Computer Applications in Education
This course, taught by Jay Pfaffman in Spring 2006, was the second course I took my my masters program. Really basically, it covered ways we use technology to support teaching and learning.
I thought the approach in this course was a valuable one. Over the course of my masters program, I took courses which devoted considerable time to learning how to accomplish specific tasks using specific tools. How do we make a website in Dreamweaver? How do we create a multimedia presentation using Flash?
There’s a conceptual line in the IT curriculum, really. On one side of it, you’re focusing on the conceptual: Why are we learning this? What are our goals? On the other side of the line is the practical/procedural: How do we do this? With what tools am I able to accomplish this? You can’t really ably demonstrate that you’ve learned how to do something, though, like create an instructional module, unless you’ve devoted time to learning how to create one using specific tools.
The catch of course is that the tools are always going to change. I learned to lay out page designs in Quark XPress as recently as my undergraduate program, and I’ll probably never use it again. Dr. Pfaffman’s IT 521 course focused on acknowledging this reality. We focused instead on learning to identify your task – this is what I’m trying to do – and then going to find something that will do that for you.
We also talked a lot about open-source software in the class. Not everyone will be able to go shell out a lot of money for a commercial software package, and there are typically open-source alternatives readily available. Microsoft Office is not, and never will be, free. Open Office is. Dreamweaver? Not free. Drupal or Moodle? Free.
My own little personal capstone project in this course, if you could call it that, was to make a website. I had been making websites for something like 10 years before taking this course, though, so the twist was that I first needed to install and configure a web server. I installed Apache on a Linux box, learned about configuration of .htaccess and httpd.conf files, and then installed Drupal under it. I learned how to configure Drupal so that multiple users could author/maintain different parts of a site. In short, I began with a goal and then found tools and learned how to get them to do what I needed them to do.
I’d love to be able to link to that initial Drupal site I created, but it’s long gone – the box it resided on has surely been either repurposed several time since then, or maybe even retired. Dr. Pfaffman would remember it; it resided at cascade.occ.utk.edu, and I think I remember emailing him at the crack of dawn one morning after spending several hours messing around with httpd.conf and a mod_rewrite module in order to get Apache to play nice with Drupal so that the site could create nice short URLs instead of impossible to remember ones that ended in stuff like /?q=node/83. Yeah, good times.
Anyway, instead, here’s a smaller blurb I wrote for the course that talks about email, and the protocols that make it work.