This fall, students at the University of Virginia will continue to be exposed to technological advances that are aiding instruction, approaches that may one day find their way into local K-12 schools.
To showcase new and existing programs and equipment to faculty Thursday, the University held the 4th annual Teaching with Technology Fair at Clemons Library.
“It’s really an idea-sharing community,” said Trisha Gordon, interim director for applications and support for UVaCollab—an online learning environment at the school. “One of the biggest goals is to bring the faculty closer to the technology and the people who support it and are working with it.”
During a showcase of resources for instructors, teaching tools ranged from cutting-edge technologies that assist in conducting research, to modest online integrations teachers can use to bolster student engagement.
Carrie Bramlet, a lecturer in Spanish, said that she has replaced oral presentations with VoiceThread—an online storytelling program that offers her students autonomy.
In the form of a newscast or short documentary, Bramlet said, her students choose an issue to discuss.
“They personalize the topic, which is great because then they put more interest and more passion into it,” Bramlet said.
French professor Alison Levine, who also utilizes digital storytelling, agreed.
“Students are more willing to revise when they know they’re working on projects that are meaningful to them and that they know will be presented publicly,” Levine said, noting that her students often thank her for the digital assignments.
“Students gain a lot when they get inside the thing that they’re studying and try to make it,” Levine added.
Both Albemarle and Charlottesville schools have begun emphasizing project-based learning, which asks students to engage in tasks similar to what Bramlet and Levine assign.
Doug Chestnut, a web programmer in the University library, uses a drone helicopter to help archeology, architecture and environmental science students.
With respect to the School of Architecture, Chestnut said, he was able to fly the helicopter above buildings to capture images that students were unable to with a pole-mounted camera.
“Then the students were able to take all of those pictures, put them together and…make 3D models of the structures,” Chestnut said.
Arin Bennett, manager of the Digital Media Lab, spent Thursday beside a noise-cancelling, egg-shaped chair faculty could sit in while wearing a pair virtual reality goggles called Oculus Rift.
“It’s a new way to visualize,” Bennett said, noting that he’s worked with history classes that are assigned to design a digital museum, create its historical content and program audio for a walking tour. “This shows how you can use different technologies to recreate an experience.”
Many of the resources also addressed how instructors design their courses. Kevin Lucey, an instructional designer in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, said embedding short video clips into online courses can go a long way for both teachers and students.
“Demos, tutorials, anything that can insert the instructor’s presence into the class,” Lucey said. “Online video is just the way people consume information. People don’t read much anymore, but YouTube gets how many millions of clicks a day?”
The day’s focus, however, was not technology for its own sake.
Professors John Alexander and Lindsey Hepler gave the afternoon’s keynote presentation, which underscored the importance of being mindful of how and why technology is being used.
“If not done well it’s a huge additional stress for both the instructor and the student, because you have to learn a new tool and you don’t understand why that tool is being introduced,” said Hepler, who teaches in the Arts Administration program.
An instructor ensuring that their technology choices align with the courses objectives, Hepler said, is key.
“I have these goals, I have these challenges, what are the technological tools that can help me meet my objectives?” Hepler said.
The classes in which students and teachers will begin to meet those objectives start Monday, and Gordon hopes the Fair gives faculty some new ideas as they head into the new school year.
“The hope is that it inspires any instructor to make use of technology in meaningful ways,” Gordon said.