Envisioning the 21st-Century Campus
As we consider where higher education is heading in the new century - what platforms, applications, functions and contexts will shape activities and learning within the academy - we need to maintain a delicate balance. On the one hand, we must be inventive and visionary, not allowing the way we've traditionally imagined the academy to blind us to new and groundbreaking possibilities. On the other hand, we mustn't let the technology trump the core goals of education (see our discussion here), allowing sound theory and praxis to be discarded for the next whiz-bang technology to come on the market.
Living within this tension, we think it's instructive to consider some practical examples - stories of actual faculty, staff, and student experiences with new practices and technologies. Though these don't fully flesh out the implications of mobile learning or its implementation, they do offer some important principles to consider, and they offer direction for future efforts.
It's easy to look back at the personal computer or the Internet as cultural watersheds that extended the reach of the individual while enabling new sorts of communities to form. Arguably, it was smaller, second-generation innovations like the weblog and the podcast that truly realized these potentials, offering average people an electronic soapbox with access to the world. On college campuses, the power of tools like the podcast remained largely untapped until recently, when more streamlined authoring tools enabled the creation of more diverse media and when service and cataloging sites enabled easy access and broad distribution. These new forms of media offer faculty and students so much more than the ability to record the lecture-hall experience: in the hands of faculty and students, they're transforming learning by changing how we conceive of "classroom" and "content." The deceptive simplicity and familiarity of these media mask the true power and reach they bring to the 21st-century university.
The Value of Podcasting: An Investment in Students
Dr. Jonathan Stewart had long struggled with ﬁnding enough class time to introduce the wealth of ﬁnancial and investment tools available to ACU students. Just covering the core material during the allotted class periods was often difficult, leaving little time for extras. Stewart decided to give podcasting a try.
As he wrote the script for his ﬁrst podcast, he remembers, "I knew if I recorded myself rambling on about ﬁnance for an hour, nobody was ever going to listen to this." So he decided to use a few strategies that had served him well in the classroom: high energy, offbeat examples, and an exaggerated-tongue-in-cheek-sense-of-importance. As the opening music begins each episode, Stewart calls out, "I don't want to oversell it, but this will change your life!" That was the birth of Stewllenium Radio, a weekly podcast that Stewart produces for his students and anyone else interested in learning more about ﬁnance and investing.
"My hope is that when my students hear the theme music and me calling out to 'My People!' that they will be intrigued and interested in hearing more." Early indications are that students enjoy the format and appreciate the on-demand convenience that a podcast provides. Listening to a 10- to 15-minute discussion of "risk and return issues" could seem like a prison sentence if presented in a traditional lecture format. Stewart attempts to overcome this challenge by using the NBC game show, Deal or No Deal as his example of risk aversion in investors.
His students say that they enjoy Stewllenium Radio, and several others - including faculty - have started listening after hearing about it from their friends. Stewart is pleased with the results as well. "This format combines so many things that I love and enjoy: teaching, ﬁnance, music, radio, computers and my iPod. Supplementing regular class meetings with my podcast actually allows me to sneak extra class periods into the semester. But, it doesn't feel like work to me. Hopefully, my students feel the same."
Stewart believes that the convergence offered by a new generation of media devices will continue to expand the opportunities for reaching students. Such devices will provide ongoing access not merely to Stewllenium Radio, but will also let students access knowledge and information recursively, coming back to its advice and expanding on its vision with web research and real-world access to their peers.
Taking Writing Outside of the Classroom
Historically, computers have been a mixed blessing in college writing classrooms. The majority of students entering college today have always composed at the computer, yet an increasing amount of the writing they do consists of dashed-off messages to friends and family via email, IM, or Facebook. How can composition instructors increase the amount of time students spend in the writing process and encourage a greater investment in the ﬁnal writing product? Dr. Kyle Dickson believes one solution lies in the audio essay.
In the fall of 2006, ACU launched a podcasting pilot for faculty across campus who were interested in integrating audio and other forms of media into undergraduate courses. Dickson, working with colleagues in the English department, developed an essay assignment based on the This I Believe program recently revived on National Public Radio. The original series, produced by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s, invited listeners "to write about the core beliefs that guide their daily life." In a freshman composition course, the This I Believe essay challenges students to articulate their own values in their own words even as they develop a respect for the views of others.
Students began by identifying a personal belief before writing drafts that reﬁned their focus through vividly related examples. Finally, they were invited to submit essays to the NPR website and record them on iPods with a memo recorder attachment for transmission via iTunes U. Though public distribution was not required, this aspect of the assignment provided additional motivation for students carefully to hone their ﬁnal essays. "I think it's very important to provide students an opportunity to write for a broader audience, instead of simply writing for the teacher," Dickson said. "These kinds of assignments put writing back into the public sphere as an essential skill of the future community leader. iTunes U helps create this broader audience."
