A new Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) internship is giving five undergraduate students a taste of life as computer programmers and developing new ways computers and the Internet can help teachers teach.
The Undergraduate Instructional Technology Internship Program, which kicked off last fall, extends the reach of FAS’s Instructional Computing Group to projects that might otherwise not get done, but that could lead to tools useful in a variety of settings.
Paul Bergen, FAS’s Instructional Computing Group manager, said the internship provides interested students with an opportunity to learn programming skills needed to bring ideas about technology-aided learning to reality. In addition, he said, the program provides the mentoring and structure to ensure the students’ work results in useful products.
“This program can provide the kind of structure undergraduates need in this area, the structure to generate very valuable tools, the structure that will provide a valuable work experience for the students,” Bergen said. “It also provides them with unique opportunities to connect with faculty.”
So far, the students have worked on a variety of projects, including a scheduling tool that directs course Web site visitors to the right readings and assignments for that day. They’ve worked on an online timeline that merges content from different disciplines, such as literature and politics, to show the historical context of a particular era. They’ve also worked on learning modules for Japanese language classes that guide students through particular exercises, such as instructing a taxi driver how to get from one part of the city to another.
The common thread to the projects is that individually they’re modest in scope. It’s also important that they result in tools that, once developed, can be used in settings beyond the course where they were originally conceived, according to Gina Siesing, senior specialist for instructional computing. Siesing, along with Senior Specialist for Instructional Computing in the Sciences Joy Woller and Instructional Computing Group Graduate Consultant Ethan Ostrow, designed the internship.
Siesing said the Instructional Computing Group provides regular guidance to the students as they work, providing the necessary training and mentoring for a project and conducting weekly meetings to gauge progress. The students each take a turn leading a project, acting as the main liaison with course instructors requesting the tool. They work about 10 hours per week, most of the time doing programming in their dorm rooms on laptops or desktop computers.
“It’s been very successful,” Siesing said. “The interns are thriving and working well together. The toughest part is managing their schedules.”
Siesing said all the students came into the internship with a background that included some programming and Web page design. Some also had experience with multimedia and audio/video programming. One of the strongest things the students bring, she said, is a comfort with computers and a confidence that they can learn the skills needed to complete a project.
“They are quite confident in this field,” Siesing said.
Wesley Jacobsen, professor of the practice of Japanese Language and director of the Japanese Language Program, said the internship is providing the necessary technical know-how to put language instructors’ ideas on the Web. The students are working on a series of Web-based modules that teach Japanese grammatical patterns and situational skills. The modules guide students through challenging grammatical lessons or let students practice language needed in particular situations.
“Our language staff is not skilled in technology, but wants to use technology to reach students and other people around the world [who may visit the Web site],” Jacobsen said. “The interns are taking what’s written on paper and doing the technical programming of it.”
Jacobsen said the internship provides a structure that had been lacking when they tried to hire individual students to do similar programming projects in the past. These students, Jacobsen said, have a stronger interest in instructional computer technology that will help them see projects through to completion.
The students themselves said they’re learning valuable skills, such as the Perl programming language, and at least one says the skills learned will increase the chance she’ll pursue information technology as a career on graduation.
“I’ve learned a great deal, not only from the specific tasks assigned me, but from watching and learning from the other interns as well,” said Hester Miwon Ham ’04. “It is also a great reward to be able to see the appreciative looks of professors and other members of the teaching staff for all the work we’ve done.”
Ajit Vyas ’05 said the internship provides a novel workplace environment as well as a chance to learn. Vyas said the program is engaging and provides a nice change of pace from regular class work.
“I thought the idea of helping faculty to create unique tools for the courses was a very appealing one, with a lot of potential for creativity,” Vyas said.