Testing New Technologies for Synchronous Hybrid Learning

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Oct 292014
Telepresence devices bring online students closer to in-class action

Could “robots” be part of the future of synchronous hybrid learning classrooms? Christine Greenhow and the students of CEP 956 think so. The class – a doctoral course on Mind, Social Media, and Society – recently experimented with devices designed to give online students more control over their in-class visual and interactive experiences.

Kubi1One device – called a Kubi – pairs an iPad with a desk-mounted swivel that is controlled by the online students so they can join in-class discussions like they were sitting at the table. Students using the Kubi have closer proximity to their face-to-face counterparts than when using wall-mounted displays, letting them see and be seen more clearly through a personal portal that they can control. The devices can run on battery power, making it easy to move them between whole-class and small group discussions. Nick Holton and Ginny Hiltz (pictured above) were two of the online participants, tilting and panning the iPads with the Kubi devices as they took part in different discussions around the room.

Double2The other device – called a Double – takes the autonomous telepresence concept one step further by letting users control a rolling motorized iPad mount that can be maneuvered around the room. A bluetooth speaker paired to the iPad allows the students to hear Colin Terry’s contributions to the discussions.

So what did Chris and her students think about their experience with telepresence devices? As Chris wrote to her colleagues later:

“The result was TRANSFORMATIONAL! The hybrid students – who have been with us for 3 years – said it was the BEST CLASS EVER!!! They felt like they were there, in the class. Because they could control the robots remotely, they could actually move their ‘heads’/screens to look at a speaker as we positioned them around the discussion table. Colin, on the ‘Double’ could actually roll around the room – getting into his small group and saying hello to his classmates.  Ginny, an online student present via the Kubi robot, asked if we could each say our names around the room and then, she moved her head/screen to look at each speaker – including the other robots. She said this was the first time she could actually put the name with the face.”

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The CEPSE/COE Design Studio is looking forward to working with Dr. Greenhow and other faculty members as we continue to explore telepresence technologies and concepts.


Synchromodal Support for Deaf Students

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Apr 152014


Creating opportunities for meaningful interactions is one of the most important goals of many courses. Supporting students with disabilities is simply another opportunity for providing creative learning solutions to enable these meaningful interactions for everyone. A case in point is our work with a synchromodal course (including face-to-face and online students in the same learning experience as comparable partners) that features interpreters for deaf online participants.

The Design Studio has been helping Dr. Cary Roseth, associate professor in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology, facilitate learner interactions in CEP 910 Motivation and Cognition for a variety of students. Since this course is a synchromodal course, some of these learners are online students. John Kirsh is one of these online students who is also mostly deaf. Our solution for John has been to include two (2) interpreters who sit in the classroom with the face-to-face students. Watching John through videoconferencing and interpreting his signing for the face-to-face participants, these interpreters act as John’s surrogate voice for engaging in class interactions and discussions. “I really enjoyed this online hybrid CEP910 course,” John told us. “I am able to take the class from home and reap the benefits of an almost face-to-face class.  As a result, I saved about 2.5 hours’ driving time as well as gas.” IMG_0985554671a91017John uses two computers to engage in the class activities.

One computer allows him to see in-classroom lectures and presentations by the instructor. The second computer links him to desktop computers that run Zoom videoconferencing sessions for small group discussions that take place during the class sessions. Since some of the students in the small groups are online, videoconferencing is already supported in the classroom via desktop iMacs. John participates fully both through his visual presence and through interpreters who are physically present in the face-to-face groups. This setup allows John to interact with and present to his classmates, sharing insights and opinions through a combination of human and digital assistive technology. Using a synchromodal assistive technology setup has been beneficial for the instructor as well. “Working with assistive technologies this semester has reinforced my belief that almost anything is possible when people work together towards a common goal,” noted Roseth. “Supporting a synchromodal classroom is a complicated endeavor and, initially, I was worried whether we could integrate this approach to teaching face-to-face and distance students with assistive technologies. Working together, however, we worked through these challenges and I am deeply thankful to everyone – including John, his interpreters, our technology coordinators, and the other students in the class – for their creativity, compromise and, above all, determination to make this work for everyone in the class. In the end, we all benefited from the efforts to integrate assistive technology.”

Linked Classrooms

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Oct 222013

2 groups, 2 instructors, 2 locations. 1 integrated class.

Maddy EAD807


This month’s Design Studio Spotlight takes a closer look at a course being taught this semester by EAD faculty Madeline Mavrogordato and Chris Dunbar in the Masters in Education Administration program.

Maddy and Chris have two different groups of students, one located in East Lansing, and one in the Detroit area. Bringing them all together via video conferencing allows students from different populations and backgrounds to discuss and explore content and ideas from multiple perspectives in a way that previously would have been logistically impossible. The two groups are now able to share presentations and other content synchronously, interacting through audio and video channels to exchange perspectives and insights as a single class.