The iPod put inexpensive, high-quality audio in the hands of faculty and students in the classroom. Paired with the reach of iTunes U immediately to share student work with a larger audience, the This I Believe essay has students drafting and revising in ways they never did with traditional essays - and it offers an insight into the ways that new technologies can be harnessed to reconfigure classroom activities.
This new form of writing assignment involves students in a wider debate of public and private beliefs and encourages them to add their own voices to this dialogue. Much like their NPR counterparts, the essay podcasts emphasize the diversity of viewpoints on campus through the simple power of the human voice. Assignments like these, in providing students a real-world audience, value the experiences and expertise each student brings to the classroom. Whether podcasts are shared with the class, the campus, or the world, students move from simply receiving messages to a higher-level of investment in crafting and reﬁning messages of their own.
If podcasting offers new ways to conceive of online content and online communities, converged media devices like the iPhone seem poised to expand other sorts of boundaries. In the converged space where the Internet and telecommunications meet, new possibilities exist for the convergence of in-class and out-of-class activities, curricular and extra-curricular learning. And as we've already seen, new tools enable new approaches, extending the classroom of the 21st century by making new learning opportunities possible.
Convergence & the New Media Newsroom
For some time, faculty in the Journalism and Mass Communication Department at ACU have understood that newsprint is not how the majority of students consume their news. Ask a roomful of students how many read the local paper, and almost no hands go up. Ask how many read a national newspaper, and only a few go up. But when you ask how many read Facebook daily, practically every hand goes up. The scene is familiar. It's not that post-millenials are ambivalent to news; it's just that they consume it in a new, digital way. ACU's student newspaper, Optimist, consistently ranks among the best in the state, and annually receives all-American rankings from the Associated Collegiate Press, but on campus, the lingering stacks of newspapers illustrate the way news consumption has changed.
While many in the news business see this as an alarming trend, student editors and faculty at ACU are more optimistic. This trend simply opens up opportunities unavailable to print media in the past. Journalists who could publish only once a day now have unlimited publication opportunities and can send stories out by email, text message, and RSS feed. The paper version of the campus newspaper can publish only twice a week based on ad revenues, but ACUOptimist.com has become an online publication whose publication schedule is very flexible indeed.
And there's more. Journalists who only had text and still pictures available to them in the past now can tell their stories with audio and video. That doesn't replace the printed word; it simply expands upon it. And because students are conditioned to consume news, like everything else, in a buffet style, offering them print, still photography, audio and video serves them the way they consume. Dr. Susan Lewis is excited about this convergence: "All different types of media can come together and produce something that's richer than any single channel can do on its own. We don't know of any universities that are doing it exactly like this."
To take advantage of these changes, the university in 2007 constructed a new media center for the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. The Converged Media Newsroom houses the student reporting staffs of all the respective ACU media: The Optimist (a semi-weekly newspaper), Paw-TV (bi-weekly television), ACUOptimist.com (with standard and mobile versions), and, most recently, the Optimist for iPad. Internally, the convergence of staffs into a unified space allows greater synergy in training and production among the student journalists.
A converged device like the iPhone provides students with a host of research and reporting tools for note-taking, recording and fact-checking in the ﬁeld. The broad deployment of such devices across campus would also change how new media reporters see and communicate with their audience. Extended interviews, video reporting and opinion pieces will be able to compliment the print medium, all served up and synced via a service like iTunes U. Faculty advisers like Dr. Lewis know that these changes in the audience and appetite for news are not limited to the ACU campus. The New Media Newsroom is the ﬁrst step in preparing future journalists for the newsrooms in which they'll work as they enter into their careers.
Managing the STAR Fund
Heather Weems is a senior ﬁnance major at ACU who loves keeping up with the Astros, listening to Switchfoot, and managing a $320,000 investment fund. When she's not catching up on homework or the latest episode of Lost with friends, Heather leads a group of 15 undergraduate students who work with STAR, the Student Trading and Research team. Each week, student managers identify potential equity investments, prepare research reports on those investments, and present their work to the rest of the group. The STAR team has outperformed its benchmark, the S&P 500, for each full year the fund has been in existence. Over this 6-year period, STAR has achieved an average annual total return of 8.66%, versus 2.94% for the S&P 500. Currently, the majority of its research is conducted in the STAR office, nicknamed the "war room."
