Technology developed at Purdue University is advancing distance learning at elementary and middle schools in Indiana, and plans are under way to introduce the interactive learning process nationwide.

A Web-based technology called Hotseat, developed by Kyle Bowen, director of informatics for Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP), will be piloted at Nancy Hanks Elementary School near Ferdinand, Ind., on Thursday (Nov. 17), as part of the university's zipTrips electronic field trip program. Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette, Ind., is on tap to test Hotseat in February.

"Purdue developed the zipTrips model as a way to connect K-12 students to university researchers without the expense and logistics of a physical field trip," said Wilella Burgess, managing director of the Discovery Learning Research Center. "With the addition of Hotseat technology, we hope to enhance the impact of electronic field trips even more by strengthening the connections between students and scientists and students and other students.

"The importance of partnering in this type of research could impact how schools across the country use technology in the classroom."

Through the wonders of the Internet, Hotseat creates a collaborative classroom for students to provide near real-time feedback during class and enables teachers to adjust the course content and improve the learning experience. Students post messages to Hotseat using Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and Yahoo! accounts, or by sending text messages to the Hotseat website.

"Hotseat has tremendous potential for students to utilize 'their' technology in the classroom. It allows our students to connect more easily with the content," said Lynn Price, a sixth-grade teacher at Nancy Hanks Elementary School, which is part of the North Spencer County School Corp. "The Purdue campus is 6-7 hours' drive from Ferdinand, but our kids do not even have to leave the classroom to experience it. A student in Florida or anywhere could have the same experience."

Originally, Hotseat was designed as a tool to increase interactivity in large college classrooms. With the technology, instructors provide a question, comment or framework, and students contribute a short response using their preferred mobile device, Bowen said. These responses are automatically updated as submitted by the class. Students can read, vote and comment on posts made by other students, thus identifying common questions or areas of discussion.

"It's exciting to see the Hotseat technology moving into a PK-12 setting," Bowen said. "Instead of a distraction, these devices can become a powerful teaching and learning tool."

Tecumseh Principal Brett Gruetzmacher is excited to be a part of Hotseat's early piloting in a K-12 classroom. "The way that students and adults use technology in their personal lives is much different than how we currently use technology in education," he said. "We need to find a way to have the two forms mesh."

Led by the School of Veterinary Medicine, Discovery Learning Research Center, Agricultural Communication and ITaP Multimedia Services, zipTrips involves 35 scientists from across campus who produce and present free, 45-minute field trips that offer opportunities for learning and fun without the need for transportation.

Scripts and lesson plans for the annual presentations - "We're All Animals," "Disease Detectives" and "It's a Gene Thing" - reflect national and state science standards, said zipTrips project manager Jamie Loizzo. On average, 40-60 schools watch the live shows when they air in September, November and February. An additional 70-80 schools watch archived shows, use lesson plans or view shorter online videos.

Today, zipTrips viewership has gone global with audiences in Hawaii, Austria, Canada, Puerto Rico, Shetland, United Kingdom and Japan.

Small-animal veterinarian Steven Thompson, a clinical associate professor in the Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine, said partnering with the zipTrips program allows Purdue to apply this social media-based tool to a whole new audience in a whole new way. Thompson is featured in a dog-teeth cleaning segment in the upcoming zipTrips.

"This project is a testament to true teamwork from across the Purdue campus as we take science and discovery to kids who may not have ever thought a career in science was possible," Loizzo said. "With the addition of the Hotseat technology, we can more effectively examine the role and impact of electronic media on learning and the learning process."

Through the research component led by Burgess at the DLRC, the electronic field trips are evaluated to understand how they impact student perceptions of science, scientists, and science careers. Schools participate in the zipTrips assessment, which includes a "Draw a Scientist" activity. On average, 500-700 students return evaluations.

The zipTrips project, funded through a five-year, $750,000 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to Purdue cytometry professor J. Paul Robinson, was launched in 2007 to target Indiana rural schools. Robinson is a professor in the schools of Biomedical Engineering and Veterinary Medicine and director of Purdue's Cytometry Laboratories at Discovery Park's Bindley Bioscience Center.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is a nonprofit medical research organization with laboratories across the United States and grant programs throughout the world.

Videos being watched now