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Education News
Athabasca U chair to focus on tech-savvy teaching


Kirsten Goruk
Volume 17 Issue 10 2009-03-13

EDMONTON (CUP) – In an age where technology dictates and influences every aspect of our lives, Athabasca University is moving forward with research dedicated to the creation of new technological teaching methods.

A big part of that initiative includes the appointment of a new position: the iCORE/Xerox/Markin industrial research chair for adaptivity and personalization.

Professor Kinshuk, director of the School of Computing and Information Systems at the university, accepted a five-year contract a little over two weeks ago when the provincial Department of Advanced Education and Technology announced his new position.

Xerox Canada and the Markin Foundation will fund research done under Kinshuk’s leadership.

Kinshuk is no stranger to technology in the classroom. He says the challenge of introducing new strategies to traditional teaching methods involves implementing changes that engage and interest students.

“We found that the kind of learning that happens in the class is really very shallow—a teacher talks and the students listen and by the time they’re out of the door, half of it is gone,” he said.

“Learning really happens [when] students can relate to what they’re doing or where they live,” he added. “We started with Internet-based systems, using laptop and desktop machines, but these are still not very easy to take into the field.”

But the days of lugging around a huge laptop from site to site are coming to an end, says Kinshuk, pointing to advances like smart phones.

“Nowadays, mobile devices have all those functionalities that can really provide very rich learning,” he said.

As an example, Kinshuk paints the picture of two students, one in Alberta and one in New Brunswick, both of whom are studying similar topics and are able to share experiences and discoveries electronically.

Even though Kinshuk’s position stations him at the Athabasca University in Athabasca, Alberta, he is confident that these changes will affect students all over the country, allowing for a collective learning experience.

“Athabasca is perhaps a perfect place because it is an open university. Our students are all over Canada and some of them are outside of Canada too,” he said.

The university also draws in people who might not fall into that typical student pattern.

“A lot of our students are working and they do not have the possibility of [interacting in] a university environment. The kind of students we have fit directly with the kind of research that we’re doing,” Kinshuk said.

With those very students in mind, Kinshuk believes his research has two aims: to extend the overall access to post-secondary education, and to enrich the educational experience of all students.

“[Students] can learn wherever they are, in whatever situation, with what their behaviour or background is. According to that system, it will automatically provide them with the kind of education they need,” he said.

For Kinshuk, these new advances are the result of a changing world, one in which a university education has become almost necessary.

“It used to be that people didn’t want to come to university. After high school they would go straight to work because they could earn big bucks there,” he said.

 

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