System gives NIU technological edge

By Rob Heselbarth

Education classes at NIU will have a technological edge over other schools across the United States thanks to a newly-installed computer system in Graham Hall.

NIU is the second university in the United States to get the computer system called “Discourse” which will aid teachers in communicating to their classes.

“The central reason for it is to improve communication between instructor and students,” said Glenn Smith, chairman of the leadership and educational policy studies department.

“You can do, for example, a short quiz at the beginning of the class to see if people read their material,” Smith said. “You can score it immediately as they take the test and then everybody knows how they did.”

Smith said the system is three or four years old. It has been used in grammar and high schools in the United States, but NIU is only the second university to have the system installed.

Smith said it is a great way for quick communication because it is hard for a teacher to read a student’s mind.

“One of the single biggest factors involved in teaching is that the teacher has to figure out whether everybody understood the point,” Smith said.

“The way you normally do that is to look at people’s faces to see if they look like they understood it,” he said.

Smith said that studies with computers have shown that the level of understanding is generally less than the whole group. With “Discourse,” teachers can get percentages of students who actually know what’s going on, he added.

“It can instantly show a bar graph about how the class feels about an issue,” said Jean Pierce, associate professor of educational psychology.

“I think it’s exciting. It can permit everybody to participate, even the people who are shy,” Pierce said.

“It makes sure that people are getting involved with the issues,” she said. “It will inspire good discussions because everybody will come up with a response to the questions.

“Students can see what other students think and the discussion will be much more interesting as a result,” she added.

The funding for the purchase of the system came entirely from a grant that was awarded to the leadership and educational policy studies department.