Technology that can build relationships
Jul 18th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

When I think about technology and value in education, I am always looking to examine how technology can be used to leverage learning in ways that can’t be done in other traditional formats.  I am currently working on a blended learning paper with my team and have started the following vignette to describe such an example:

Michael was teaching a high school Applied Science Research class.  The class was designed for students who demonstrated interest in pursuing research in biological, physical, medical, and/or engineering sciences.  Students conduct a year-long or multi-year independent science experimental research project under the mentorship of the instructor and field scientists and are expected to present the results of their research at local, state, or national fairs, symposia, or competitions.  To help his students find success, Michael set up the following course goals:

1.  Interact with practicing scientists

2. Participate in a significant research experience

3.  Select, develop and conduct an independent research project

4. Develop the skills of reporting and presenting research results.

A highly motivated student, Anna had a strong interest in the physical sciences and engineering, began to examine the properties of particle accelerators and decided that she would like to try to build one.  Even though Michael was a biologist, and lacked knowledge about particle accelerators, he encouraged Anna to pursue her ideas.

Anna discovered that old television and computer monitors contain cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and brought a junked monitor from home to school for examination.  She stopped to discuss her ideas with the IT staff member in school who warned her that the monitor could potentially have a capacitor still charged with 40,000 volts of electricity and she should have it discharged.  Begrudgingly, she found a local electrician who did the work for her.  Returning to school, she started to dissect the device, first removing the cover and then different circuit boards and parts.  She reached an impasse and wasn’t sure how to proceed.

Michael had a friend, Bob, a retired multipatent-holding electrical engineer, living on the other end of the state, and encouraged Anna to make contact.  The two connected and decided to have a conversation in class via Skype, an Internet telephony service provider that offers free calling between computers.  Sitting in his couch at home, one morning during class, Bob coached Anna through the process of removing the CRT and gave suggestions on how to proceed with the particle accelerator.  During the process, Anna often took the laptop and steered the camera towards the deconstructed monitor and they discussed parts and procedures.  Occasionally Bob would scratch some figures on paper and move his camera towards the document to share his feedback.  The two had an invigorating conversation that lasted the majority of the class period.  Nearing conclusion, Anna realized that she still had many more questions.  She politely asked if she could follow up with email with more questions.  Bob agreed, and they continued the mentor/mentee relationship throughout the year, never actually meeting face-to-face.

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