What is a smart classroom?

Dawson College in Montreal, Canada has three high-tech “smart classrooms.” These rooms are designed with group tables and interactive whiteboards around the perimeter of the room. Two of the rooms have SMART Board technology while the third, and newest, is an active learning lab with eight Nureva Walls that stretch around the room, providing 56 feet of digital workspace. It is the largest installation of Nureva visual collaboration solutions in a single classroom.

eCampus News spoke with Chris Whittaker, physics professor and coordinator of Dawson’s smart classrooms, about what goes on in a high-tech classroom.

Q: Can you describe a smart classroom?

In these classrooms, students come together in a shared space to construct, manipulate, and negotiate meaning around a canvas. The environments become immersive—learning happens on walls, desks, tables, and in conversations. The interactive surfaces become shared perceptual spaces where students discuss meaning and clarity and come to a collective understanding.

When you are in an environment with touch screens dedicated to creating opportunities for shared perceptual meaning, you can dig down and construct knowledge in a deeper way.

Q: What kind of technology do these rooms require?

We designed these rooms to not need personal devices but the design allows personal devices to be used in a complementary capacity. If you want students exchanging, collaborating, and talking synchronously in class then shared public spaces should be the primary focus of work. If students are working on a publicly displayed shared artifact, then they have to negotiate what goes in to it, how it’s represented, and so on. The process of negotiation is important, and if they are working solely through personal devices the process works differently. In our newest room, the one with Nureva Span Wall technology, personal devices become a complement to the shared spaces in that students can contribute to the assembly of an artifact, but the process of negotiation stays focused on the shared public space of the walls around the perimeter of the room.

Q: What do products like the Nureva visual collaboration solution allow you do?

Technology needs to serve good pedagogy; by itself it’s just tech. One of the things I like about the Nureva Wall and some other interactive ed tech is that they can become such powerful pedagogical tools if design is carefully considered. We have adopted a design cycle behind our classrooms, the technology in them, and the pedagogical strategies we use that allows faculty to collaborate with researchers and other practitioners to develop effective uses of the tech.

Q: How are your instructors using the smart classrooms, particularly the Nureva one?

The Nureva room is great for many reasons, but it is particularly good for assembling larger artifacts that can persist over several classes, a semester, or even over years in the case of student portfolios. We work on span documents that live in the cloud and are up to 200 feet long and 4 feet high. We put links, documents, words, web pages, and images into them.


3 ways ASU is reaching the “new normal” student

Emerging technologies are threatening traditional roles and have created a demand for new types of skilled workers. This challenge is even greater for people already in the workforce. By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school. Those with fewer qualifications will find themselves struggling against significantly more barriers to successful careers while employers will continue to deal with workforce shortages.

One thing we know for certain is that we cannot address this need by solely focusing on the traditional pool of undergraduate and masters-level students. The profile of today’s college student has changed, with fewer students fitting the mold of “traditional.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 62 percent of undergraduate students, described as the “new normal,” have at least one nontraditional characteristic such as being a first-generation student, having at least one dependent, or working either full or part time. As leaders in higher education modeling and delivery, we must foster flexible structures that expand access to higher education for the 31 million Americans who have some college credit but no degree. At Arizona State University (ASU), we’re exploring new pathways to reach the changing demographics of today’s students.

Scaling and evolving online pathways
Online learning has become a promising pathway allowing for greater scale where students can design a path that fits their lifestyle. A recent study found that the number of students taking online courses grew to over 6.3 million students in the U.S., and that number continues to rise. At ASU Online, we recognize that the demographics of adult learners are heterogeneous, and we are reaching out to previously underserved populations of learners with programs that do not require presence inside a classroom or at a particular time. Our programs continue to see significant growth, with more than 30,000 students enrolled in more than 170 undergraduate and graduate degree programs this August.

More degree specializations are now available as universities scale and expand to meet the evolving needs of students. Virtual reality tools enabling completion of lab sciences courses anywhere in the world will be available soon, and adaptive-learning technology is changing the way faculty and instructional designers create courses and evolve the learning process. Research arms like The Action Lab, a dedicated teaching and learning laboratory within EdPlus at ASU, are studying the impact of these tools on student success to achieve better learning outcomes. We are finding that online education is as rigorous and effective as face-to-face learning.


The best way to get close to students? Teach a course online

I feel especially close to the 50 college students I taught in two back-to-back summer sessions. What made the experience so unusual was that my relationship with each of them was purely a digital one because both classes were taught online.

