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Faculty Workshop Will Explore Ways to Enrich Face-to-Face Interactions in the Classroom

Faculty Workshop Will Explore Ways to Enrich Face-to-Face Interactions in the Classroom February 13, 2013

Professors who use digital technology to beam their lectures to the computer screens of hundreds or even thousands of students – as in MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses – is generating a lot of buzz these days.

A group of ACM college professors, though, are putting technology to work in ways that emphasize face-to-face interactions among faculty and students. They use relatively simple video-conferencing and file-sharing software to enable faculty and students on different campuses to collaborate as though they were together in the same classroom.

What has always been done on individual campuses – for example, having a colleague give a guest lecture in a class – now can be broadened to include a larger universe of colleagues, and a richer set of resources and interactions.

“We’re inverting the MOOC, in the following sense,” said Arjendu Pattanayak (Professor of Physics and Associate Dean, Carleton College), who is one of the leaders of the Campus Connect project. “It’s not the students who are being moved online [for classes], it’s the faculty who are moving online to enrich what goes on in the classroom.”

Over the past several months, the Campus Connect project leaders – Pattanayak, Mark Schneider (Professor of Physics and Associate Dean, Grinnell College), and Jeff Noblett (Professor of Geology and Associate Dean, Colorado College) – have helped faculty at their three institutions launch several pilot projects emphasizing two-way faculty visits, with impact on classes at both campuses.

At a Campus Connect workshop on March 15-17 at Grinnell College, faculty from across ACM will gather to learn about the pilot projects, hear from guest speakers involved in nationally-known projects, and explore ways to use technology in their own classrooms. The Call for Participants includes a tentative workshop schedule and information about applying to attend.

The workshop, titled “Campus Connect: Using Technology to Extend Learning Beyond Classroom Walls and Campus Boundaries,” is funded through the Faculty Career Enhancement (FaCE) Project, made possible by generous support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The workshop provides full travel, food, and lodging for one participant from each ACM institution. Additional participants are welcome on a cost-sharing basis with the home institution, as funds are available.

“You can use this technology in an average classroom, and I think a lot of faculty may not really appreciate that yet,” said Schneider. “The workshop is an opportunity to hear a variety of stories about things that people have done with [technology in the classroom] and to play hands-on with some of the hardware and software. And it will be an environment in which you can talk with other people you might want to collaborate with and make plans to actually do this on your campus.”

The guest speakers, who will describe educational technology developments they’ve been working on and engage in discussions with workshop participants, will include:

  • Henry Reich, a Grinnell alumnus and developer of the MinutePhysics videos, which combine an entertaining style and technical accuracy in covering sophisticated topics;
  • Jenny Spohrer of Bryn Mawr College, with the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) project, which uses OLI and other software; and
  • Candace Thille of Carnegie Mellon University, a developer and promoter of a variety of online learning technologies, including CMU’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI). (This will be a virtual visit by video-conference.)

The schedule also includes mini-presentations and posters by ACM faculty on classroom technologies they have used, including “flipping the classroom,” where activities that can be delivered well with technology – such as providing information – are made available outside of class rather than through lectures. “Flipping” leaves more time in the classroom for face-to-face interactions, such as the professor answering questions, the class working together on projects, and students collaborating in groups.

There will also be dry runs of video-conferencing in the classroom, as well as discussion and planning for projects that participants will take on in their own courses.

The Campus Connect leaders see the workshop, and the project as a whole, as an avenue for faculty to engage with the technology and the issues it raises about teaching and learning, and to begin forging sustainable connections with colleagues across the consortium.

“We’re going beyond saying ‘This is so cool’ to asking ‘What is the pedagogical point and what are the pedagogical constraints’ [of using this technology]?” Pattanayak noted.

“The value, to me, of this project has been to get some faculty to think about it and then try it out,” said Noblett. “The next step is the important one. What are the questions we’re asking now? Where could we go from here?”


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