Technology ‘epicenter’ to serve as ed-tech hub

King University will establish an technology-rich “epicenter” of 21st century teaching-tool development and a regional educational resource in a former private high school, university officials announced Oct. 23.

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The ‘epicenter’ will be in a former high school.

The Learning Commons at Nicewonder Hall has been established in the 20,000 square-foot former Academy at King building on the main campus. King officials unveiled plans for its use in online teaching during a morning ceremony attended by more than 100 faculty, staff, students and invited guests.

“Learning Commons is devoted to provide the most effective, 21st century teaching and learning environment whether on ground or online,” college President Greg Jordan said. “It has numerous resources (ranging) from interactive capability to mobile applications to a course development center. All of it helps us improve the resources for teaching and we’re very pleased to have them and we’ll be sharing those with regional school systems.”

Education is moving toward more online learning and the new center is designed to meet those needs, Jordan said.

“This marks a significant transition point in higher education,” Jordan said. “Of the 24 million people engaged in various forms of education, 6 million of them are doing something online. … The initiatives and momentum is going that way in which new teaching and learning environments are being developed in a wonderful and creative way.”

In addition to its Bristol campus, King has teaching centers in Kingsport and Knoxville, Tenn., and provides instruction at 10 other sites stretching from Big Stone Gap, Va., to Harriman, Tenn., with plans to soon offer courses in the Nashville area.

“King already has several hundred students in online programs. This facility is going to be used to not only enhance online learning but is also going to be used to strengthen the opportunities for on-ground learning for our traditional programs and our graduate and professional studies programs,” Jordan said.

The facility’s signature area is a one-button recording studio where instructors can push a single button and make a video recording of lectures while incorporating other technology. The center includes five classrooms to utilize high-tech teaching technology such as SMART boards, iPads, teleconferencing and interactive media.

Six employees have been hired to manage the new effort, according to LeAnn Hughes, vice president of marketing and special assistant to the president.

“They [staff] interact with the faculty on how can you engage this class and put it online in a way that is three-dimensional; it’s not just flat and just documents. It has media and interactive components to it,” Hughes said. “They’re writing those courses now. We’ll also use technology and furniture and treat it as a laboratory to see how students engage in learning in a 21 st century environment.”

The facility will also be available to school systems across the region, Jordan said during the announcement.

“This is going to give us the opportunity to partner with regional school systems,” Jordan said. “Not only in dual-enrollment programs but to offer our support to the existing curriculum in STEM areas – science, technology, engineering and math – for school systems through Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, western North Carolina and beyond. This is a real service to and opportunity for a partnership with education across all levels, K-12, post-secondary and graduate school.”

Bristol , Va. , Schools Superintendent Mark Lineburg said his division welcomes the chance to work with King.

“There are a world of possibilities here. You automatically think about professional development for teachers. We plan to use more technology in the future, so this would be a great tool to have,” Lineburg said.

The former Academy at King was a private high school that was established in 2008 and closed in May. Officials blamed its low enrollment on a sluggish economy.

Jordan declined to discuss the financial investment in the new center, other than to say it was “substantial.”

He praised the Nicewonder families and Jeff and Terri Gregory for their support of the project.

“I’m proud to see our family name associated with such a forward-thinking resource which is sure to be a game-changer for King University and the surrounding community,” Kevin Nicewonder said. “In my opinion, the Learning Commons is poised to become one of the region’s greatest assets and I am happy to support these efforts.”