My students easily adapted to a digital professor whom they became acquainted with online through my weekly video lectures they were required to watch. The students seemed unusually comfortable in a digital world. I, on the other hand, had a difficult time adapting.

Technology facilitates real-time connections
My online classes had no formal meeting times. Students were required to post daily comments on a private group Facebook page, and ask questions via email or text. Once I started responding to their posts, I began to feel a stronger connection to the students than I do in a traditional classroom.

I was checking the class Facebook page one night at 11 p.m. when a student posted a video from a Phillies game he was attending. His post showed a product featured on a billboard at the stadium. He explained that he now understood the role of sponsorships, thanks to that week’s reading assignment. I quickly responded and we went on to have a conversation during the 9th inning of the game I was also watching at home on ESPN. For the first time, technology enhanced my connection to a student.

It happened again the next morning. Another student posted a photo of a retailer we were studying as she walked to her internship at 7:30 a.m. in New York City. I was online at the moment of her post. As with my baseball fan student the night before, we had a short digital conversation to confirm her observation and learning experience.

For 10 straight weeks this summer, I was able to communicate with my students as they experienced the course material in their everyday lives. It added an enormous sense of authenticity and connection to the learning process.


6 trends shaping the near and far future of higher ed

An increased focus on measuring learning, along with putting more thought into redesigning learning spaces, are two trends with great significance for higher ed in the next one to two years, according to the just-released Horizon Report.

The report measures the impact of innovative practices and technologies, along with unique challenges and developments, for higher-ed institutions across the globe. The research behind the report is a product of EDUCAUSE and the New Media Consortium, which EDUCAUSE acquired in early 2018.

The six trends are set to have wide-ranging impacts on higher education.

Short-term trends

1. Growing focus on measuring learning spaces: This trend encompasses the interest in assessment and the wide variety of methods and tools that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document academic readiness, learning progress, and skill acquisition. As societal and economic factors redefine the skills needed in today’s workforce, colleges and universities must rethink how to define, measure, and demonstrate subject mastery and soft skills such as creativity and collaboration.

2. Redesigning learning spaces: As universities engage with strategies that incorporate digital elements and accommodate more active learning in the physical classroom, they are rearranging physical environments to promote these pedagogical shifts. Educational settings are increasingly designed to support project-based interactions with attention to greater mobility, flexibility, and multiple device usage. To improve remote communication, institutions are upgrading wireless bandwidth and installing large displays that allow for more natural collaboration on digital projects.

Mid-term trends

3. The proliferation of open educational resources: Adoption of OER has been driven largely by efforts to reduce the costs associated with higher education, though perhaps the most powerful potential outcome of OER is the opportunity for institutions to develop a broader set of investments in course development and infrastructure.


Addressing student success: strategies and tools

The call to action “Addressing Student Success” is by no means a small or simple task. The response cannot be a short-term project with easily achievable goals a campus will be able to launch one year and then declare victory a year or two later. Institutions that have seen some success in this area report they have been doing this work for a decade or more. They do not consider the work finished; rather, they are even more committed to and excited about the work that has transformed their campuses and the lives of so many students.

For the last two years, student success has been in EDUCAUSE’s Top 10 IT issues. In fact, IT professionals identified it as number two this past year, immediately following the issue of security. Student success efforts are bringing about the implementation of new technologies, changing processes, integrating tools, and forcing institutions to rethink how they support students, centered not on the administration but on the students themselves.

The work, as EDUCAUSE staff have witnessed while supporting institutions’ efforts, entails a thoughtful implementation of technologies guided by the integral part of change management—getting people to change the way they do things. In our work with the institutions, we developed tools that offer a mix of best practices in deploying and/or choosing technologies in this area of student success, combined with a purposeful approach to the “people change” aspect that is critical for this work to succeed. These tools allow an institution to follow proven best practices and avoid common pitfalls as they prepare to select and implement the three key pillars of iPASS (Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success), also popularly known as technology-enabled advising.

