Teaching tool-in-the-making is all fun and (video) games


Published: February 9, 2009

The Daily Press

Online teaching tools will become more like video games through a program Thomas Nelson Community College’s Michael Uenking is working on. A supplement for regular classroom or online students, it’s intended to provide extra help in a fun and technologically savvy way.

Uenking, an associate professor of mechanical engineering technology, received a $2,925 grant from the Virginia Community College System to develop the program. He just started on it this month, learning Adobe Captivate software in preparation for testing the program on 10 students this semester.

“Students of today learn differently,” Uenking said. “The majority of them are gamers. So they’ve learned how to manipulate things on video and games with PlayStation, Wii and Xbox.

“We need to tap into that, not only in community colleges, but in high schools, elementary and middle schools because kids have self-taught how they learn different things.”

The interactive online supplement will contain course content, video, audio and animation using Adobe Captivate 3, Flash and other programs. Uenking can add or subtract elements as he sees what works best.

Because students will have to answer prompts and fill in blanks in order to use the program, they are constantly engaged. Numerous audio and visual cues will be used to propel them through the material.

If students get stuck, they will be able click to get extra information. They will have to complete one segment to advance to the next one.

Uenking is waiting for a Web cam to arrive so he can include video of himself, and his voice will be featured.

“I’ve never been one who liked the standard classroom,” said Uenking, who is in his second semester instructing at TNCC. “I like to implement music and animation and try to make the class fun.”

The program is called Statics, Strength of Materials, and Dynamics Online Tutorial and will be used for students in those three mechanical engineering technology classes. The ultimate plan is to develop it for use by other community colleges who teach the classes, Uenking said.

The program will be a standing element on the course’s Web site, where students can access it for help at any time. A database will keep track of each student’s progress, so that Uenking can note if somebody needs extra help or struggles at a certain point.

His group of 10 test students will take tests before and after this semester and fill out a student survey, and he will present a plan based on feedback from those in August.

“If we continue teaching them the exact same way, we’re not going to reach them,” Uenking said. “If you can make it into a game, an interactive game, they’ll want to come to class.”



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