How does Heather think that a converged media device might transform the way STAR members do business? Student managers could monitor fund performance more easily and more often. A quick look at a stock widget as students walk to class would provide them with real-time market data. In-depth research would no longer be restricted to the "war room" - or other computer labs on campus. The classroom would lose its walls. Managers could investigate potential investments while in the library, at the coffee shop, or wherever they are when the market begins to turn, increasing ﬂexibility and efficiency.
Team members would also no longer have to be in the same location to prepare strategy presentations. They could share new ideas or notify one another about important market news immediately with an email, a text message, or a conference call, regardless of their location. During presentations, requests for additional information could be met immediately. Even calls with a company's investor relations office could be set up on the ﬂy.
Incorporating the new generation of converged devices into their studies would improve student managers' ability to conduct business. It would also make STAR more valuable to students by allowing them to practice with the type of cutting-edge technology that will be their everyday tools once they move into the war rooms of Wall Street.
As new media and new forms of access enter the classroom of the 21st century, the one thing that doesn't change is the goal of helping teachers and students connect. For many, that goal is enhanced by the new kinds of access and connection offered by technology. For others, that goal can be frustrated when technology doesn't live up to its promises. Instead of simplifying and enhancing interactions with students, faulty technology can get in the way - and teachers can spend more time worrying about getting stuff to work than about doing the real work of teaching.
Fulfilling the Promise of Clickers: Student Engagement in Large-Format Classes
Students entering Dr. Richard Beck's "Intro to Psychology" class are never sure what to expect. Lesson plans may include the philosophy of Napoleon Dynamite, a Skinnerian analysis of potty-training, or a game of checkers played by an artiﬁcially intelligent bag of Skittles. However, with enrollments of 200 per section in a traditional lecture hall, regularly involving every student seemed impractical. Until he heard about clickers.
In 2005 a publishing rep offered to package course textbooks with a 15-button clicker. The infrared system would encourage greater interactivity during class. Since students could identify themselves using their unique code, the devices promised simple and efficient attendance records, basic quizzes in true-false or multiple choice, and software that quickly transferred both to a spreadsheet back in the office. These basic features would keep students reading - and keep them participating.
But the real attraction of such a device was to deepen engagement and learning. Beck recalls, "In teaching large sections of psychology classes, a couple of things intrigued me about the clickers. Initially they would provide a way to make a large class small, where everyone could participate and have an impact on the conversation. But as a researcher, I also knew the clickers would offer an easy way to collect data on a host of issues regarding student life and attitudes." The quizzing and attendance component would make the class easier to manage; the on-the-ﬂy survey tool would connect students to content and offer a new way to track learning.
But for all their promise, by the second half of the semester, Dr. Beck had shelved the clickers. Tying the device to textbooks didn't adequately allow for the majority of students who bought used books. The clickers' design left teachers with few options to randomize questions or move beyond simple multiple-choice formats. And the need to have students register their device the ﬁrst week on an external site frustrated the students and Beck. "The paradox of clickers I've used is that their most powerful impact would be on larger classes, but coordinating the registration of the clickers even for roll-taking is prohibitive in these very same classes." Ultimately, like many faculty across campus, Beck felt clickers were a promising technology that just didn't deliver.
The new class of converged devices, with their powerful processors and easily-configurable video displays, offers a promising platform for the next-generation clicker. Students resistant to keeping up with a pile of specialized devices are sure to have their cell phones, so a device that melds these functions stands a better chance of actually making it to class. Logistically, that means teachers could use the clicker function from the ﬁrst day of classes without the lag time currently associated with setup and registration. Perhaps most promising is the ability to capitalize on the free-form interfaces of these devices to move away from static quizzes that progress a question at a time. The next-generation "virtual" clicker could allow teachers to randomize questions or answers for a quiz, helping to minimize the cheating often associated with lecture-hall test-taking. And with a networked version of software like iQuiz, a smart clicker could revolutionize assessment.
Educators like Beck don't want technology that gets in their way. They want solutions that make them more effective communicators. "True learning is a deeply emotional process. It's that story a teacher tells that you never forget or the phrase that sticks in the mind. Thus, the lecture well-done will always be with us. No other pedagogical medium can be as emotionally impactful. All of us can recount times when 60 minutes with a professor completely reoriented our universe." But to do a lecture well, teachers need to be able to keep their focus - and make direct contact with their students. If they're having to ﬁddle with awkward or unpredictable technology, teachers can get distracted from what's really important.
Enhancing his interaction with students and their engagement in his courses, educators like Beck want to keep building relationships with students that change thinking - and change lives. They want solutions that "just work" to help them in those efforts.
