It’s no secret that technology is influencing the way our students learn. Love it or hate it, technology is an integral part of our students’ lives and will play a significant role in the future of education. As educators, it’s beneficial to “go with the flow,” embracing technology and leveraging it to connect with our students and enhance the learning experience.
Recently we talked with Brett Coup, the Associate Vice President of Academic Technology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, to learn how newly-implemented technology on his campus helps faculty and students stay ahead of the curve.
The University brought Brett onboard to launch and run STELAR: the St. Thomas eLearning and Research Center. STELAR, which had its Grand Opening in November, is digitally connected, and technically-outfitted with interactive touch screens, video conferencing, etc. The center supports the movement toward online and blended degrees, while aiding faculty in their research. In STELAR’s Emerging Technology Showcase, faculty can start envisioning – and using – the classrooms of the future.
STELAR designers and technicians help faculty members interact with the new technology and brainstorm on ways to take advantage of this resource. Faculty also use the center to meet and share ideas; crossing departmental lines to advance the offerings of the university as a whole.
“High school graduates enter St. Thomas already armed with digital devices and accustomed to digital spaces, such as those offered by Google,” Brett said. “We want to be sure to continue this technological momentum and meet or exceed student expectations.”
A St. Thomas Art History teacher recently used STELAR as a digital art gallery for her students’ projects. In one assignment, students proposed new concepts for inspirational street art, and then displayed and presented their concepts as digital posters, exhibited on STELAR monitors around the room.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual and Augmented Reality systems are also making a splash on campus. STELAR staff collaborates with engineering faculty on ways to use VR in education, and software design faculty help create the virtual environments. Students then take 360⁰ cameras onsite for research projects, capturing 360⁰ images that can be stitched together into a VR experience. One group, for example, is in Rome, studying Roman aqueduct engineering, and recording images that will become a VR learning opportunity for other students back on campus.
Brett’s team and the school’s faculty are excited to explore other ways in which this technology can make learning more personal, experiential and meaningful. For example, a chemistry teacher is investigating the use of VR in online Chem classes, so as to immerse students in the world of chemical elements. VR lessons could, for example, display molecules as they act and react under a variety of chemical scenarios.
Active Learning Classrooms
STELAR’s Active Learning Classroom includes monitors and whiteboards on every wall, group seating rather than rows of desks, etc. Faculty can now “try out” the Active Learning concept and understand the educational benefits of a more interactive, collaborative environment. In its nascent state, the area is currently only used in “one-off” situations, for specific group projects that benefit from this kind of environment. Brett predicts that one year from now each faculty member will have at least one of their own active classrooms and 3 years from now this format will be the norm.
The Role of Technology
“Technology is no longer something we just ‘tack on’ to the educational experience,” Brett told us. “Making digital connections, gathering information digitally – this is how we live our lives. Some people still worry that online classes are somehow “less-than” the standard format, but no – this is simply how the world operates now. Influencers and thought-leaders in the 21st century need to be able to leverage digital tools, and as an institution, this is where we need to be – part of the digital world. In the future, I can’t imagine there will be any college class that doesn’t use digital tools and spaces.
“Technology gives us the opportunity to rethink the paradigm of the educational structure,” he continued. “Classes don’t have to be Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3:00. They don’t even have to be organized by semesters. This is our first opportunity in a long while to recreate education from the ground up. Digital, virtual classrooms will be the norm, and when students come to campus, it will be for planned, meaningful events.”
How are you using technology and digital learning on your own campus? Share with your peers, in our Comments section below.