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Technology bridges 50-mile distance between professor and students

Roger Effron conducts graduate-level courses at Wilmington High School from Alter Hall

04/07/05

Roger Effron begins his class by taking attendance like any other instructor, but his students aren’t seated in front of him. Instead, Effron’s graduate students are 50 miles away from campus.

Effron teaches a course titled Political Structures/Public Relations, a graduate-level course for students seeking a master’s degree in education. While students learn from a classroom at Wilmington High School in Wilmington, Ohio, he is in the basement of Alter Hall. They see each other through a video conferencing hookup every Monday night.

“You have to work harder to teach this way,” Effron says. "It’s a challenge to keep the students engaged and to see if they understand what you’re teaching.”

To keep the 32 students attention, Effron regularly calls on them from the seating chart in front of him. He also uses a lot of humor to keep the class energized. For example, one student raises pigs so during one class a picture of a pig suddenly popped up on the screen.

“I’ve studied David Letterman, especially his dialogue with Paul Schaeffer, his mannerisms and how he works the camera,” says Effron. He also has a sidekick of sorts. "Jennifer" is Effron’s student assistant. And while he refers to her quite a lot and the class can hear her at times, they never see her.

“Roger has to make it very interactive or you would just sit there,” says Jodi Nichols, one of Effron’s Wilmington students, who is getting her master’s degree in education administration and supervision. She also notes that the technology also allows the class to do other things such as analyze websites or documents.

“Through the use of technology Xavier has been able to extend courses taught by some of our best faculty to students who otherwise might not have benefited from a master’s degree,” says John Cooper, director for graduate services. “Longtime Xavier faculty like Roger have embraced the television medium in such a way as to fully engage students as if he were face to face with them in a traditional classroom setting.”

Effron did meet the class in person at the beginning of the semester. He and Jennifer will meet with them again at the end of the session.

“Teaching this way could be a step into the future,” Effron says.

Technology also helps Effron’s students study. Not only does he keep in constant touch with his students via e-mail, sending them articles and assignments, but Xavier’s library databases, electronic journals, tutorials and Internet guides are all available by remote access.