Then & Now: ATE Centers Work on Cutting Edge of Educational Technologies

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When the long-time principal investigators (PIs) of Advanced Technological Centers consider the span of their involvement in the National Science Foundation's innovative technological education program, the technologies they used in their early ATE days provide interesting gauges of progress.

Managing with Phone Calls and Letters. Yes, Paper Letters Carried by Mailmen

The Advanced Technology Environmental and Energy Center was one of three centers funded in the first round of grants awarded in the summer of 1994. The center was then known as the Advanced Technology Environmental Education Center. ATEEC has consistently served as its acronym even as the mission has evolved.

For the first year and half of ATEEC's existence, the staff relied on telephone calls and letters delivered by the U.S. Postal Service to communicate with NSF personnel, its industry partners, and the educators it was trying to reach with its hazardous materials training and related curriculum. The internet was up and running at that time, but not in the Eastern Iowa Community College District.

"We grew up literally, and NSF pushed us as an institution to be more technologically advanced. They were used to dealing with four-year [institutions]," ATEEC PI Ellen Kabat Lensch recalls. Getting a website was even a bigger deal than email. The center was located at Scott Community College in Bettendorf, Iowa, and had to contract with an outside server because its plan for online activities exceeded the capacity of the college's computer system.

Breaking New Ground with Website and Curriculum on CDs

In 1996 it was unusual for ATE centers to have their own websites. When the Maricopa Advanced Technology Education Center (MATEC) launched its website in December 1996 it was one of the first in the ATE program. As the illustration shows MATEC was among the first wave of education enterprises to have a presence on the worldwide web. Its URL, rather than, was part of the center's effort to create a distinct brand.

It was also cutting edge when the center issued its curriculum on CDs in the mid-1990s. "It was not exactly revolutionary," Mike Lesiecki, MATEC principal investigator says. Still he remembers it as exciting to put complete curricula on CDs and then mail the CDs to people.

Now MATEC NetWorks offers classroom-ready resources, multimedia learning objects, virtual reality labs, and games online for teaching about semiconductors, automated manufacturing, electronics, and related fields.

Working Around a Fax Czar

To help the three co-principal investigators for the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education (SC ATE) Center of Excellence communicate from their widely separated sections of South Carolina in the late 1990s, their Advanced Technological Education grant included funds for fax machines for each co-PI.

One PI never was able to obtain permission from his college to install the fax machine. "Only the president's office could have a fax machine," explains Elaine Craft, SC ATE Center director. Documents transmitted on the president's fax were closely monitored; use of the machine by anyone other than the president was frowned on. "It was like they had a fax czar that monitored what went in and out of the fax machine," Craft said.

Consequently she and the other co-PI had to mail their colleague documents and photos that they were working on to develop engineering technology curriculum for 16 South Carolina colleges. "It was so awkward and so time consuming. They absolutely wouldn't budge ... Heaven only knows what would have happened if he had a fax machine," Craft said laughing now at the institution's paranoia.

Dropbox is now SC ATE's favorite tool to share large files of data now. SharePoint is also becoming a more significant tool for the ATE National Resource Center as Florence-Darlington Technical College where SC ATE is located in Florence, South Carolina, moves toward its own cloud for computing. Craft points out "We aren't even renting cloud space from anybody."

Even When the Technology Holds Up, Background Images Show Age

Craft says SC ATE continues to use the first video it made to demonstrate its teaching methodology for integrating instruction of English, physics, mathematics and engineering technology. The video holds up until it shows a student making a presentation using an overhead projector. "The video is still very good and very relevant, but when we get to that part, I just cringe."

Classrooms that use the SC ATE model curriculum now use computers with projectors, smart boards, and wireless technologies.

Share Your Perspective on Classroom Technologies Then & Now

Educators please tell us how your teaching technologies have changed over the past 20 years.

What was the best instructional tool you used in the 1990s? What is it now?

What classroom equipment did you use to prepare students for STEM careers in the 1990s? What do you use now?

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Last Edited: June 17th, 2013 at 12:30pm by Madeline Patton

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