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NYIT alumni and faculty harness instructional technology to offer learning experiences beyond the classroom
By David McKay Wilson
Wen-Hao David Huang (M.B.A. '06) excels in a fast-paced arena where a typical day finds him immersed in multitasking, gaming, and studying online collaborations that can help teachers improve how their students learn.
Huang, who earned his NYIT degree online, is one of thousands of NYIT alumni who recognize the power and scope of global communications and technology in the world of education. As part of the e-learning revolution, Huang and others are pushing 21st-century digital tools that embrace the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, mobile devices, and social media.
"Learning technology is about more than just teaching," he says. "Today, it has enabled us to design e-learning environments that not only deliver intended instructional content, but also empower learners with many options to create their own learning experiences."
Huang, assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, teaches online graduate-level human resource courses that explore how to design engaging e-learning environments. Huang's focus is on promoting Web 2.0 technologies that allow users to collaborate on projects and create their own content to share.
Huang's recent study on the use of "wikis"—the technology that promotes collaborative efforts and the collective construction of knowledge—examined how college instructors could improve their interactions with students.
Specifically, Huang found that wikis are more effective than Web-based blogs, where all of the participants' contributions are viewed but rarely consolidated into a succinct document. With wikis, students can develop a shared document with online comments that continually refine their ideas into a final product.
Huang's study also found that the use of wikis promoted engaging interactions between students, although interactions between students and their instructors were minimal.
"The findings suggest that online instructors need to purposefully encourage and sustain learners' wiki activities—writing, reviewing, revising, and editing—throughout the learning process since learners might not be accustomed to wikis' consistent and dynamic collaborations," Huang wrote. "In the meantime, online instructors should be sensitive to not taking away a learner's freedom to be autonomous, as it is vital to sustain the motivation to contribute to wikis."
Huang's other research focuses on the field of online games and how users consciously manage their motivation while playing. He says players of such games are typically highly engaged.
"From the point of view of a trainer or educator, we'd like to harness that motivation," says Huang. "There are competitions, challenges, final scores, all kinds of extrinsic motivation, so we like to design learning activities into the games."
Huang says online gamers develop special skills as they compete against online opponents, rack up points, and unlock new items. These games require that players focus on a single key element and tune out the myriad distractions on screen.
"With gaming, you are always faced with a very rich, very distracting environment," says Huang. "It's cognitively demanding, and some people can become overwhelmed. Once you reach your limit, you can't process anything else."
But there are some players who are able to focus on what's important and discover winning strategies to gain points. "You need to focus on 20 or 30 out of 100 stimuli," he says. "That gives you room for more information to come in."
Designing online learning environments can build on the engaging nature of gaming, although Huang says it's important to avoid overloading students who are trying to learn.
"It's a delicate balancing point—you want to keep them motivated with fancy features, but you have to keep them engaged in the learning task at hand," he says.
Huang says he benefited from the availability of online courses as he earned his NYIT degree while pursuing a doctorate in learning design and technology at Purdue University.
"It was a great opportunity to enhance my credentials," he says. "The scheduling was perfect. It worked for me, as it does for many adults who are autonomous learners and know how to manage time and get things done."
As Huang focuses on his academic career and develops online course material, he hopes one day to launch a business venture that capitalizes on his learning technology background.
He says his M.B.A. provided him with critical business skills in the areas of financial management, operations, and marketing.
"Right now, the idea of starting a business comes up twice a yearÑduring spring vacation and winter break," says Huang, who grew up in Taiwan. "It's always on my long-range to-do list. I plan to get to it one day."