WCU’s Robert S. Houghton named “Apple Distinguished Educator”

CULLOWHEE — Robert S. Houghton, associate professor in Western Carolina University’s department of elementary and middle grades education, has received national recognition for his expertise in educational technology by being named an “Apple Distinguished Educator” by Apple Computer Inc.

Houghton joins a group of 240 educators in this country and abroad who have received the award from the computer giant in the six-year history of the ADE program. Houghton also is among the first group of educators from the field of higher education to receive the honor. Previously, the ADE designation was given only to educators at primary and secondary school levels.

Recipients of ADE awards are “established in their respective fields as outstanding pioneers. As mentors, they teach, demonstrate and share their expertise and enthusiasm with others,” according to Apple. Houghton was nominated for the award by company representatives in the region who knew of his work at WCU.

“Bob Houghton has had a tremendous impact on the quality of the teacher education programs at WCU,” said Michael Dougherty, dean of Western’s College of Education and Allied Professions. “Through his efforts, our teacher education students graduate well prepared to use technology as an instructional tool.”

Houghton said the most exciting aspect of the honor, for him personally, “is the opportunity for professional growth and the chance for participation in international project teams.”

Houghton recently attended two national conferences that put him in contact with other Apple Distinguished Educators, and he participates with them in a national “listserv,” an email discussion group, to share information about educational technology.

“This is an awesome group to be privileged to join,” Houghton said. “The learning pace of all this activity is fast, and yet most beneficial to my research, teaching and service work.”

Houghton has had a hand in many WCU initiatives integrating computer technology into the teaching and learning process, beginning in 1994 when he started the College of Education and Allied Professions’ web server off his laptop computer.

Some of Houghton’s most recent efforts have involved WCU’s Collaborative Advanced Technology Area, and the use of that facility’s Apple multimedia resources to develop the concept of “comprehensive composition,” a web synthesis of all the composition skills of the cyberspace age. (A sample can be found at this Web address: http://www.ceap.wcu.edu/houghton/cyberspace.html – link no longer active.)

An advocate of benefiting from the best features of multiple platforms, including Apple’s, Houghton initiated a “palm-wireless” computing interest group at WCU that led to the development of a pilot project involving wireless hand-held computing devices that will be under way in Western classrooms this spring.

Houghton also is teaming with Ben Coulter, director of instructional technology in the College of Education and Allied Professions, in guiding another pilot program that is the result of a WCU-Apple Computer partnership. That project is evaluating the potential use of wireless computer technology in the education and supervision of WCU student teachers and interns using Apple iBook laptops in the classrooms of Jackson County’s Fairview School.

A pilot project directed by the college’s Beth Leftwich, “An Adventure of the American Mind” is a federally funded initiative that will train area primary and secondary teachers to use the digitized resources of the Library of Congress. Houghton will serve as the lead instructor next summer for free graduate courses on the Library of Congress digital resources. That experience will include the development of local history and multimedia instruction that will be offered to teachers.

Both a strong practitioner and advocate for the use of computer technology in education, Houghton said he hopes for a day when every student in Western North Carolina, from kindergarten through college-level, possesses a personal wireless hand-held computer to use at school, at home, and on the school bus.

In considering the big picture and the changes wrought by the information age, Houghton says “too much is being promised about what computer technology can do for us now. However, paying attention to what this new technology is becoming is still critically important.

“The human race is once again engaged in another giant intellectual leap,” Houghton said. “Over human history, our communication ability has shifted from gesture to speech, and from speech to reading and writing. This time we are making the intellectual move from a text-centered to a cyberspace-centered culture. The opportunities and challenges for us all are enormous.”