STUDENTS AND FACULTY TAKE ADVANTAGE
OF IMPROVED ACCESS TO INTERNET INFORMATION
Architecture students may still be more comfortable with drafting tables than computers, but the School of Architecture has found ways to ease students into the electronic age by incorporating the vast resources of the World Wide Web into their coursework.
As part of a mammoth undertaking launched three years ago, architecture librarian Barbara Opar '73, G'74 began evaluating the web's architectural resources and established a page on the School of Architecture web site. Now, through Opar's page, students can access a variety of architectural data, including University resources, architectural databases, links to other institutions, and sites on individual architects.
Sifting through web sites is a painstaking process, since pages are frequently added, updated, or removed without warning. But Opar considers it a crucial part of her job. "Students need to know the quality sites," she says.
When Opar gathers information, she considers students' needs. For example, to satisfy student queries in several areas of interest, she compiled a comprehensive bibliography of web sources for building types and created a database of web sites on architecture theory. "I try to keep up with what students are working on, and what they are looking for on the Internet," she says.
Opar says one challenge librarians face with online research is determining the accuracy of the information posted. "Incorrect information obtained on the Internet gets passed along all the time," she admits. "But that also happens in the print world. Over time, librarians become familiar with publishers and eventually know which ones are reputable."
Likewise, faculty members must be aware of the web's hazards and benefits. This semester, for instance, Professor Bruce Coleman is using the web as a teaching tool and is counting on students' ability to decipher data. Coleman's Advanced Building Systems course includes a major project, and project reviews with students are scheduled through his web site. "This process has worked extremely well so far, because the scheduling is all done outside of class time, which I want to use for lectures," he says.
Coleman also posts lecture notes, office hours, and study questions for students as preparation for tests. "This is something new that students requested," he says. "And the web seems the perfect place for it."
Currently, only a handful of architecture courses require students to use the web, but Opar sees great potential for new collaborations. "The possibilities are unlimited for course links," she says. "This is an area I think the faculty will be getting more involved in. It is amazing how much we can do."
UNDERGRADUTE TEACHING ASSISTANTS HELP FELLOW STUDENTS MASTER PHYSICS
When a group of undergraduate studentsall non-science majorsgot together last semester in a campus cafeteria to discuss science, physics professor Sacha E. Kopp knew the department's Undergraduate Peer Assistants Program was having a positive impact on students.
The program gives students an opportunity to become part of the regular teaching staff of faculty and graduate teaching assistants in a physics course designed for non-science majors. The peer assistants, or undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs) as they're called, serve as mentors, problem-solvers, and group discussion leaders during large lectures and the smaller recitation and laboratory components of the course, Science for the 21st Century.
Last spring's pilot project, which was supported by a 1999 University Vision Fund grant, was so successful that the physics department expanded it this fall to include a freshman-level physics course for science majors. "Many students in the course (Science for the 21st Century) came to rely on the undergraduate teaching assistants in significant ways," Kopp says. "The UTAs helped students with homework, and showed them how to organize their time and meet deadlines. The UTAs provided the kind of one-on-one contact with students that is impossible for a faculty member in a class that averages 250 to 300 students a semester."
The program works on several levels, Kopp says. "It gives our students a better classroom experience, and it gives the UTAs an opportunity to try something different."
Kenny Lee '99, one of 11 students recruited as UTAs, often ran into students in a computer cluster, where they frequently asked him for help with homework problems. "The experience was rewarding," Lee says. "When you explain something to someone else, you also learn more about the topic."
Lee, who graduated in August with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, says being a UTA helped motivate him to pursue a graduate degree in physics.
Nearly half of the UTAs recruited by Kopp were liberal arts majors who had previously taken the course. "Many of the undergraduate teaching assistants were not science experts," Kopp says. "That was part of the goalto show students they could talk to one another about the course and think through problems without having to use all the technical lingo."
Christine Gagliardi '01, a psychology and sociology major, thought the experience would sharpen her speaking skills. She also was interested in seeing what went on behind the scenes in the production of such a large class. "Many of the students identified with me, because they knew I was not a science major," she says. "We discussed things from the perspective of students who did not have a great interest in science."
Gagliardi believes being a UTA gave her a greater appreciation for faculty members who teach large lecture courses. "The amount of work the professors put into this class amazed me," she says. "I always thought a science class for non-science majors was one of a professor's lowest priorities."