September 2014

University of Idaho
Screenshot for September 2014

How do you engage with students locally in the classroom and at a distance in a manner that builds community? This is a challenge we grappled with this month as we are hosting more courses in our lab that have a hybrid group of students: some local who meet face-to-face and some at a distance who meet virtually. The challenge that instructors typically deal with is that when they design their courses they must favor one group over the other. As a simple illustration, if you have a graduate course with nine people meeting locally and three people participating via videoconferencing, it becomes very difficult to promote discussion between participants in both contexts, and even very expensive video capture systems do not do a very good job of displaying multiple users in an effective manner.

To tackle this challenge, we wanted to stay away from extremely expensive solutions that would not be replicable in schools or other institutions but rather considered how we could use existing technologies that may have been designed with other purposes in mind to give all students an equal voice in the classroom. To create a prototype, we purchased a multichannel video surveillance system designed for security installations and mounted these cameras at our discussion stations in the face-to-face classroom. The surveillance system allows us to place a camera on each individual in the class and merge all of these video inputs together into a single video source, which may be used as a webcam. Then, using standard education videoconferencing software like Blackboard Collaborate or Adobe Connect, instructors were able to show all local students' faces to students at a distance and, using a microphone pod system, were able to capture audio from participants throughout the class.

Also this month, we were finally able to see some of our efforts from our Technology and Open Education Summer Institutes come to fruition, as on-demand prints of created educational resources began to arrive and were placed in the hands of students. In one school, we were able to place thirty 1,000 page textbooks in a classroom at a fraction of the cost of more traditional textbooks. By printing open textbooks, schools can save money on educational resources and also ensure that the resources are appropriate for their local contexts.

These types of innovative solutions are what excite us at the Doceo Center. We thrive on taking existing technologies both designed for education and industry and merging them into learning experiences in meaningful ways. In addition to our own lab, we were also instrumental this month in building out the audio systems of two education classrooms that serve a large number of teacher education students and have had a voice in the college of education renovation that is occurring on our campus.

These types of activities keep leaders interested in the work that we are doing at the center, and it was our pleasure this month to host State Board of Education member and University of Idaho Regent Debbie Critchfield on a hosted tour of our facilities. The Doceo Center lab isn't just open to dignitaries, however, and starting this month we also have begun posting open lab hours so that students and community members can visit our lab and learn with us.

In our work with schools, we are now deeply involved in our Chromebook initiative for the 2014-15 school year and have now placed around 1,000 devices in schools across northern Idaho. As we do this, we are collecting data on Chromebook usage and are also conducting specialized research projects in areas such as special education and school leadership.

As a provider of professional development to K-12 teachers, we have been excited to see the interest that school districts have shown toward inviting us into their schools, and this month we also began hosting a monthly evening workshop located on our campus that is open to school personnel to explore and learn about new ways to use technology in their classrooms. We've also rolled out our online courses for the semester and are now delivering both online and face-to-face trainings to teachers in partnering districts.

As we do this work, those outside the state of Idaho are very interested in our efforts and results. This month I was able to present on a multinational panel at the Social Media and Society conference in Toronto, CA, where our group of experts discussed educational and professional uses of social media. Results from our summer institutes were also accepted this month for publication in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, which is a highly regarded, highly trafficked peer-reviewed journal. Two other invitations came through this month as well, as I was competitively selected to attend the AECT/NSF Early Career Symposium as an early career faculty member and our team was accepted to present at the annual Oxford Education Research Symposium in Oxford, UK. While in Oxford, we will present on our work involving technology integration in education and the selection of theoretical models.

To be frank, I mistakenly assumed that I would be able to catch my breath in the month of September and to focus some of my time to quiet writing and research. However, as we have been working to build the Doceo Center, it has been exciting for me to see the life that it has taken on and the momentum with which we are moving forward. As I reflect back on what we've accomplished over the past fifteen months, I'm pleased with how far we've come but am even more excited about the doors that are now opening before us.

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