Checklists for key aspects of technology-enabled advising reform each offer a compilation of questions and items for institutions to consider as they explore technology solutions for these areas:

Checklist for Early Alert Technology

Checklist for Degree Planning Technology

Checklist for Predictive Analytics Technology

The iPASS Rollout and Adoption Guide is made up of a series of interconnected guides that support critical components of a technology implementation and adoption plan, providing best practices and tools to help an institution develop and carry out a plan for the introduction of new tools and business practices in support of student success efforts. The guide has four sections:

  • Communication
  • Training
  • Evaluation
  • Refinement and Scaling

Another useful set of resources emerging from iPASS is available in the Return on Investment Toolkit. Given the limitations on institutional dollars and the uncertainty of grants, leadership of student success programs must take a strategic approach. The iPASS grantee institutions, in their approaches to implementing technology-enabled advising, were all asked to consider how the money invested in this work could pay off for the bottom line using a version of this tool. It allows an institution to expand its thinking beyond budgeting: Will putting new financial resources into technology purchases, staff salaries, new hires, professional development, consultants, or other areas ultimately result in more students staying at the institution longer and completing their programs? The spreadsheet-style tool allows specific calculations to answer this question over time.

The guide, the checklists, and the toolkit are all instruments that have been used by pioneering institutions and are now available to inform the work of higher education institutions looking to travel this road to improved student success. But they are not in and of themselves enough to guarantee that an institution will reach its goals. There are no silver bullets or one-size-fits-all solutions. Rather, as noted in the first article in this series, institutions need to bear several key principles in mind and attend to them regularly throughout the life of the initiative and beyond.


Income-share agreements are making a comeback, but are they a smart bet?

Income-share agreements (ISAs), in which students pay reduced tuition up front for a portion of their salary after graduation, are part of the new strategy to expand access, increase affordability, and reduce the risk students run in paying for college, according to Vemo Education, a company that handles income-based student-financing solutions. And a growing number of colleges and universities have recently implemented ISAs as a new, student-centric model that aligns costs with outcomes.

Unlike student loans, ISAs have a fixed number of payments. This may result in a student paying less or more than the total tuition reduction they received during enrollment, but the income-share agreement is always capped at an amount that will not exceed some multiplier (e.g., 1x, 2x, 2.5x).

ISAs let universities show that they stand behind their “product” by taking on part of the risk to finance it. However, if a student doesn’t make a minimum income, no repayments are required. On the other hand, if the student exceeds income expectations, the university receives a bonus on its investment—up to a point.

For example, Messiah College in Pennsylvania reduces tuition for its students by $5,000 annually if the students agree to make 84 payments over seven years equal to three percent of their post-graduate income. After graduation, their risk is capped by limiting total repayment to 1.6 times the amount of tuition reduction (e.g., $5,000 x 1.6 = $8,000). And if that cap is reached early, no more payments for the student. But payment will be waived for Messiah graduates whose annual salary is less than $25,000, according to the Messiah website. Unlike traditional student loan programs, the ISA covers undergraduates and some graduate students.


These 4 areas are critical to higher ed’s technological transformation

Higher ed is in the middle of a critical–yet often invisible–technological transformation, according to a new report from the Center for Digital Education (CDE).

Technologies such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence are hyped daily for their future impact, but higher-ed leaders must first prepare their campuses for these `technological revolutions.

A CDE survey finds that college and university leaders are focusing on transforming academics, securing students and data, improving student services, and modernizing IT. These for core areas, they believe, will establish a solid foundation to support future innovation on campus.

Within those four core areas, higher-ed leaders are focusing on 10 top priorities for 2018 that will help them lay the groundwork for future transformation:
1. In-classroom technologies
2. Digital content and curriculum
3. Cybersecurity
4. Online services/portal/mobile
5. Faculty/IT training
6. Budget/cost control
7. IT infrastructure
8. Campus security
9. Personalized online learning environments
10. Recruitment and retention of IT personnel


Makerspaces a growing trend, but will they deliver?

Makerspaces—physical spaces that create communities for collaboration, skill building, and equipment sharing—are multiplying on campuses across the country. These spaces give students hands-on, collaborative, and entrepreneurial experiences that complement classroom instruction.

Carol Pepper-Kittredge, statewide director of the California Community College (CCC) Maker Initiative, describes makerspaces as “centers for innovation,” in which students learn and test new skills. “Faculty can explore new ways of teaching using new technology and incorporating inter-disciplinary experiences into their courses,” says Pepper-Kittredge. “In makerspaces, students can explore in a deeper way where their true passions and interests lie and uncover future career paths.”

