In preparation for delivering on-campus instruction this fall, Bryant has invested more than $500,000 in technology and system upgrades for the majority of classrooms – a figure that is expected to grow, say those leading the effort.
“This has been the biggest investment in classroom technology since the opening of the Quinlan/Brown Academic Innovation Center in 2016," said Glenn Sulmasy, JD, LLM, Provost and Chief Academic Officer. "It reflects our commitment to offering the best educational experience possible this fall—as well as our ability to quickly pivot and rise to the challenge.”
"This has been the biggest investment in classroom technology since the opening of the Quinlan/Brown Academic Innovation Center in 2016."
The new technology, which includes multiple audio, visual, and content capture systems for each classroom, enables the University to observe density restrictions while providing in-person instruction and an enhanced online learning experience, said Ed Kairiss, Ph.D., Director of Faculty Development and Innovation and Director of Bryant’s Center for Teaching Excellence. Kairiss is working closely with Chuck LoCurto, MBA, Vice President for Information Services and Chief Information Officer, and Phil Lombardi, Director of Academic Computing and Media Services, on this ongoing collaborative effort by the offices of Academic Affairs and Information Services.
Technology to create class integrity
Many faculty members plan to use the systems to conduct split attendance class sessions, in which groups of students alternate between attending in person and attending from their dorm room – or anywhere around the world, said Kairiss. "The technology is aimed at trying to give the remote learner, no matter their location, as close to an in-class experience as possible.”
As a guiding principle, the planners wanted to create a sense of class integrity for the remote learner – one that enables the student to interact with the instructor in a face-to-face way, he says. "As instructors, to have the ability to make eye contact with the remote learner – we think that's really important."
To create this experience, which involves video conferencing software such as Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate, some of the classroom upgrades and features include:
- dual ceiling-mounted cameras, which recreate for the remote learner the view of being seated in class as well as the view facing students when giving a presentation;
- ceiling-mounted microphones that capture both the instructor and in-seat student voices, and allows for a remote learner to be heard by class;
- dual 55-inch monitors have been installed, with one monitor dedicated to instructor presentation, and the other to professor interaction with remote learners;
- document cameras that allow instructors to write notes by hand similar to a whiteboard or chalkboard;
- lecture-capture hardware and software, which records class audio, visual, and presentation content, making it quickly available for review after each class session.
Plans also call for an investment in online lab software, said LoCurto. “We're trying to make sure that teaching and learning can take place anywhere, anytime, without the constraints of having to access a particular physical location like a computer lab at a particular time.”
“The investment was not only in technology but also in helping our faculty gain fluency in this new enhanced physical and technological environment.”
Outfitting over 75 learning spaces on campus with the technology wasn’t easy, said LoCurto. But Bryant’s foundation of technology put the University in a strong position to adapt its classrooms.
“Because we standardize technology in a majority of our classrooms — we previously made a heavy investment in the back-end infrastructure, our digital media and projector systems, to support these changes — we simply needed to snap in, if you will, the cameras and microphones into that infrastructure,” he said.
The Blackboard learning management system and the laptops that the University provides students and supports through its IT office also enable the University to leverage technology for learning this fall, he added.
“For faculty, this is going to be a new kind of experience” said Kairiss, noting that faculty will be teaching to two groups – in-seat and virtual – simultaneously. “The investment was not only in technology but also in helping our faculty gain fluency in this new enhanced physical and technological environment.” Faculty preparation includes experiencing the new setting from each perspective: as instructor, in-seat student, and remote learner.
“We’re hoping that this training process will inform us on what we can improve to ensure a fully engaged learning environment."