Faculty Experiences - Paul Reale

Paul Reale - photoPAUL REALE


Interview Topics

What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?


Address individual needs

Immediate feedback

Student creativity


Chat sessions

Electronic submission of work


Instant messaging

Remote Desktop

Personalizing Instruction: Lifting the barriers between student and professor

All of this extra effort of trying new teaching tools translates to students that this teacher cares about us. I'm a very dedicated educator. The content of a course is a very minute aspect of teaching compared to a methodology. You start with the student. I may have the content but what does the student need? So if we figure out a way so that each student feels like they are important--it doesn't matter how big the class is--then each students feels that the professor is paying attention to them or to their assignment.

I had developed my first interactive web site and had decided to create all syllabi and other school documents as HTML. My reasons then had less to do with web access by students, since most Internet usage at that time was confined to email, but because HTML documents are basically unformatted text files that could be pasted into email messages. Hypertext links were attractive, but they were seen mostly in CD ROMS created on a single topic. By 1996, I had set up a multi-layered system of materials that could be used by anyone around the world, and the web site won many major awards mainly for its use of Java and Javascript for information access.

It has always been my policy that the use of technology in any endeavor would be a nearly transparent means to a more expedient end. My mission in the use of technology in innovative teaching is that it is merely a better pencil, per se. It is also a magical pencil that can minimize nagging problems of the physical rapport between teacher and student, course content, and presentation. It is this mechanism that puts the student on a more even footing with the instructor.

Barriers of confrontation (the "office hour") are lifted if students have a 24/7 access to the professor through fax machines, email, Instant Messenger, and IRC chat. The student will ask questions and often take initiative in these kinds of exchanges. I have offered this kind of service to all students in my classes since the early 1990's, providing an "electronic "open door." I could even create private, web-enabled directories for each student to address specific needs for an individual project.

One of the biggest problems in teaching music composition is how to get students to understand how to change things in their writings. Over 15 years ago, I instituted the idea that a student could turn in an essay or composition in advance of the due date and have it reviewed rather than graded. With the advent of Internet communication, students submit papers, music, etc. in some electronic form and get an immediate response with corrections. A fortunate byproduct is that the stultifying portcullis of the ten week quarter is tamed through a more efficient use of time. Next year, I plan to institute the use of the "remote desktop", which allows me to dynamically correct the student's music or essay on his/her own computer. I would gain control of the desktop pointer and other devices on the student machine, and the corrections could be observed in real time as they are made. The precision of understanding and the elimination of delay should prove invaluable to the process of correcting papers, not to mention the individual attention each student would be getting.

By 1998, the students who were using this electronic submission process realized how important it was. I got incredible results. All I can say is that the harmony writing assignments that I received from my 1st year, third quarter theory class are equivalent to those I received from my 2nd year, second quarter theory class. That's how much of an advantage it has been. In the area of graduate teaching this feature had even more far reaching effects (e.g. the Seminar in the Avant Garde from 1997) when the summaries of the class discussions could be dynamically updated from worldwide input.

One incident that made me do things differently was a misunderstanding I had with a student during office hours. Usually I have great rapport with my students, so I felt bad for this student. After I sent an email to this student, he student sent this big, long email response regarding his grade about a whole lot of stuff that never came out before. So, I said this is the way to go because the means provided the student to speak in an authoritative voice. Each generation of students is less threatened about technology and that's a good thing. These simple ways can break down barriers such as cultural and gender lines that often show up in face-to-face interactions.

There are two ways of teaching creativity: one is the process of producing things that already exist, the other is the process of bringing new things out of a student. And that means producing a kind of selfless atmosphere where the student is not nervous about presenting the work.

One of the problems students face is their notion that learning in not entertaining. And, of course, technology can make learning a lot more fun. I think the biggest mistake that teachers can make with using technology is not making it transparent; it has to be embedded in the course.

I have found no dehumanizing aspect of using the digital aspect of technology. My students have different personalities. It's interesting to see how some of my students have communicated with me differently when we are online--they are like two different people. I suspect the digital person is more like the real person. A lot of the game playing gets stripped away. When I first started teaching I wasn't much older than the students. Any young person can teach a young person. The older you get it, the more it creates a distance. Students tend to become more distrustful. It's this whole generation thing. But because I was always ahead of them on the technology, students tended to perceive that I must not be that old--I must know something. So it works in that way too: It closes the generation gap that can affect teaching and learning.

Oral Interview, April 30, 2003