a contract can’t be reconsidered if the parties involved have been officially notified of an agreement.
Brown asked whether letters sent by Van Donsel to property owners after the initial decision should be considered notification, prohibiting reconsideration.
Van Donsel said no, primarily because he had not yet received an abstract, a deed or any of the other documentation necessary for completing the deal.
Hypothetically, if there was a serious problem with the deed for one of the properties for instance, the county would still have the right to reconsider in light of that problem, Van Donsel said.
“The rule is there to provide security for taxpayers,” he said.
Should the county opt not to go through with purchasing the properties, should the promised lawsuit proceed, Van Donsel said he could only speculate regarding the damages the county might face.
Van Donsel calculated the assessed value of all of the properties involved in the deal at $695,800, and subtracted that number from the purchase price to arrive at a figure of $173,200 that he said might represent the high end of damages awarded, assuming the county is not ordered to simply purchase the properties.
Van Donsel also noted that market value for the properties is likely higher than assessed value, and added that additional damages related to various fees for each property owner could total about $6,600.