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(Oct. 3, 2002, Gazette)

New ways of teaching and learning
Dr. Zainab Haruna
Dr. Zainab Haruna

In today’s universities, students and faculty are increasingly technologically savvy. At Memorial, the Internet is becoming a common tool to traditional classroom and distance education courses.

Dr. Zainab Haruna, a per-course instructor with the Folklore Department at Memorial, is using her IT training to maximize her students’ learning experience in her undergraduate Folklore courses. Dr. Haruna began teaching at Memorial in 1996 while completing her PhD. After also completing an IT program, she decided to apply her new skills and knowledge to her folklore courses.

She began by referring students to relevant Web sites, but soon created a course Web site, which included the course syllabus, lecture notes, and assignments.

Dr. Haruna said that students were eager to use her course Web site; prior to the final exam, her Web site received 270 hits. While she advised students not to rely solely on the Web site material, as it lacked the detail and multimedia examples presented in class, she found the site was useful for students who wanted to supplement their own notes, or needed to catch up after missing a class.

“Students coming from high school are technologically literate. They want to visualize what they’re told theoretically,” said Dr. Haruna.

For future folklore courses, Dr. Haruna plans to expand her Web site by including short video and audio clips, an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page, and an interactive page where students would be able to pose questions on issues raised in class.

Such Internet discussion forums are becoming more popular as a means of creating additional discussion outside class time. Student Kieran Walsh found the forum an interesting means of provoking discussion while taking an English teaching methods course for his B.Ed. in 2001. Students were required to post a certain number of questions or statements throughout the semester, based on in-class topics and assigned readings.

“It [the forum] was an excellent way for students to interact with the course materials outside class, particularly if they were shy,” said Mr. Walsh.

Additionally, Mr. Walsh found it an effective way for future high school teachers to learn how to integrate technology into their lessons, and increase their own media literacy, an important component of the current high school curriculum.

Apart from participating in the discussion forum, each student in the course created a Web site based on Cassie Brown’s books. This was a way for students to merge literature with technology, again both as a learning tool and as a teaching tool.

E-mail is also often used as a supplement to traditional office hours as a way for faculty and students to communicate with each other. Dr. Haruna says that e-mail correspondence is her primary way of keeping in touch with students, as many prefer electronic communication due to scheduling conflicts, shyness, and the immediacy of e-mail.

Dr. Haruna points out that creating a Web site is, in fact, a relatively simple process. Software such as Netscape Composer makes Web site creation as simple as basic word processing. Members of Memorial’s university community can create their own Web sites free of charge through their MUN e-mail account. And to help them upload their new Web pages to the Internet, freeware programs are available from Web sites such as Tucows. Dr. Haruna also recommends MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) as a useful site for instructors wishing to incorporate online learning in their courses.

Accessibility is often an issue when new technologies come on the horizon. However, in Dr. Haruna’s experience at Memorial, “there have been few complaints [from students] about lack of access or knowledge.” Equipment and support is available on campus, including several computer centres with free computer use, educational software and helpful staff. Students who come from communities or countries with little computer access are able to learn quickly.

As both Memorial’s students and professors become more computer literate, there is no doubt that alternate, Web-based ways of delivering course content will become more popular.

Dr. Zainab Haruna’s Web site address is www.ucs.mun.ca/~zharuna/index.html.

Kieran Walsh’s Cassie Brown Web site is: http://134.153.160.118/e4142f00/kwalsh/

MERLOT Web site is: www.merlot.org/

Tucows site is: www.tucows.com