"Coming from a purely research background, I had a lot to learn about informational technology," admits postdoctoral scientist Jory Weintraub, regarding the undergraduate immunology course he is developing. The course will be taught simultaneously at Fayetteville State University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, using the latest in distance education technology.
After working as a technician in a San Diego-based biotech company for almost half a decade, Weintraub was eventually "plunged back into the academic world" when he enrolled in graduate studies at UNC Chapel Hill. There, he graduated with a Ph.D. in immunology in 1999, but was interested in pursuing a career in teaching. "Skip" Bollenbacher's initiative--the Collaborative Electronic Learning Laboratory (CELL)--presented an ideal opportunity for Weintraub to incorporate his desire to teach and his knowledge of immunology.
However, for someone who admits he was not a "computer whizz" (he wrote his bachelor's thesis using a typewriter), Weintraub faced a relatively steep learning curve: Not only do distance education instructors have to develop curriculum content, they must also be familiar with the technology that delivers the content. Everything "was new to me, and over the last year and a half I've had to learn many new skills," reveals Weintraub, who is funded as a postdoctoral researcher through the National Science Foundation. Learning how to incorporate videoconferencing, computers, and other technological devices in education is one thing, but knowing how to successfully teach using these tools is another set of skills one must master.
Instructors must come up with new ways of incorporating technology into the design of standard lesson materials. Being able to use graphics, animations, and the Internet are some of the benefits technology-based courses bring to new curricula. It provides opportunities to come up with new ways and styles of teaching, such as the incorporation of forums and online discussion platforms.
For those like Weintraub, who are prepared to learn these new skills and adapt to new concepts, teaching in the electronic classroom can prove a challenging and exciting venture.