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Innovative Penn College Professor Nominated for Teaching Awards


David S. RichardsAn associate professor at Pennsylvania College of Technology who has integrated computer- and Web-based technology into his classes has been nominated by the College’s Council of Deans for two awards to be presented at the 16th International Conference on College Teaching and Learning.

David S. Richards has taught physics and astronomy courses at Penn College since 1995. He was chosen because of his innovative use of technology both inside and outside the classroom. This hybrid classroom incorporates both collaborative activities and Web-based instruction. Richards also was nominated for conducting workshops to teach other Penn College faculty members how to incorporate computer-based technology into the traditional classroom setting.

The College selected Richards for an Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology. He will receive a plaque at the conference, to be held March 29-April 2 in Jacksonville, Fla. He will also present a paper at the conference, which then will be published along with his photo on the conference Web site.

Richards also has been nominated for the Ernest L. Boyer International Award for Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology. An international committee will select the recipient, who will receive a trophy and a $5,000 cash award.

“He’s very deserving. He’s an innovative teacher who energizes his students,” said Veronica M. Muzic, vice president of academic affairs/provost at Penn College.

Richards uses software that allows him to show PowerPoint slides, display Web pages, draw images and use his voice to communicate with students over the Web. He can conduct sessions live, or record them so students can access them at their convenience.

Richards said that, because most higher-education teachers see their students only a few hours each week, class time is valuable. He uses the Web component of his course to conduct lectures and coach students outside of the classroom, so that when they arrive for class, they have a better grasp of much of the information they need to gain a deeper understanding of the content.

“The traditional classroom can be used as a more social, interactive and collaborative opportunity so students can talk to each other and work out ideas,” he said.

The Web presentations can be more effective than in-class lectures, Richards said, because he can, while explaining an idea by voice, provide students with interactive Web sites that will allow them to practice the concepts he is teaching. For instance, they can draw their own diagrams while Richards talks them through it, rather than watching him draw them on a blackboard. During a live session, students can post questions, which Richards can address immediately, either through voice or writing. Students who watch a recorded session can e-mail questions to Richards.

Richards conducted a pilot program using a hybrid classroom for three courses with a total of 51 participants. He then surveyed students to gather their opinions.

The majority of students in the pilot study felt that the technology enhanced their understanding of the material and created a more efficient learning environment, but most of them still prefer the in-class activities over the out-of-class presentations. Richards is developing a larger study to test how the technology affects students’ cognition and attitude. He has also used the Web to allow students to take online quizzes, check their grades, print out lecture notes and lab manuals, and view answers to problems on previous homework assignments.

Richards earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Mary Washington College, a master’s degree in physics from the University of Alabama, and is currently finishing his doctorate in instructional systems at The Pennsylvania State University.

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