Dordt College News

Classes incorporate new technologies

December 2, 2013

As dean for curriculum and instruction, Dr. Leah Zuidema gets to help faculty find creative ways to spend a multi-year donor gift designated for promoting innovative teaching and learning.

For the past couple of years, Zuidema has put out a call for proposals that resulted in the creation of the Teacher Resource Center classroom (TRC), a hi-tech classroom and resource room designed for group interaction and learning; last year’s interdisciplinary Water Project and this year’s follow-up AGILE Project, which is helping students learn about and respond to child mortality; and a variety of other projects that have allowed professors in several disciplines to act on ideas for improving their teaching.

Last summer, Computer Science Professor Kari Sandouka taught professors how to build Android apps they could use in their classes or that might be useful to the Dordt community.

The Dordt College Map Tour, developed by Dordt College Computer Support Specialist Sandy Reitsma, provides an interactive map of the campus. The app allows users to browse through the buildings on campus, view buildings on Google Maps, and get directions to and from locations on campus.

The Iowa Prairie Locator, developed by Environmental Studies Professor Jeff Ploegstra, identifies the locations of all prairies found in Iowa. Users can find specific prairie locations and receive driving directions.

Connections Photo Directory, developed by Mathematics Professor Gary De Young, works in conjunction with a subscription to the Connections Online Photo Directory found at It allows users to look up listings in their directory and then map an address, call, or email an individual.

Music Professor John MacInnis, who helped write the app proposal and who attended the session, is amazed at the number of people that are benefitting from the workshop. Professors in multiple disciplines are sharing their apps and the app building process with their students. Some professors and students also intend to share what they’ve learned with local high school students.

Dr. Jeff Ploegstra, one of the workshop participants, is having students in his Local Flora Biology course develop an app that matches medications with their plant origins. He believes that almost any industry will benefit from students who know how to use technology and can program it for their use.

Although Ploegstra had a specific outcome in mind for his class project, his goal was more interdisciplinary: helping students gain knowledge they could use in any discipline. Ploegstra sees the opportunities provided by the innovation grant as a way for Dordt professors to equip themselves so they, in turn, can be resources for the broader Dordt community.

Innovative teaching with technology is happening in others areas, too. Several professors are using screen casting—a way to communicate specific concepts in a narrated video, usually on a tablet. This technology makes information more accessible, helps students review information more easily, and provides a medium for learning that today's students find more familiar and engaging than reading a textbook.

Engineering Professor Kayt Frisch posts example problems online for students to use when working through longer problems at their own pace. Ploegstra uses screen casting tutorials for labs.

Chemistry Professor Darren Stoub finds that his students learn concepts best when they teach what they know to others. His students use screen casting to explain a problem set question using either a video or an iPad app in the TRC classroom. Stoub hopes that incorporating technology into his classes will help students use what they are learning more effectively.

Stoub has been sharing his experiences with middle and high school science teachers through an interactive outreach program. College professors and local teachers meet periodically to discuss topics relevant to their classrooms, including the use of technology.

Agriculture Professor Chris Goedhart is using Galaxy Tab 2 tablets in his classes after the agriculture and environmental studies departments together applied for funds to purchase six tablets. Each professor in these departments has a tablet for personal use, but they make them available to each other for use in classes. Part of the goal is to use technologies students are familiar with so that they become more “visionary and discriminating” users of technology.

The agriculture and environmental studies departments are using grant money to become more acquainted with new apps available in their fields. They have students evaluate what free or low cost apps offer as compared with other sources of information. Students and professors are learning together this semester as they explore what technology can offer for their work. 

One major focus of these departments is on geographic information systems (GIS). GIS allows them to display spatially referenced data and pictures to make crop management decisions. At Dordt’s Agriculture Stewardship Center, students tag pictures to specific locations in fields to note how certain plants are developing, and students in Goedhart’s Field Crop Production and Management course are looking for programs best suited to evaluate multiple years of the information they gather.

The funding for all of these programs was made available out of a desire to promote excellent Christian education, Zuidema says, noting that Dordt’s administrators hope that through such efforts “light will shine brightly so that others can see it and be excited about what is happening here.”

“Good news is spread through making good things happen,” she says.


Media Access: Download Word Version | High Resolution Image: 1