Dale Dougherty, founder and chief executive officer of Maker Media and chair of the CCC Maker Advisory Committee, says that makerspaces flip traditional learning by putting practice before theory. “What excites me about learning in makerspaces is that this experiential hands-on learning gives us feedback that allows us to be good learners. It’s not so much about aptitude as it is effort and interest. I hope students realize that they can develop what they are capable of doing, and while it might be hard, they can do it,” he says.

A starter’s guide
To help more colleges develop their own makerspaces, the CCC Maker Initiative, which is housed at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif., has published a free startup guide. The guide was created after tracking the first year of experience of 34 colleges in creating makerspaces on their campuses and describes the steps to establish makerspaces, including assessing needs of the particular college community, charting a campus’ specific environment, analyzing that data, and piloting faculty and student engagement.


2 ways to use social media to teach research skills

Social media offers four different ways to collect information from a substantial number of sources. First, you can apply knowledge organization to classify and catalog information or content, such as creating a playlist on YouTube and adding videos associated with that category. Second, social networking offers opportunities for collaboration and interactivity. Facebook, for instance, lets users share information such as a New York Times article to their profile page, allowing their online community to view and distribute that knowledge to others. Social media environments are a place for users to engage with a database that is dedicated to producing and potentially archiving information regularly. Finally, users can practice information retrieval by collecting and gathering data through a particular social media site. The universal tool to retrieve data and information on social media sites is the hashtag. By placing a pound symbol in front of a word or phrase, users locate and compile content associated with the chosen hashtag, including images, videos, and articles.

Higher-ed students in all disciplines can use the hashtag as a research mechanism. Because these students typically use the hashtag for entertainment purposes and building community, I recommend focusing on how they can use hashtags and social media platforms to research various topics and locate information. Here are two sample social media research assignments I’ve conducted using hashtags and social media. While the studies are associated with my courses, the concept and theory can be applied to all disciplines.

Social media research assignment example 1: Using hashtags to analyze reactions of a television series. Over the last several years, TV has greatly evolved. Today, viewers consume an episode through a streaming on demand service (Netflix, Hulu), watch on a variety of mobile devices, and binge multiple episodes in a row. Another new feature of modern television viewing is the act of companion television, in which an individual uses a second device (phone, tablet, laptop) to communicate and interact with other fans of the show who share similar interests. Many television series include their hashtag on the top left or right of the screen. For example, ABC’s Dancing with the Stars puts #DWTS on the screen.

In my media literacy course, students analyze Twitter posts for the duration of an episode of a television series. The goal is to evaluate the different emotions and reactions viewers share with others through social media sites when watching television. Students use Twitter to retrieve data in real time. I suggest dramas on traditional/cable television, but students select the show they want to use. Then they collect tweets to analyze viewer’s reactions toward an episode of a television program.


IoT on campus: where it is and how to secure it

If you’re paying attention to the development and proliferation of “smart devices,” it can seem like they’re everywhere: internet-connected thermostats, cars, vending machines, surveillance cameras, televisions, fitness devices, and even light bulbs. But the omnipresence of tiny, embedded computers in everyday devices also has a way of making them invisible to most people. What is a network administrator to do with this invasion of connected, and thus hackable, devices?

Which “smart” devices are in schools?
While the variety of connected devices on campus may seem overwhelming, the ones you might have to worry about are only a subset of the problematic devices that are out there. Internet-connected cars are more likely to be on a cellular network than a school’s wireless network, and network admins probably have some authority to opine about whether connected thermostats or household appliances are allowed to connect. Hopefully, if “smart” vending machines or surveillance cameras are implemented, you’ll have the opportunity to weigh in on which specific devices are allowed to join the network.

The more prolific (and uncontrolled) types of “smart devices” on campus are likely to be those brought by students, and it’s possible they may not even think of these devices as internet-connected until someone or something stops them from being connected. So how are you supposed to protect your network against the tide of unsecured internet of Things (IoTs)?

What to do with the IoT in your environment?
Because options for improving security on these devices will be somewhere between limited and non-existent, much of what you can do will be in terms of monitoring and controlling traffic entering and exiting your network. On devices that are within your control, be sure to manually check for software updates regularly, and enable any security options that are available.

As we discussed in my previous two articles, when it comes to placing restrictions, context is crucial. Consider the context of use as well as misuse in each case. In areas of your network where sensitive data resides, you should have the authority to restrict which devices are able to connect to these areas, what types of traffic they’ll be able to transmit, and to what specific locations. It’s important to secure all devices, even ones that seem as innocuous as office printers.