Humanities Unleashed: Active Learning & the New Classroom
This fall, another integrated humanities course came to ACU. "American Identity in the Modern Period" was team-taught by professors from the departments of English, History, and Art. Student interest was high, and the class ﬁlled the ﬁrst week of registration. But if you talked to the faculty, they had concerns about the road ahead.
To begin with, the 60-student class was scheduled in Walling Lecture Hall, a lecture theater designed for a different generation of students. For Dr. Tracy Shilcutt, a historian who uses innovative teaching strategies to challenge her students, that was a problem. "My typical interaction with students in a survey course is anything but straightforward lecture. Using team-based learning, my classroom takes advantage of moving desks and chairs so that students can engage in problem-solving rather than focusing on me behind a podium. The stadium seating is a challenge, too, because I move among the teams, often sitting to have conversations with them as they work through the course materials." This kind of teaching is difficult to imagine in a ﬁxed-seat space with small fold-away desks.
Like other colleges and universities across the country, ACU is reconsidering its learning spaces. In what ways do auditoriums and lecture halls support some approaches to teaching while restricting or preventing others? Whether by facilitating small discussion groups or sending students to the web to bring new ideas into the classroom, faculty are exploring new spaces and new models to allow them effectively to engage individual learners rather than teaching to the gallery.
Dan McGregor, who team-taught with Shilcutt in the fall, had different concerns. His background is in art and design, so he wondered how to give students an up-close experience with many of the paintings and photographs they'd encounter. How can you give students ﬂexible access to important works of art in a way that's not just limited to the classroom? "In lieu of static slides, I create multi-page documents in Macromedia Freehand and export them as PDF slide shows. This allows me considerable ﬂexibility in typography and layout in addition to permitting me to zoom in on details of paintings, sculptures, and prints in class." He wanted his students to have the same experience outside of class, combining high-quality images with simple, intuitive controls that encouraged them to investigate and explore in ways that bring historic pieces of art vibrantly to life.
Having a device that combined a high-resolution screen with a simple PDF viewer and a multi-touch interface would allow teachers to distribute not only the audio and video of podcasts but PDF hand-outs and enhanced slideshows as well. In the hands of every student, such a device would allow class to be conducted in "non-classroom settings" - like museum galleries or historical sites around town.
As the ﬁrst semester of "American Identity in the Modern Period" neared, conversations about the logistics of team-teaching and the classroom space were replaced with discussions anticipating the integrative learning experience. As McGregor noted, 'What I looked forward to most was being a fellow learner along with my colleagues and students. This course was the ﬁrst I ever participated in as a faculty member where I wasn't the exclusive 'expert.' I learned much alongside my students from my colleagues' ﬁelds of expertise and the connections they brought."
Bringing teachers and students together to learn alongside one another - and from one another - is a great way to build academic community. And allowing students to see teachers learning from their colleagues is a great way to harbor a spirit of inquiry, reminding everyone involved that learning is an ongoing process.
The best teaching has always found a way to break out of the classroom's walls - and some of the most important lessons are learned not over a textbook, but over a cup of coffee or through a common interest. In preparing for the classroom of the 21st century, it's important not to get so wrapped up in the pedagogical or technological details that we forget learning as a broader activity - one that permeates our lives. For students and faculty at ACU, the classroom is merely the beginning of a journey, and tools like iTunes U, the iPod, and the iPhone can help students and faculty discover new ways of traveling together.
More Than a Dorm: Learning & Living in Community
ACU is a residential, comprehensive university, and 101 years in private, higher education have taught us the value of living in community. Bob Booth, a recent graduate student in psychology, is committed to his role as residence director of ACU's newest residential facility, Barret Living and Learning Hall. He knows that relationships built in residence halls can last a lifetime. The community that forms can be one of the most powerful inﬂuences on a student's educational experience, and higher education research has proven that students who live on campus are more likely to stay in school and to perform better academically. But how can this community be harnessed in a more focused way to expand and improve student learning?
In 1997, ACU began a learning community initiative for ﬁrst-year students that offered them paired or clustered courses combining motivated faculty with integrated material and projects, helping students better connect knowledge between disciplines. Five years later, 20 learning communities involved almost 40% of freshmen in conversations that pressed beyond the bounds of the classroom.
When ACU chose to introduce the learning community approach into sophomore residence halls, they turned to experienced residence directors like Booth. Since 2004, ACU has led the way in shaping the new pedagogy of Living and Learning Communities. By integrating academics and student development, Booth and his residence assistants have created a seamless learning environment that supports and supplements the traditional classroom experience. ACU's newest residential facility, Barret Living and Learning Hall is arranged in '"pods" of four double rooms sharing a large community space, where 6 to 8 students apply to live and learn together. Booth has seen this happen: "They study together for classes and work on projects. When they come back to the hall, they take the classroom connection with them and build on that. It's a support group. They ﬁnd a lot of strength from living in community."
