Thousands of dollars and a lot of planning shape new classroom technology

by Pulse Staff

University of Findlay students will notice some differences in many of the classrooms on campus this fall and the strategy behind the new set up took a lot of doing.

Academic Technology Services (ATS), Information Technology Services (ITS), and the Center for Teaching and Program Excellence (CTE) worked together to get classrooms ready for a very different fall semester.

At the end of July Vice President of ITS Dr. Raymond J. McCandless sent out an email to faculty explaining some of the changes.

Workers put a new monitor that contains a camera, microphone, and speaker in classrooms that have a classroom PC.

“This will enable the instructor to use Zoom in the classroom without requiring any new hardware or other devices to allow the remote student to see the screen and instructor,” McCandless said in the email.

Web and Client Services Director Brandon Heidepriem says they have updated all classrooms that are scheduled for classes this fall, and that have a classroom computer, with a new monitor. They’ve taken it a step further by installing another camera so that remote students can participate with face-to-face students.

“The Poly Studio is an auxiliary camera, microphone and speaker in a room that is pointed towards the students in the classroom to capture their interactions,” Heidepreim said.

He says they’re still working on deploying all the Poly Studios.

“We have only been able to receive the first 30 of the 75 we have on order (due to high demands and shipping) but those are installed in strategic locations to attempt to spread these across buildings and departments,” he said.

So far the University has spent approximately $93,000 according to Heidepreim though that’s not the final total. They are still receiving final invoices and prototyping other potential equipment.

“This is the type of cost that can be subsidized through CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) funding,” Heidepriem said.

Director of Facilities Beverly Roth explains there were a number of working spaces to consider.

“We have 145 classrooms, including general purpose, dedicated, restricted and designated classrooms on our campus plus our five classrooms on our farm campuses and we have an additional 10 classrooms on campus that are computer labs,” she said.

McCandless say ITS put silicone keyboard covers on all the keyboards in classrooms on campus.

Director of Physical Plant Orion Jones says there is kind of a “COVID station” when you enter the classroom with wipes, sanitizer, and masks.

“You walk in, give a pump for sanitizer, grab a wipe and a mask if needed, and you are good to go,” Jones said.

And they will also use electrostatic sprayers in classrooms for 100% disinfectant coverage.

“These sprayers put out an electrically charged ion that attaches the disinfectant to all negative surfaces, basically everything that is touch the ground or grounded in electrical terms,” he said.

Roth says containers of wipes have been placed in all classrooms so each student and faculty member can take one as they enter the room and clean off their work space.

To be in class a student must wear a face mask.

Vice President for Student Affairs David Emsweller has sent out several notifications to the campus community about the Oiler Start Safe & Stay Safe Plan, which includes a requirement for everyone on campus to wear a mask.

Emsweller says students must comply.

“If a student enters a class without a mask, the instructor is to ask them to put one on,” he said. “If a student will not wear a mask, they will be asked to leave the class, and will not be permitted to return to the class until they wear a mask.”

“In learning environments that require full facial visibility, an instructor will be given the option to use a Plexiglas face shield,” Roth said.

Professors have been instructed to allow for only 10 students at a time to exit a room at the end of class.

ATS and ITS provided training via ZOOM over an eight-day period from July 29 into August. More in-person training was provided the week of Aug. 10 for professors at various times and locations across campus.

Director of the Center for Teaching and Program Excellence Chris Denecker says the faculty are doing an amazing job with training for the new technology.

“The dedication faculty have shown to finding solutions to help ALL students learn–regardless of mode of instruction–is really inspiring. There’s a real sense of a desire to meet learners’ needs,” Denecker said. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t some anxiety as well; obviously, teaching in two formats at one time will take a little getting used to. They’re being creative and diligent in their efforts to prepare for fall.”

Tackling the challenge started with creativity and cooperation, according to Denecker.

​“My initial response was that we would need to be innovative and look at new pedagogical approaches,” Denecker said. ”I began researching hyflex and hybrid classroom instruction to see what was already out there in terms of delivery.”

Denecker said the initial planning in terms of technology started with Heidepriem and Academics Labs Coordinator Keaton Hughes. Denecker says while they tossed around ideas, she and Academic Technology Specialist and Program Manager Beth Stewart worked alongside of ATS.

“They were brainstorming the technology, and we were researching pedagogy,” Denecker said.

Denecker says from the educational side there were several things to consider, such as the purpose and content of the instruction and how to develop more interactive approaches so students and instructors can interact in real time.

“We needed to find ways to do small group work, partner off-campus with on-campus students, share whiteboards, share sound/video in more than one space at a time,” Denecker said.

Heidepreim says they are looking into some of those options.

“We are currently researching a whiteboard capturing system and collaborative/interactive virtual whiteboards for disciplines that this format is essential for instruction,” he said.

Heidepriem says the key is to be ready for anything.

“The current pandemic is an unknown variable,” he said. “When you add in the ever-changing landscape of technology, I would say we are never done!  What I can say is that we are poised well to be able to provide a flexible learning environment capable of handling many scenarios for the University.”

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