The IPT Project: Image Processing for Teaching

Article excerpt

The technological revolution that has transformed industry and commerce worldwide is based on advances in mathematics and science. However, technological education has institutionally been kept distinct from its constituent subjects. The reason is historical. Technological education has grown out of the vocational sector, which addresses the needs of students preparing to enter the workplace directly, while mathematics and science are part of the academic sector, traditionally concerned with preparing students for advanced education in academia.

However, these traditional distinctions are rapidly changing. Academic educators are recognizing that few of their students are heading specifically toward careers in science and mathematics but they are heading toward being productive members of society, regardless of career. Reform efforts in science and math academics are emphasizing habits of mind, critical thinking, relations to societal and technological issues, etc., as more appropriate goals for students. Thus, science and mathematics educators are increasingly thinking in terms of vocational objectives.

At the same time, the vocational education sector is recognizing the changed nature of the workplace. Many 19th century industrial skills are irrelevant to the current workplace. Moreover, with the rapid advance of technology, specific current skills will become irrelevant by the start of the 21st century. Technological education must meet the needs of business and industry for workers who are flexible, adaptable problem-solvers.[1] In short, the objectives of technological education and of science and mathematics education are merging rapidly.

* An Overview of the IPT Project

The Image Processing for Teaching project was developed at the University of Arizona in response to the NSF's call for projects to introduce high technology into classrooms. Begun six years ago, the project's original objectives were to explore how state-of-the-art digital image processing might be used to give students an attractive entree into the study of science and mathematics, and in particular, used to reach those students not traditionally motivated in these subjects.

So the Image Processing for Teaching (IPT) project began as an experiment. It seemed plausible that image processing would serve as an effective and exciting way to attract students to science and technology, and to offer open-ended opportunities for exploration, discovery and quantitative analysis. On the other hand, we recognized that not all good ideas come to fruition in practice.

Thus, it has been gratifying that evidence points to the remarkable effectiveness of image processing in education. Exciting things are happening with IPT in the classroom. While image manipulation is attractive and fun, it also inevitably leads to meaningful exploration of the image's content, and appreciation of the mathematics built into thy process on many levels. IPT nurtures the processes of investigation and problem-solving. We find great success and interest among students who might not have been expected to do well in conventional academic classes.

One result of the project's success has been a considerable demand for IPT support from the technological-education community. Educators and program administrators tell us that IPT is a unique way to engage their students, to provide intimate familiarity with a wide range of current technology, and (most importantly) to develop problem-solving abilities that will apply in the workplace even as technology continues its rapid advances.

IPT is also addressing the technology education needs at community colleges and secondary schools. This is being done by developing appropriate curricular applications for their students as well as sufficient training for their faculty to feel confident in using image processing as a technical and educational tool. The project continues to reflect a broad interdisciplinary perspective, collaboration among educators and technical practitioners, and an emphasis on open-ended problem-solving that have always characterized it. …