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.”

Synchromodal Committee Meetings

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Dec 092013

Supporting Dissertation committee interactions via videoconferencing

Hagerman defense cropped

Michelle Schira Hagerman (a new EPET PhD … congratulations Michelle!) approached the Design Studio a couple of weeks before her dissertation defense. She had 4 faculty members on her Committee but one member was unable to be physically present. Michelle had used the videoconferencing app GoToMeeting before and she wondered if it could be used for her defense. (Note that since then MSU as an institution has selected a similar app called Zoom.us.) Her question: what would be the best setup so that everyone – face-to-face and online – could fully participate?

Obviously the stakes were very high, and having every committee member be a rich part of the proceedings was crucial. To achieve this inclusive communication, we decided to have all the participants online – even the face-to-face members. We did this by having GoToMeeting on laptops in front of the members as they sat at the conference table, giving everyone an equal presence in the videoconferencing screen (see image).

tall camera 1.1Michelle’s defense was held in Room 133-F, a larger conference room with 2 wall-mounted monitors. She presented at the front of the room with one large monitor behind her and one monitor to the side. GoToMeeting was running on 5 laptops – 3 for the face-to-face committee members, 1 for Michelle to show her presentation and herself, and 1 for the technology navigator (see LINK for a description of this role), who used a separate USB camera to show Michelle from different angles as she was presenting. The effect was to have all participants fully represented online, instead of making one committee member the sole online participant. As committee member Rand Spiro put it:

One of the dissertation committee members couldn’t be there.  I’ve seen several different approaches to dealing with that situation, with and without video, but never one that worked so well.  The technology operated without a glitch, and the interface was ideal — functionally and aesthetically, it was almost like the distant committee member was right in the room (from her perspective and from ours). Terrific!

We like a number of things about this experience. Working closely with Michelle meant we were able to match the technology set-up to her needs – not the other way around. We also liked how a new technology set-up emerged from our discussions and considerations together. Finally, the new design brought new insight into how we can come closer to creating comparable experiences for people who engage one another in both a face-to-face and online setting simultaneously. Creating comparable experiences is the core goal of synchromodal designs and we feel the dissertation defense was a great context for us to apply this philosophy. Michelle expresses it this way:

Having all of the members of my committee join the virtual meeting space really ensured that the committee member who was joining in from a physical distance was truly a part of the discussion. Everyone was able to engage in the virtual space in ways that ensured the defense was as inclusive as possible but also enabled very real discussion of questions that every member of the committee posed. I loved that the committee members could see one another on their screens — and I really loved that I was able to speak directly to my “virtual” committee member as though she was actually in the room.

Do you need to do something similar or does this spotlight spark an idea for something you’d like to try? Come see us in the Design Studio (401b Erickson Hall) or contact us at dstudio@msu.edu. We’d love to be a part of what you do!

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.

Class Sessions that Combine Online and Face-to-face Students

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Jun 042013

“Spoke with William in the Tech studio to discuss the possibility of meeting online with my EAD 801 students. The course enrolled students from many parts of the country and some overseas. I had no idea where to begin. William made it easy! He suggested using software “Gotomeeting.” Students were provided with a URL that allowed them to download the application, a meeting ID was provided and students were logged in. William demonstrated the process to eliminate any stress I initially held. He made it easy! Students were able to present their final PowerPoint projects with visual clarity and sound. Presentations were delivered from their homes and or schools. Some students preferred coming to campus, so they did. Overall , great presentations, great tech support and great final class presentations!! I will employ the use of this technology whenever possible.” – Chris Dunbar

Chris Dunbar EAD801 small

Video conferencing is a great way to bring students and instructors together for dynamic online interactions. Faculty members like Chris Dunbar are using video conferencing tools like GoToMeeting and Skype to host synchromodal class sessions for end of the semester projects with full group participation capabilities.

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 4.11.52 PMSynchromodal sessions use video conferencing tools and resources to bring on-campus and online participants together for seamless class-time experiences Even if your course is fully online, synchromodal sessions can help students and instructors foster a better sense of group participation and interaction.

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.

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.