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Tech-savvy students help faculty innovate

Students working at Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services provide an inside perspective on using technology for the learning experience.

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Dustin Butler’s own reliance on his smartphone to access documents for his classes was part of the inspiration for a website he created with a faculty member.

As a Student Technology Assistant (STA) in the College of Liberal Arts, Butler worked with the professor to design a website based around a class syllabus with links to supplemental materials, such as YouTube videos, that could be viewed on a mobile device.

That collaborative experience is the foundation of the Student Technology Assistant Project, an innovative Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) program, which connects creative, tech-savvy students with College of Liberal Arts faculty interested in developing instructional technology projects (websites, Power Point presentations, videos and more).

Dustin Butler

New alumnus and former Student Technology Assistant Dustin Butler. Photo: Samantha Stiles

“It’s like each website is a problem and I have to design a set of solutions,” said Butler, who graduated over the summer.

The STAs show a knack for visual design work and for acquiring web design skills such as CSS and HTML. They learn on-the-job from professional LAITS staff members and faculty.

The students gain workplace experience, content for their portfolios, a professional attitude and confidence in their skills, said Joe TenBarge, LAITS director.

“Having this job, made me realize I love this industry,” said Ashley Solano, a former STA who plans on pursuing freelance graphic design jobs.

One of Solano’s tasks was to illustrate graphics for a Chinese listening comprehension website and, with direction from a staff member, fill in code. As a Japanese major, Solano said she knew first-hand how helpful a language website could be and what students would find useful.

Ashley Solano

New alumna and former Student Technology Assistant Ashley Solano. Photo: Samantha Stiles

Another benefit of working with the STAs is their fresh approach to web design, said Suloni Robertson, the STA program manager.

“LAITS produced websites express a polished, unique and artistic vision,” Robertson said, “due in part to STA contributions. The STAs infuse our designs with their own ideas, personality and energy. STAs augment our professional staff as they collaborate with us. They inspire us and make our web design teams more efficient.”

Staff member Adrienne Witzel, eAnthro projects developer, collaborated with STAs on a suite of fossil websites for the Department of Anthropology called the eAnthro Projects. eSkeletons.org and eLucy.org are both published websites; eFossil.org and eAnthroLabs.org will debut late fall followed by eForensics.info.

“eSkeletons wouldn’t be the success that it is if it wasn’t for their work on the project,” said Witzel about the STAs. “We went from a site that was just pictures of bones to a site that allows us to display the bones in a rich media context.”

Almost every illustration on eSkeletons, including the full-bodied furry and skeletal images, was created by an STA, said Witzel.

“Fields such as anthropology rely heavily on osteological and fossil cast collections as a teaching mechanism,” said Witzel. “However, not all students, schools or even the general public have ready access to these types of fragile and sometimes expensive, collections — so digitizing and providing online access is increasingly important.”

The projects the STAs work on put teaching with technology for student learning into action.