Shared Penn State courses taught at more than one campus? Nothing out of the ordinary there. Using a robot to help with the delivery? Now that’s innovative.
When Garrett Huck wanted to transform the Community Mental Health Practice and Services course he teaches at the Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre campuses, he turned to Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) and its REACH (Re-imagine, Engage, Align, and CHange) Initiative. REACH gives Penn State faculty who teach in shared academic programs the necessary resources to develop innovative and engaging courses.
Huck found that remote students, especially ones who always performed well, had more difficulty becoming engaged in the course due to the videoconferencing format. TLT helped Huck implement changes, including the use of a telepresence robot called the Beam Pro, to keep students at Wilkes-Barre engaged despite not being in the same classroom as Huck. The robot, which can be driven around via a computer application, helped the students to feel physically present while giving their presentations to their Hazleton classmates.
According to assessment results, approximately 84 percent of students reported that the course met their definition of “engaged” learning. One hundred percent of the students surveyed were enthusiastic about the opportunity they received to interact with the other students.
Amy Kuntz, an instructional designer who worked with Huck on his course redesign, said because grades were high among students at the remote campus, it can be inferred that the new format did not negatively impact the remote students’ performance.
Huck appreciated gaining access to a variety of technologies he never knew existed. “There were things that I thought would be cool to do in the classroom, but I had no idea how to do these things on my own,” he said.
In May, Huck received the Charles T. Butler Technology and Teaching Award at the Hazleton campus, which recognizes faculty members who have demonstrated outstanding application and innovation in the use of computer technology in the classroom, for his course redesign work.
“He [Huck] truly exemplifies integrating technology in teaching and learning for a strategic purpose of creating a more engaging, instructional sound, and pedagogical course,” said Kuntz. “His students and I appreciated his enthusiasm for teaching and providing real world contexts.”
Huck will integrate the Beam robot into his course again this fall. He plans to introduce it earlier in the semester to give students more time to become comfortable with it, and will add new interactive scenarios to further increase student learning and engagement.
After removing barriers in his shared course, Huck hopes that other faculty members can do the same. “While there may always be barriers and there may always be things about shared courses that aren’t preferable, rather than accept the limitations imposed by some of these shared courses, look at it as an exciting opportunity to be creative and finally overcome those barriers,” he said. “Because based on my work with TLT, I think that it is something that truly is possible.”
The REACH Initiative continues to help faculty transform education at Penn State. “My hope is that it is in place for years to come to create a robust portfolio of courses that is rich in student engagement and continues to refine the best practices to effectively utilize communication technologies to bridge the distance factor between geographically shared courses,” Kuntz said.
Faculty can visit the TLT REACH Initiative website to learn more about how they can get involved. The next call for proposals will be open from October through December.
(This is part three of a three-part series about a collaborative course redesign process between Huck and TLT. Part 1 focused on how TLT helped Huck develop the course. Part 2 addressed the redesigned course activities.)