October 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 5 // Tools of the Trade // 5TOT2

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The Evolution in Using High Tech Teaching Tools in Outreach Programs: From Stone Age to High Tech

This article discusses some ways a teacher has successfully used video cameras, projection equipment, and computers as teaching aids in Master Gardener classes and other outreach programs. It covers the trials and evolution of teaching techniques to improve learning levels, describing the use of the video cameras (regular and microscope mounted) and viewing equipment tried and explaining reasons for discarding or keeping them. The use of laptop computers and Microsoft's PowerPoint program and the integration of live video images into the presentation are also covered.

Edmond L. Marrotte
Program Specialist, Education Outreach
Director, Home and Garden Education Center
Department of Plant Science
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of Connecticut
Storrs, Connecticut
Internet address: emarrott@canr1.cag.uconn.edu

High Tech in the Classroom


For the past 20 years I have been teaching Extension Master Gardeners how to identify plant problems. The first method I used was to place various plant problems on tables. The students examined the material and wrote down what they thought caused the problem. Group conferences were permitted. We would then go over the material. I would hold the samples aloft, and we would discuss the cause and corrective measures of the problem.

It was at this point that teaching became difficult. If the class had more than 10 people, and it usually had 40 or more, people in the back could not see the problem, especially if it was a small specimen. Occasionally it was possible to have several samples of a specific problem, but many times only one or two pieces were available. Also, if it became necessary to point out a particular part of the specimen, I would have to move among the students to give individual assistance. This was time consuming, and the rest of the class was left waiting.


Improving Plant Problem Identification

To overcome the problem, I started using a tripod-mounted Panasonic video camera to project the entire specimen onto a television monitor and/or an Eiki video projector. I used a Sony CCD-IRIS color video camera mounted on an Olympus SZ60 microscope to project the smaller parts of the specimen. This allowed the entire class to see the material being discussed at the same time.

But there were several problems associated with such a system:

  1. Lack of monitors in some facilities.
  2. Difficulty seeing the monitors from the back of the room.
  3. Grainy pictures from the video projector.

However, with all the drawbacks, the system was still better than the old hand-waving method.

This past year, I was able to use an 3M MP8625 LCD projector, and the sharpness, clarity, and size of the picture overcame the shortcomings of the video projector and monitors.

But I still had problems with the tripod-mounted video camera:

  1. Inability to have the camera mounted directly over the object being projected.
  2. No macrolens for clear close-ups.
  3. Cumbersome switching unit when using two video cameras.

But then, after 2 years of using the tripod-mounted camera with the projector, I gained access to a 3M MP8625 Presenter. This unit has a video camera set up to project transparencies through bottom lighting or 3D objects with overhead lighting. The lens can be focused from wide angle to close-ups. The Presenter can be plugged into the LCD projector. It also has the ability to act as a switch for two external video sources, allowing the connecting of the microscope camera. This made the switching process easy and smooth.

Improving Lectures

Initially, my classes were a combination of lecture and 35mm slides. With the aid a Microsoft's PowerPoint program, I slowly integrated text slides into my presentations. A major improvement in the program was the combining of the text slides and the picture slide into a single slide. Student reaction was very positive.

But there were problems associated with this method, many having to do with time:

  1. Time required to convert the material from a computer image to the 35mm transparency.
  2. Time at the camera required to modify a slide.
  3. Time delay between exposing the film and getting the pictures back.
  4. Cost of film and developing.
  5. Difference between color of the pictures on the computer and on the slide.

All of these problems were solved when it became possible to project the computer image, usually from a laptop, through the LCD projector. This made it possible to correct problems, mistakes, or shortcomings in a program, even at the last minute.

A surprising reaction from the class was that they did not want to go back to the 35mm slides after seeing a sample of the computer/LCD format. One reason for this is that the lighting can be brighter with the LCD than with the slides, which makes it easier to take notes.

The PowerPoint program allows the printing of the presentation in different formats. I chose to print the entire presentation as a handout in gray scale, with six slides to the page. The response was overwhelmingly positive, although some members of the class would have preferred the handouts in color. A common comment from the class was, "I can listen to the lecture and not spend all my time taking notes."

This past year, I have started to integrate the video cameras into the PowerPoint presentations. This makes for a nice mix of lecture and lab. It is better when there is enough sample material for the class to examine as the live material is being projected.

I have used the integrated program in several classes including:

  • Plant Pathology,
  • Plants and the Environment,
  • Plant Propagation,
  • Pruning,
  • Fruits, and
  • Turf.

All my classes have been in favor of my new teaching method. It has made teaching a joy and has rekindled my enthusiasm as a teacher.

High Tech for Walk-in Clients, Too

The new tools available today help us at the Home and Garden Education Center serve walk-in clients, as well. The diagnostic section of the Home and Garden Education Center uses the video-camera-mounted microscope to show clients what biotic agent is troubling their plants. It also gives a nice close-up picture of pests found in or around the home. Seeing the pest seems to instill a degree of awe, especially if a thrips, mite, or Indian meal moth larva is seen walking across the monitor screen.

One frequent and satisfying event that occurs in the laboratory is when small children collect insects and have Mom bring them to the center so they can see the insects on television. If there is a way to get the young interested in a science, this is one.

Also, commercial growers are more likely to go along with the diagnosis when they see the fungus, bacteria, or arthropod pest that is troubling their crop. It is especially helpful when they thought it was something else. After all, seeing is believing. And these new tools allow them to see the problem very well.

In closing, if you have a chance to use any of these tools--Go for it!