Every May, thousands of graduating seniors from eight different colleges walk across the stage at CSUN’s Commencement ceremony to receive a personal handshake and their degree as friends and family cheer them on in this college ritual.
Yet not all family and friends can attend due to geographic and transportation barriers. Several years ago, they would have been out of luck. Today they can watch it live in their own homes thanks to technology which enables digital streaming of the event live.
Paul Schantz, from Student Affairs, runs the Commencement website and manages streaming. “In the six years I’ve been here, viewership has increased dramatically, primarily because of increased promotion,” he says.
Standing in front of a virtual classroom, Jennifer Dion, a student in the Special Ed Preliminary Mild Moderate Credential Program, teaches five students that look and behave just like real ones. Sean is the teacher’s pet, Maria is the quiet one, CJ wants to rule the classroom, Kevin has learning challenges, and Ed is a thinker.
Only these students don’t go home at the end of the day. They power down. They are avatars.
Dion is using TeachLivE™, a program that allows her to put into practice what she has learned in class and only read in books. CSUN was the 11th university in the country to collaborate with the University of Central Florida to implement TeachLivE™ with the help of Dr. Sally A. Spencer, an associate professor in the Department of Special Education, and an $1.5 million program improvement grant from the Office of Special Education Programs in the Department of Education.
“The system is a virtual classroom,” Spencer said. “It has five avatars, each of whom represent unique personalities in the classroom. It is controlled by a combination of artificial intelligence and a live person, and it allows teachers to get in front of these five kids and practice their skills. The kids respond just like real kids, but you can’t ruin their lives. They can’t crash and burn.”
Dion said it’s not like talking to cartoons because she can gauge their interest and understanding by how they respond to her lesson. The avatars, who have names and back stories, are designed to have the typical traits you might meet in a real classroom.
“They will let you know immediately if you’re heading off target or if they don’t like what you’re saying, and so you are immediately thrust into the situation and think ‘Oh, my gosh, I have to pick this up because they’re getting bored,’” Dion said.
Associate biology professor Mary-Pat Stein maintains a simple philosophy with her students: “If I’m not having fun, you’re probably not having fun, either.”
For Stein, students who enjoy what they are learning — and how they are learning it — are far more likely to retain information. So, don’t be surprised when walking by Stein’s classroom to hear singing or the use of games and innovative technology.
Stein’s inspiration for her creative teaching style started with one of her graduate school professors, whom she recalls standing on a desk and “contorting her body to mimic a molecule of DNA.” That professor’s unorthodox display piqued the interest of even the most disconnected students in her class.
Tablet computing and MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) have topped the list of hot topics of the 2013 NMC Horizon Report, which identifies emerging technologies that will impact higher education in the coming year and beyond.
The report indicates that in the next year tablet computing “will see widespread adoption in higher education.” This news is well-timed for CSUN. Just last month at the faculty retreat, CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison introduced a potential Apple initiative that could provide opportunities for faculty and staff to use iPads in the classroom.
The report also details the challenges in higher education when adopting and integrating new technology. The lack of faculty training and the need for digital media literacy are some of the issues discussed.
The Horizon Report also highlights games and gamification and learning analytics as technologies to expect in the next two to three years while 3D-printing and wearable technology will emerge in four to five years.
When President Dianne Harrison joined the CSUN community last year, she brought a new vision for the campus—and a commitment to academic technology. As an “early adopter” of technology, she understands the crucial role it plays in promoting student success.
Harrison first forayed into academic technology as a doctoral candidate, when she manually programmed Washington University’s giant computer center. She remembers how the machine would spit out cards with her data.
In 1999, Harrison taught her first online course in social work at Florida State University. Today, the CSUN president embraces new technology in both her work and personal life, keeping on top of her demanding job with an iPad and smartphone, as well as the latest software on her computer.
In line with the growing role of technology on campus, this year’s New Faculty Orientation (NFO) focused squarely on technology, helping new professors navigate CSUN’s wide array of resources with several key sessions and workshops.
Among the most innovative was a “tech tutor” session on the second day of the program. According to Professor Whitney Scott, Director of New Faculty Orientation & Programs who invented the concept, 50 new faculty members had the opportunity to pair up with faculty members who volunteered from departments all over CSUN. These tutors shared their own tips and experiences on using the university’s technology, meeting together in the Oviatt Library computer lab.
“It was really handy because we all had a computer. They were on either side of me and we could have discussions about what kind of classes they were teaching, what their objectives were and what they needed help learning how to do in the Learning Management System.”
Ellis Godard is only a click away. This professor uses a variety of platforms to connect with his students — eight e-mail accounts, three phone numbers, and 16 online resources, all of which feed into his Android phone.
His goal is to minimize the distance students might feel when they are away from the classroom environment.
“In the past, students had to come only when I was available, the time before or after a class when they were taking another class or on a different day when they were working or unavailable or living somewhere far away. And now they can contact me 24/7 through whatever means they want,” he said.
It helps that for Godard, sleep is overrated. The CSUN assistant professor of Sociology gets about six hours, on a good night.
“I can’t imagine trying to write during the day because I know that students will IM and e-mail and call,” he said, adding that his most productive hours tend to be from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., when most students are not trying to get in touch with him.
Godard has always been an early adopter, eager to experiment with different types of technology and platforms. That interest started in the early 1980s when when he got his first computer.
Try as you might, but you aren’t likely to forget the chorus of your favorite ditty. Similarly, students in Cheryl Van Buskirk’s class won’t forget the content of their biology lessons, even if they try.
Especially because they spend some of their class time singing it.
As a postdoctoral fellow working in a large laboratory, Van Buskirk started writing songs on her guitar to perform for colleagues at their farewell parties. The songs were about their research projects, and often contained rhyming biology terminology.
“I did this for a friend of mine, and was surprised how much people loved to listen to these songs,” she says. “I thought to myself, maybe I should try to incorporate that into teaching.” Continue reading →
Students now have expanded access to computers and printers thanks to a popular service provided by the University Student Union Computer Lab.
Students can already use printers in the Oviatt Library by purchasing a $5 debit card and paying 10 cents per page. Starting this semester, the USU Computer Lab has significantly expanded the number of computers and offers students the ability to print up to 20 pages per day at no additional charge.
The New York Times brings us an article today called The Year of the MOOC, which pretty much sums it up. Yes, there is hype, but there is also a lot of substance behind these Massively Open Online Courses and what they offer to students.