This class had two instructors and approximately 18 students. While the students were evenly split between those participating F2F and those participating remotely, the two instructors were both located in the classroom. The subject for the course, Knowledge Media Design, was intended to introduce doctoral students to concepts and practices in design thinking. As such, the instructors wanted to employ a pedagogical strategy that centered on how people experience, record, reflect upon, and synthesize information in relation to perception and design. Thereby, the decisions that they made about the technologies used in class were closely guided by these pedagogical goals and the design-focused content. Activities included several smaller individual design projects, one larger group design project, and one overarching individual design project. There were weekly readings and online discussions on the course website forums, in addition to live, synchronous class sessions (with a mix of on-campus students, and online students from around the U.S. and the world) every other week. The incorporation of these synchronous sessions (and the technologies that facilitated them) was driven directly by the instructional goal of fostering a sense of community around the topic of design. By giving students opportunities for discourse about design, both F2F and online, an ongoing discussion and continual thinking about design frameworks permeated their learning throughout the semester, in multiple modes.
The instructors used a specially equipped room for the synchronous sessions. The room contained:
- a SMART board with a Mac mini
- a group of node chairs with mounted iPads (note: node chairs are swiveling chairs on wheels with small adjustable tables attached for writing and other student activities; the iPads were then mounted on the desks)
- two USB cameras
- one omnidirectional combination microphone and speaker
For the F2F sessions, the instructors wanted to create seminar-type learning experiences that produced rich whole-class discussions and interactions with the course material. The instructors used GoToMeeting (GTM) to support periods where the instructors would speak directly to the entire class about salient features within the readings. GTM was also used for whole class discussion, and presentations (often through a screen sharing feature) for individual and group projects. During these portions of the class, the instructors displayed the active GTM session on the large SMART Board screen so that F2F students could view both the remote participants and the presentations at the same time, and in the same way as remote students viewed the proceedings. This is another example of how technology choices supported the unique pedagogical needs of the instructors (fostering community visually and making content “visually present” in the room).
The initial view of the remote view of the classroom was from a single fixed camera mounted on top of the SMART Board. After some in-class experimentation, the instructors observed that a second camera was important to help remote viewers get a more dynamic sense of what was taking place inside the classroom. Their solution was to use a tripod with an iPad mounted on top (later called “the TriPad”) that could be moved easily to any point in the room. Use of this new mechanism meant that for any classroom discussion by the instructor and/or the students could be followed on camera, with a greater degree of closeness and dynamism than the fixed camera could provide. The TriPad also gave F2F participants a sense of advocacy on the part of the remote students – they realized that the remote viewing experience depended on their careful and conscientious placement of the camera angles. The instructors felt this was a significant innovation that, in a sense, created a viewing and participatory experience that was more similar for both F2F and remote students alike. The use of this “TriPad” was an emergent and creative technological solution, driven by the need to create a more personal and vivid sense of being in the classroom for all students (even students who weren’t physically in the classroom). Such a uniquely repurposed contrivance is a small but powerful example of the way that synchromodal learning evolves through situational creativity.
These class sessions also featured brief (20-30 minutes) small-group discussions. The instructors, however, let students choose which online medium they preferred to hold their discussions. This meant that students were free to communicate via audio/visual connections (Skype, Google Hangouts) or by text-based synchronous connections (Etherpad) in ways that best fit the styles and preferences of the group. This could also be seen as a way for the instructors to provide students with opportunities to develop their own sense of situational creativity and adaptability.