New Technologies for Learning

Charles Kerns, George Toye, Stanford Learning Lab,

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University March 6, 1998


The Stanford Learning Lab's primary mission is to improve the undergraduate learning experience at Stanford. The lab explores the use of pedagogically-informed technological solutions to learning problems in Stanford courses. Studies include design and development of curricula and software, assistance to faculty and students in the delivery of courses and extensive evaluation.

The large lecture course, which combines lectures to large audiences with small discussion groups taught by junior instructors, has long posed motivational, curricular, and learning problems to faculty and students. In this type of course, coordination of discussions and lectures is difficult, communication/ collaboration among students and faculty is lacking, and students typically are not motivated to learn.

The Learning Lab's first project addressed these problems. A course web site was developed that provided a virtual center to the course--everything was available at the web site. One design goal was to infuse a sense of community by supporting many types of interactions among the lecturers and students. The site provided a set of discussion forums, an assignment distribution and collection system that feed all documents into individual and course portfolios, and an alerting and announcement system. Design decisions, rationale, and lessons learned in building and deploying this web site will be shared in our presentation.

The course was evaluated by a team of graduate students who made use questionnaires, interviews, video interaction analysis of on-line and face-to-face discussion, peer review, and extensive analysis of web logs.
Analysis of findings is currently in progress.


Charles Kerns is the Associate Director for Curriculum Deployment in Stanford's Learning Lab. Most recently, he managed development and delivery of a curriculum prototype, Stanford University's revamped freshman "Introduction to Humanities" course, which used a web-based instructional support system. Previously as Director of Stanford's Curriculum Development Lab he assisted faculty in the use of off-the-shelf software in courses, especially those studying or collecting visual data. He also designed and tested the Flexible Classroom, in a reconfigurable learning space that supports many learning and teaching styles. The room has laptops, lightweight moveable furniture, bright rear-screen projection and a grid of network connections throughout the room.

 From 1989 to 1994 he was a Research Engineer at Apple's Advanced Technology Group. Projects that he managed included testing networked collaborative science labs for middle school students, developing new protocols for student documentation of field trips using hand held devices and cameras, and studying multimedia kiosks which linked student prepared "baseball cards" to multimedia materials delivered at the kiosk. Before 1989, Mr.Kerns authored computer-based curriculum materials at Stanford University's Courseware Authoring Tools Project. His work included a theater staging program, jet and steam engine simulations, and tutorials in biology. He is a graduate of the Interactive Educational Technology Program of Stanford University.

George Toye is both Associate Director for Technology Development at the Stanford Learning Laboratory and Associate Director at the Stanford Center for Design Research. His current research interests include internet based collaboration technologies, integrated learning and knowledge management. At Stanford, he has developed prototype electronic notebook software, called PENS (Personal Electronic Notebook with Sharing), that has been used by over 250 students in Mechanical Engineering and English departments. PENS technology was also utilized in a collaboration project with MIT, called "Shakespeare on the Web".

George is a mechanical engineer by education and professionally licensed to practice in California. Ultra-reliable mechatronic systems is one of his core design interests. Before coming to Stanford, he has been involved in a diversity of projects that include modeling and simulation studies of the Three-Mile-Island nuclear power plant, development of computer based training simulators for nuclear power plant operators, optimization of pulp and paper mill operation, design of the first digital controller of feedwater flow control in nuclear power plant, and ultra-reliable control of robots that assist quadriplegic, control system for dynamic pricing of electricity in residential applications, porting Sun's display postscript software to Microsoft-IBM OS/2 presentation manager. George received his B.S. and M.S. from U.C. Berkeley and his Ph.D. from Stanford.


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