Miguel Garza did not have to travel 41 miles to attend class at The University of Texas-Pan American. He just turned on his laptop computer and accessed the course through the wireless web and video conferencing.
Through the use of technology and videoconferencing equipment, Garza - a senior interdisciplinary studies major from Rio Grande City - was among 22 College of Education students who took part in the distance education course of Instructional Technology (Planning) and Curriculum Development offered by the Department of Curriculum and Instruction (CI) during the first summer session.
This marks the first time CI offered a course in this manner, said Dr. Buford (Mac) McWright, CI assistant professor.
"This course is very unique because it is the first time we use wireless laptops and videoconferencing," McWright said. "The idea for this course is to basically provide an understanding of what technology can and can't do for teachers."
The class was offered concurrently in two locations: the Student Academic Services Building at UTPA and in Rio Grande City at the Ringgold Middle School Parent-Teacher Conference Room, the only facility with videoconferencing equipment.
McWright said the class was almost over before it started because there were no computers available for the course. That is, until Dr. James Curts, co-director of the UTPA Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) grant coordinator and CI assistant professor, came to the rescue.
Through the grant, Curts obtained more than $60,000 in laptop computers for the class, which students were able to take home and use for assignments, exams, e-mails and Internet access.
The students were excited about the chance to have their own laptop computers for the semester.
"I think that was the best part of the course - that we were given the laptops to be able to do work in and outside of class," Garza said. "We had Internet access anytime to check on our class assignments and get in touch with our instructors."
The laptops will be used again in the fall for an online community PT3 is developing with the public schools.
The goals of the course, according to McWright, are to assist pre-service teachers in integrating technology into the classroom; produce more highly trained and qualified teachers for the Rio Grande Valley; and help public school students achieve a greater standard of preparedness for the high-tech world.
During the course, students learned how to use the latest technology and software to create lesson plans, web pages, electronic portfolios and PowerPoint presentations. They also had hands-on training in using digital cameras, scanners and educational software.
Isela De Leon, a senior from McAllen, said before this course, she was not comfortable using some digital equipment and software.
"I can definitely say I feel more confident about using technology now," De Leon said. "I feel I'm more up to date with the technology and I will not shortchange the kids."
This was the only semester the course was offered via the web and through videoconferencing. Garza said he would like to see UTPA offer more courses like this for students that live miles away from campus.
"Some of the people that live in Rio Grande City are not always able to come all the way to UTPA for classes because of their work schedules," Garza said. "If UTPA offered more courses like this, I think it would benefit both the students and the technology at the University."