John Hutchinson, an ATLAS visiting professor from Rice University, taught a spring 2009 course in nanotechnology to 12 Colorado high school teachers who came to his ATLAS classroom, 35 high school science teachers who went to a classroom at Rice University in Houston, and six teachers who participate from their homes.
Linking the students and instructors together were Web and videoconferencing technologies that allowed everyone to participate and learn in a single real and virtual classroom.
Hutchinson’s ATLAS classroom used cameras, microphones and projector screens so that students could see, hear and interact with each other. Carolyn Nichol, associate director for education at Rice’s Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology, used a similar teaching setup in her classroom at Rice.
Usually, professional development workshops for high school teachers happen during the summer when schedules are open. But the benefit for the high school teachers taking the course during the evening during the school year is that they can put what they learn to use in their own classrooms more immediately.
“We have found that teachers are able to do the most with the information we provide when they receive it while they are actively teaching,” Hutchinson said. “We have many examples of this. Just last week on the day after a discussion of vapor pressure and dynamic equilibrium, one of our teachers e-mailed me a lesson plan and a photograph of how she had implemented the lesson in her class.”
The class, called Nanotechnology for Teachers, is designed for teacher professional education and is an overview of recent research in nanotechnology combined with an introduction to new teaching approaches in chemistry and physics. Using the videoconference classroom at ATLAS, Hutchinson offered this course via distance learning for the first time this spring.
Hutchinson, a professor of chemistry who will returned to Rice in the fall, sees the Web as the ultimate delivery medium for teacher professional education courses.
“If we can provide these experiences in such a way that more teachers can join us via the Web, that’s the direction we really want to take this in the future,” he said.
“The experiment in distance teaching has gone remarkably well,” he added. “I know we took on some interesting challenges, and we’re testing the limits of what can be done technically. It’s all come together, thanks to a lot of hard work and collaboration by the educational technology staff at ATLAS and Rice.”
Hutchinson cited Manu Ghaffarifar of CU’s Information Technology Services for his excellent work in teaching him about ATLAS’ videoconference facilities.
Hutchinson has been at Rice University since 1983, following a postdoctoral appointment in the Chemistry Department at CU-Boulder from 1981 to 1983.
Rice recognized him in 2007 with the George R. Brown Certificate of Highest Merit in recognition of outstanding contributions to undergraduate education.
In 1997 and again in 2004, he received the George R. Brown Award for Teaching Excellence, and in 1994, 1996, 1998 and 2006, he received George R. Brown Awards for Superior Teaching.