Roger Thompson, the Dr. E. Paul and Frances H. Reiff Professor of Biological Sciences in Psychology, teaches Animal Behavior courses and directs the Primate Laboratory at Franklin & Marshall. From typewriters to word processors, bulky desktop computers to lightweight portables, and now mobile devices like the iPhone and Flip video cameras, Professor Thompson can recall what project he was on when these new technologies were first introduced on the F&M campus. “Technology has just opened up all sorts of avenues for instruction, research, and communication, not only onsite but also offsite,” he says.
While technology has had a great impact on how humans learn, the same is true of the capuchin monkeys in his care. In the Psychology department's Primate facility, Professor Thompson and his students are conducting research on how to train primates to use touch screens. Technology is everywhere in the lab, ranging from monitoring the animals 24/7, animals interacting with technology, to using technology in mimicking tropical environments.
Recent projects in the primate laboratory encompassed various technologies on and off campus. The goal was to design programs that allowed team members to communicate and share lab data globally. The solutions: YouTube, Flip Videos, Skype, QuickTime, and a team of savvy minds.
Skype enabled the team to simulate synchronous communication with Dutch animal behavior specialist Sabrina Brando from locations around the world. Flip video cameras facilitated the capture of high definition movies of animal interactions with one another and with the experimenters. QuickTime enabled the use of split screens where the viewer could now see the animal’s point of view and the experimenter’s point of view simultaneously.
With the team’s private YouTube channel, team members can now store, archive, and share their movies with colleagues across the world. Professor Thompson sees this advancement in video technology as a revolution. “It (video advancement) definitely is a revolution, that I’ve been fortunate to live through and see manifested in what my students can do,” Thompson says.
Reflecting on the future with optimism, Professor Thompson believes technology will continue to enhance the teaching and learning experience. However, he cautions that technology shouldn't lead to a loss of direct one-on-one contact that F&M faculty have with their students. “That would be tragic,” he says. Nurturing this relationship while balancing technology in the classroom is a wave of the future. A wave Professor Thompson rides so well; he’s an innovator and a leader in his field and in technology. As the use of mobile devices sweeps across campus, Thompson is already ahead of the curve. He is a member of a faculty mobile learning pilot project charged with exploring the future of mobile learning at F&M. Sharing and distributing course and research material now becomes a global undertaking with no space and time restrictions.
How will “cloud” computing impact his instruction? How will sharing research across global time zones helps us learn about the capuchins or ourselves? These are more questions Professor Thompson and his students will continue to explore.