(This is part two of a three-part series about the course redesign process of a shared videoconferencing course, RHS 401 Community Mental Health Practice and Services, where Garrett Huck, an assistant professor at Penn State Hazleton and Penn State Wilkes-Barre, used the resources of the Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) REACH initiative last fall. Through this program, also known as Re-imagine, Engage, Align, and CHange, Huck was able to make his course more innovative and engaging for students.)
What do you do when students in your course who are at a remote campus are not as engaged as students at your physical campus?
For one professor, this meant a course redesign to improve engagement through use of a Beam robot for presentations and the integration of guest speakers.
“The reason we used the Beam robot was to allow students to give presentations in groups that were made up of students from each campus, so each group was made up of four students from the Hazleton campus and two students from the Wilkes-Barre campus,” Huck said. ““It really allowed me to bridge the gap between the two classrooms and actually make more of one classroom, despite the geographical barrier.”
Huck decided that a course redesign was due when he noticed that the students who were not able to be physically present in the classroom seemed to have more difficulty being engaged. He said that some of these students had been really good students in other courses he taught where he was physically present at their campus, so he realized that their lack of participation was mainly due to the fact that they were not comfortable with the videoconferencing format.
For the presentations, students from the Wilkes-Barre campus used the Beam robot as a proxy for their lack of physical presence so that they could participate in the group presentations. Huck said that although this increased engagement was required, students expressed excitement to use the technology, which was completely new to both them and Huck. There was still a slight lack of comfort in the class on the behalf of the remote students, he added.
The Beam robot technology definitely worked in the course, Huck said, with the exception of a few setbacks that are standard when using a different form of technology for the first time, such as control and sound issues. The next time Huck uses the Beam robot again in the fall of 2017, he plans to introduce it earlier in the semester so that students can practice using it a few times before a big presentation.
Huck stressed the importance of integrating new technologies in the classroom to continue to improve courses at Penn State.
“I think it’s important for people to not become complacent in their methods,” he said. “It’s important for departments like TLT to continue to do things like the TLT Symposium to promote different types of technologies that are available and help people effectively integrate those kinds of things into their classroom.”
Another way Huck tried to bridge the gap between the two campuses was through guest speakers from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who he brought to the Wilkes-Barre campus to speak.
Huck said this not only gave the remote students the opportunity to be physically present for a course activity, but it gave Huck the opportunity to bring the students from the Hazleton campus to the Wilkes-Barre campus. The entire class listened to two individuals who were living with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder, along with two mothers who had sons living with schizophrenia, talk about their experiences. Afterward, students expressed how the use of guest speakers, who spoke about the reality of mental illness, made the course material a little more substantial.
“It increased engagement and it was something that the students really enjoyed, and ultimately, it was an awesome educational opportunity,” Huck said.
Another new component Huck said he was looking to add into his course redesign was interactive scenarios that focused on individuals who were dealing with a variety of mental illnesses. These interactive scenarios, which were created using a variety of tools, including VoiceThread, GoAnimate, and Magna Studios, are still in the works and will be incorporated in the fall semester. One type of video module Huck has created so far will provide training to help students diagnose a mental illness.
“I think we accomplished a lot this semester,” Huck said. “I don’t think my work is done, I still think I have a lot of room to grow to make it even better. I absolutely think what we did vastly improved the experience that the students had in the course compared to the experience they had in the fall 2015 semester when I first taught it.”