Barret houses 22 learning communities that formed naturally around majors or common interests in community service and advocacy. Booth believes that exciting things happen when students are given an opportunity to dream about more than completing the next semester of coursework: "Interesting, impassioned ideas emerge when eight students come together to say, 'How will I serve?' Students from this generation really want to do something bigger than themselves."
This past year a group of psychology and social work students, mentored by a major professor, completed training to help victims of child abuse. A group of physics majors worked through readings on theodicy while other groups have worked to encourage recycling on campus or to explore representations of race in media. Another group, mentored by a member of the Journalism faculty who works with FilmFest, spent the year producing a ﬁlm on service projects and activities from around Barret Hall. The themes and projects are as varied as the students themselves.
Converged mobile technology like the iPhone or Blackberry would allow for greater connectedness among every member of the Barret community. Students could post to blogs instantly from a service project. Faculty could inform and affirm student work at ﬂexible times. The ACU community would be able to get podcast updates from students and faculty who volunteer in all sorts of contexts, from weekend work-projects in Laredo to summer internships in China. While it's nearly impossible to gather all 180 Barret students and faculty mentors together for a traditional meeting, a virtual meeting - where documents, audio, video, and web content are shared - could be more easily managed with this sort of technology.
In the new world of mobile learning, Barret Living and Learning Hall would no longer just be a residence hall at ACU - but the home of a wall-less, virtual environment that enables and empowers its communities for the future.
FilmFest: Learning the Art of Animation
For the third year in a row, professor Kenny Jones has allowed students in his 2-D Design class to substitute a video for a research project. His students participated in FilmFest, the campus-wide short-ﬁlm competition now in its forth year. For Jones, encouraging participation was a simple choice: "Since the FilmFest project connects to our broader curriculum goals of teaching students to communicate visually, the application of classroom theory to their ﬁlms heightened students' awareness of art principles and elements."
FilmFest began in 2003 when Doug Darby, former media director for ACU's distance education division, participated in a study co-sponsored by Apple and the New Media Consortium to investigate the potential of video as a community-building educational tool on college campuses. While the consensus was that facilitating video production on a large scale would be problematic, Darby returned with the seeds of what grew into ACU's ﬁrst student ﬁlm festival.
Though Darby's initial research found examples of iMovie projects designed to introduce incoming students to campus life, no one was using these tools truly to enhance the educational experience of students in higher education. His idea was to develop a ﬁlm festival atmosphere with the novice user in mind, allowing students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines the opportunity to participate. Using simple off-the-shelf technology, FilmFest participants would be able to creatively express themselves through visual experiences that reﬂected their social, philosophical, and spiritual insights.
Participants had access to digital video cameras and a lab of 10 iMacs for editing during the month-long production phase. Teams of up to six students shared the roles of producer, director, technical director, writer, sound designer, and production designer, challenging them to collaborate and communicate with others outside of their disciplines. Students received basic training on ﬁlmmaking techniques, storytelling, and visual design before production began, and a panel of judges from across the ﬁlm and music industries provided feedback to participants. FilmFest culminated with a screening on premier night at Abilene's historic and nationally-registered Paramount Theater.
Most importantly, FilmFest encourages and fosters collaborations between students and faculty. These interactions continue to create a unique learning experience that extends beyond the classroom by allowing students and faculty to join in discovery and understanding.
Kenny Jones' yearly FilmFest projects are just one example. In 2006, two of his students asked Jones to produce their experimental animated short called Cell(s). The team worked to create a concept within FilmFest's regulations, using the provided technology, incorporating the event theme, and developing a ﬁlm of specified length within the allotted production time. Jones remembers, "I gave feedback on their storyboards and original score. These discussions ranged from tips on camera angle and timing to narrative structure and character development. At times, I was their gadﬂy, keeping the project within realistic limits, but my most rewarding role as producer was challenging them to be more ambitious in connecting the content of the story to the 'eye candy' of iMovie's effects."
On premier night, students Alex York and Adrian Chew took home a slate of awards including Best Film. Given that this was the ﬁrst experience each had with the technologies they were using, Cell(s) illustrates the effectiveness of FilmFest as a catalyst for creative learning and its potential for educational application. As Jones concludes, "What's more empowering than projecting one's own vision into the media environment? This generation's interest in the application of knowledge, coupled with their media and technology sophistication, provides an invaluable starting point for students and faculty to learn together."