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Technical times: BCC moves into 21st century, but part of past remains
[October 29, 2009]

Technical times: BCC moves into 21st century, but part of past remains

PITTSFIELD, Oct 29, 2009 (The Berkshire Eagle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Online classes, digitized equipment and wireless classrooms are synonymous with 21st-century teaching.

Biotechnology, green manufacturing and efficient energy production are being looked to as leading industries of the future by Berkshire Community College and local businesses.

As the oldest community college in the state, BCC faces the demands of keeping pace with the new century and all of its tech-based innovations. And though the college has made some leaps, it still has bounds to go.

One of the first steps was upgrading BCC's Internet connections to a wireless field.

"Students began asking for ways to access the Internet, especially because of our distance learning courses," said Richard Wixsom, BCC's director of information technology.

Distance learning, also known as Web-based online courses, were implemented by the college in the 2003 spring semester.

In the BCC catalog for this fall, there are 27 online credit courses and 12 non-credit programs designed and taught by BCC personnel. Credit courses include general biology and environmental awareness. Non-credit course titles include "Telecommuting: Working from Home," "Becoming an Independent Contractor," and "Finding the Right Hairstyle for You!" BCC also is partnered with Gatlin Educational Services and Education to Go Inc., offering more than a hundred other online enrichment and certification programs among them. Using a $40,000 allotment from the Berkshire Community College Foundation, the college installed its wireless hardware and software network in the spring of 2008.

At about the same time, the college began investing in wireless and computerized technology such as SMART Board computer-to-whiteboard systems, digital projectors and imaging systems, and softwarebased teaching systems. Wixsom said BCC tries to buy new PCs on a five-year cycle. The college currently owns about 800 computers.

In the near future, the tech department is looking to install Windows 7 programs and purchase a backup generator for the school's IT system.

To acclimate BCC faculty members to all of this technology and to help them keep up with 21st-century trends in education, the college established the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) two years ago, using professional development funds from a Title III grant.

CTL Director Dori Digenti said professors regularly use Webbased software and materials in their curriculum.

Two years ago, environmental science professor Tom Tyning and his students began digitally collecting data on the migration patterns of the local Jefferson salamander. In a recent lesson in the college's new Macintosh computer lab, Tyning instructed business admin-istration and environmental science student Jessica Dezieck on how to use a geographic information system ( GIS) to create a migration map on a Mac.

"I'm completely amazed by it," said Dezieck, who also is a member of the Great Barrington Conservation Commission.

"This technology is definitely useful, and in a very practical way," Tyning said. "Working on the commission or in the field, she [Dezieck] would need to know how to use this." As BCC continues to forge ahead in this millennium, it has to invest in catching up with technology of the past century.

Over the summer, the college opened a new 12-station Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) lab for electronic music instruction. That's a stride for BCC, but MIDI technology has existed in some local grade schools for nearly a decade.

BCC's science laboratories also are playing catch-up. Equipment from the 1970s, including scales and thermometers, is still used. And it wasn't until this year that labs moved away from using formaldehyde-preserved cats and frogs for dissection. Now, dissections are done using virtual computer- based programs.

"We're trying to get students into doing what the industry's been doing for the past 30 years," chemistry professor D. Clifford Myers said.

A major factor in BCC's lagging science equipment has been money. Myers said some of the instruments the school needs cost $8,000 to $10,000 per unit to start. Over the past few years, Charles Kaminski, assistant dean of academic affairs for business, science, mathematics and technology, has appealed to the BCC Foundation to purchase new equipment for his departments. That equipment now includes computers, virtual dissection software, digital microscopy equipment, and automated melting- point machines.

Similarly, if it weren't for a $500,000 donation from the estate of nursing faculty member Barbara A. Nichols in 2008, the state-ofthe- art nursing clinic in the college's Melville Hall wouldn't exist.

Now, through some new administrative leadership, grants and foundation funds, the college has more hope of catching up with the technology of the times.

"We're growing up," Kaminski said.

Digenti agreed. In May, BCC's Center for Teaching and Learning held a summer seminar on "Learning 2.0" for professors.

"I was surprised. There was a great interest in learning how to use blogs, wikis, social networking Web sites, Flip video and Google mail for classroom purposes," Digenti said.

"There's still a sense of wait and see if it works," she said. "But we're moving ahead here, and technology is one way to do it. We take it very seriously." To see more of The Berkshire Eagle or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, Mass. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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