Toopography-Linked Classrooms-01The technology set-up uses GoToMeeting as the video conferencing platform and features an omni-direction speaker microphone and two cameras in each location. (Using two cameras per location enables more dynamic video coverage of both the instructor and the students.) Both groups use large screens to view presentations and each other during class. In East Lansing, they use two screens simultaneously – one solely for computer presentation, the other for the group to view and interact with the people in Detroit.This particular course design creates a synchromodal face-to-face and online instance we call the linked classroom model. Synchromodal refers to the fact that online and face-to-face participants interact synchronously as comparable partners, whether their mode of interaction is mediate via technology or not.

To learn more about this exciting class model and how you can implement the linked classroom model in your own course, please contact us at dstudio@msu.edu or come by our office at 401b, Erickson Hall.

Personal Portal Model in Synchromodal Learning Environments

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Jun 112013

A Synchromodal Learning Environment is one in which online and face-to-face individuals (both students and instructors) interact with one another in real-time learning sessions (i.e., classes). As technology facilitators and observers, we have noticed that face-to-face students have their own physical presence in a class and occupy a physical space.  As such, we have developed a synchromodal model aimed at giving online students their own virtual physical space in the physical space of the classroom.  The personal portal model was developed and subsequently evolved with the goal of giving online students presence and immediacy comparable to that of the face-to-face students.

Personal Portal Model

To achieve comparability, we first used a combination of Skype and iPad to give the online students their own personal video streams and audio channels.  The iPads are mounted on node chairs – chairs with swivel seats and tables.  Skype video calls were initiated on the iPads – each calling one online student.  A face-to-face student sat at each node chair and was responsible for swiveling the iPad to follow the class conversation.   For example, if the instructor was speaking, the face-to-face student turned his/her chair so that the iPad faced the instructor.

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The online students were able to see a student-view of the class, their face-to-face peers, and the instructor. They also saw the shared instructor’s screen through the iPad Skype video. In turn, the face-to-face individuals were able to see the online students as part of the class instead of seeing them on a large screen on the back wall of the class.

The online students were able to hear the conversation in the room through the microphones on each iPad. They also had their own audio output channel and thus each had his or her voice in the classroom.

We did face some limitations, however, as we tested this model.  First, since the online students saw the classroom activity only through the iPad Skype video, the instructor’s shared presentation did not appear very clearly.  Second, it became apparent that the online students could not see (a) each other well, (b) the face-to-face student sitting that their node chair, and (c) the entire class at the same time.  Finally, the online students were completely dependent on the face-to-face students sitting at each node chair to move the iPads towards the class conversation and/or the topic of conversation. There were instances, unfortunately, where the face-to-face students forgot to steer the node chair in the right direction and the online students were stuck looking at a student who was not currently speaking or looking at the class presentation instead of looking at the current speaker.

To address the above issues, we further developed the personal portal model and came up with the enhanced personal portal model.

Enhanced Personal Portal Model

To implement this model, we asked the online students to join the class GoToMeeting on their home desktops or laptop and we asked them to use their iPads to video call each of the Skype accounts.

enhanced personal portal

As such, there were two video streams, one from GoToMeeting and one from Skype. Through GoToMeeting the online students were able to (a) see each other, (b) see the entire class at the same time, and (c) see the instructor’s shared screen. Through Skype, the online students were able to see a student-view of the class; and in turn, the face-to-face individuals were able to see the online students as part of the immediate class environment.

Instructor Feedback

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Integration of online and face-to-face students was near seamless.

Using iPads on chairs allowed the remote students [to] participate more like they were physically in the room with the face-to-face student… The remote students more comfortably joined the face-to-face conversations as if they were physically in the ‘real’ classroom.

Without personal portals, online students would qualify their comments with statements like, “If it’s okay to speak, I’d like to add that…

With personal portals, online students could pick right up when someone else stopped saying something, or even to overlap their seminar conversation when making an argument that called for grabbing the discussion floor.

Virtual Guest Speakers in COE Classes

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May 072013

“It’s been a great way to bring in outside expertise that spans beyond my own, and to introduce students to people who are widely published that would be very difficult to access otherwise (talking with a professor in a small virtual environment beats rushing the podium after a session at a conference!)”  – Ken Frank


Prof. Ken Frank (top right of the SMART Board) guides two groups of students (in East Lansing and Ann Arbor) as they listen to a guest presenter speaking from Cambridge, MA.

A great opportunity with technology today is the ability to bring colleagues and experts from other institutions right into your own classes. Ken Frank has been doing this very thing over the last two semesters, engaging his students with colleagues from places across the US like Duke or the University of Chicago, and from as far away as Berlin and Nicaragua. Doing so has helped Ken build on his own connections with people to help his students get to meet key people in their fields as well as to gain exposure to unfolding ideas and research as it is happening.Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

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A screenshot of the GoToMeeting interface between participants.

Would you like to give it a try? The CEPSE/COE Design Studio is glad to provide the support needed to make it happen in your class, either as a one-time event or throughout the semester. Just let us know!

The easiest way to begin is to schedule 452 when you need it, and then let us know what you would like to do. All that the people need at the other end is a decent Internet connection, and a computer or iPad with a microphone, speaker, and webcam. In addition, we can record these sessions and even let remote people participate in these sessions.