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U.Va. Professor Mark Shields Teaches Turkish Students About Technology And Human Development From Charlottesville Classroom

March 9, 2000 -- The students look expectantly at the professor. The professor smiles and begins to speak. It's a sunny Saturday morning in late winter. It could be a classroom anywhere in the world.

In fact, the professor is Mark Shields, an assistant professor of technology, culture and communications at the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science. The class, taught from a classroom in the University's high-tech Zehmer Hall in Charlottesville, is "Technology and Human Development," U.Va.'s first international distance-learning course. The students are engineering students in a lecture hall at Istanbul Technical University in Turkey.

"We're breaking new ground with this program," said Sondra Stallard, dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. "We have offered programs internationally for a number of years -- in England, Singapore and Germany, and at the International Law Enforcement Academy run by the FBI in Budapest, Hungary. Next year, we'll offer a seminar on Thomas Jefferson in Paris. But this is our first foray into offering an international course that's both for-credit and distance-learning. We look forward to expanding our portfolio of programs that originate on Grounds and go international."

Over the past decade, the University of Virginia's Division of Continuing Education, recently renamed the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, has offered a number of online distance-learning courses. Many of them enable the University's Engineering School to serve the ravenous appetite for quality educational offerings in Northern Virginia.

As part of its Virginia 2020: Agenda for the Third Century initiative, the University is seeking to strengthen its international presence, while expanding its involvement with traditional faculty and student exchange programs, international conferences, and recruitment of international students.

This class is an example of that initiative. It marks the first time the University has arranged with an institution of higher learning abroad to offer a class for full course credit via teleconferencing and the Internet. The course is an elective for undergraduates in U.Va.'s Engineering School.

The project has been four years in the making and wouldn't have been possible without the involvement of Mine Kalkan, an associate professor and director of the Center For Distance Learning at Istanbul Technical University, said John Payne, director of educational technologies.

"Without her efforts to get academic approval of the project through ITU's faculty senate and diligent work with the folks at Turkish Telecom, Vtel Corporation and many, many others, this project would never have gotten off the ground," he said.

The course seeks to introduce students to concepts of human development, in particular, the interaction of technology and quality of life. Through team projects, students learn to analyze complex systems and gain an understanding of the strengths and shortcomings of technology's ability to enhance human capabilities and quality of life. Past projects have examined the industrialization of the Amazon River Valley, rural electrification in Latin America, campaigns to control infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Three Gorges Dam project in China.

"This class helps engineering students think about the human costs and environmental consequences, many of them unintended, of technological development," Shields said.

Shields lectures from a control center at a desk in Zehmer Hall. On the far wall in front of him are two TV screens. One shows the classroom in Istanbul, so Shields can look at the students while he lectures and they can see him looking at them. Shields controls the second screen with a notepad at his fingertips. He can offer a wide view or a close-up of himself speaking, or shift to an overhead viewer where he can place printouts of his lecture notes. He also can connect his laptop computer to the control pad and transmit a Power Point presentation, or pull images directly off the Internet, or connect a VCR and show videotapes.

Behind him are three more TV screens for display to a live audience in case Shields wants to lecture to students in the classroom in Charlottesville at the same time that he transmits his class to Istanbul.

"This classroom is a new concept for U.Va. because it no longer requires two people, the professor to lecture and a producer to direct the camera and other classroom devices," Payne said. "With this setup and a little practice, the professor can direct the action himself."

In addition to watching the classes and asking questions via a two-way teleconferencing audiovisual connection, students may visit the course web site to view the professor's notes, syllabus, and reserved readings. They also will hand in course papers and tests by email. Shields plans to travel to Istanbul to hear their final project presentations in person at the end of the semester.

The class was the brainchild of Adil Ozkaptan, 84, who immigrated to the United States from Turkey more than 50 years ago. He led a successful career in the movie industry in California and continues to maintain close ties to Turkey. He has looked for ways to give back to the country of his birth and sees this project as a test run of technologies that may bring new educational opportunities to rural areas of Turkey.

While the Zehmer Hall classroom bursts with state-of-the-art technology and high-speed telecommunications connections, sometimes basic technological problems, such as telephone connections, throw a wrench in the works. A recent power outage in Turkey denied the needed connection and led Payne and Shields to return to the classroom on Saturday morning (Saturday afternoon, Istanbul time, a seven-hour difference) to try again.

"You expect to have problems when you do things for the first time," Payne said. "Our goal is to work out the kinks and open the way for others. This is definitely the wave of the future."

For more information about the technical aspects of U.Va.'s distance-education class in Turkey, contact John Payne at (804) 982-5344, or at For more information about the curriculum, contact Mark Shields at (804) 924-3234, or at

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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