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Connected classroom technology

Connecting with the Future: A Day in the Life of a DeVry Virtual Learning Community

By DeVry University


When Cyndi Roberts steps into her classroom at the DeVry University Columbus Ohio Campus, her 19 students finish their conversations about the snowy weather and get ready to start today’s lesson. Like a scene from a high-tech science fiction film, she’s followed by voice-activated motion-detection cameras as she greets the 14 people in the seats in front of her and five students who are gathered almost 500 miles away in Pennsylvania.

For Roberts, Assistant National Dean, College of Engineering and Information Sciences, any distance vanishes. She writes on the whiteboard in her Columbus classroom, knowing her notes are appearing, in real-time, on the whiteboard in front of her students at DeVry’s Philadelphia Center. Cameras automatically follow the student voices and movements there, too, so Roberts can hear their questions and see their responses.

It’s all happening live with DeVry’s new connected classroom technology, launched in January 2016. While the technology is advanced, one of its biggest advantages is how simply – almost effortlessly – it can be used to enable an immersive virtual learning community among students with diverse geographies and educational needs.

 

A closer look at a DeVry virtual learning community, and how it works.

Months before the first courses were offered in extended classrooms:

“We aimed to meet the next-generation needs and expectations of our students, and provide an enhanced experience” says Marcy Bock, Senior Director, Academic Technology Solutions and Services, DeVry Education Group.

Ultimately the technology suite chosen would go far beyond a live camera feed connecting two locations to provide an integration and user experience proprietary to DeVry. Vendor partners included Cisco, and ZDI Integration. After pilot tests and a faculty certification program, the technology was installed in classrooms across the country.

Several weeks before semester sign-up:

Students with busy lives are looking for more flexibility and more opportunity to take the courses they need, when they need them, in a modality they prefer. DeVry’s new virtual learning community approach, set to go live on 22 campuses in January 2016, would ultimately be used to teach more than 500 students in the session.

“This course was a requirement for graduation,” reports a business student of his Math 221 course offered in an extended classroom. “I enjoy having options of professors that I may not have here on the Philadelphia campus.” 

As class begins:

Roberts teaches CEIS100 – Introduction to Engineering Technology and Information Sciences. Her professor-led classroom in Ohio is connected live with an extended classroom in Philadelphia. All the technology that connects the rooms is automated to turn on in both locations before class starts. Roberts controls it with a single button click on a tablet app. “I was so surprised by how easy it was to use the technology to augment the experience for the students at both locations,” says Roberts.

Learning and working together

Live video, audio and display screens in both classrooms enable students to hear, see and fully participate in discussions and problem-solving activities.

Widescreen high-definition monitors with picture-in-picture views allow students in both locations to explore new ideas together.

From a student’s perspective, the technology “allows me to engage and interact with students I normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to interact with.” Roberts has also been impressed by “how easy it is to forget you are connected to a classroom in another state! By the second hour of the first class, students forgot about the cameras.”

Sharing and demonstrating during class

Interactive whiteboards feature two-way sharing to bring data, notes and dynamic case studies to life in both classrooms.

Content is shared between students and professor through wireless and wired sharing capabilities.

Special desktop cameras can display flat or 3-D objects on the whiteboards.

Roberts describes the 3-D display in more detail. “For CEIS 100, students use a Raspberry Pi (a credit-card sized computer that plugs into a monitor) to learn how to program in languages like Scratch and Python. I was able to use the camera show an actual Raspberry Pi and discuss its ports live on the display board, instead of using a picture of one.”

Ongoing learning after class

Automated lecture capture records presentations, classroom activities, materials, white board notes and shared documents, enabling later access directly in the learning management system.

Students are able to access a complete recording to help with material review and test prep, so they can revisit lessons at their own pace or catch up on what they missed due to illness or other obligation.

A new wave in education

As hoped, DeVry’s connected classroom technology is providing benefits to students on a practical level, including access to more courses with seats available, and exposure to video conferencing capabilities that mirror the way communication happens in many companies today.

Roberts and Bock believe next steps for the technology will be to expand to more campuses and connect more than two classrooms. Roberts feels this unique virtual classroom approach is yet another way DeVry is different, as the connection with students across the University can become even stronger, offering a relationship that is virtually face-to-face.

“Toward the end of the session, students from the different locations are asking each other about their weekend or the weather. They are waving goodbye to each other at the end of class.”

It seems connecting with new friends is one thing that may never change about the college experience.