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Faculty Support

According to a recent Campus Technology 2016 Teaching with Technology survey, about a third of educators do not feel sufficiently supported in their use of technology on campus. The poll surveyed faculty members across the country about the technology used for their teaching and learning, what they wish for, and what they see in the future.

Although, it seems as if most faculty don’t need that much help. The majority of educators surveyed were confident in their ability to use technology with a solid 79 percent saying that their skills in tech are “maxed out” or they had the knowledge to “get the job done”. While on the other end, less than 3 percent acknowledged that they have tech skills that are “below average” or nonexistent. However, the faculty aren’t always confident in their students. More than half of the teachers, 52 percent, state that their students are only average in terms of technology; while 39 percent said that their students are either excellent or above average.

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A science faculty member at a community college in Nebraska emphasized that while students have skills in games and Facebook, they are almost clueless about school or office software that is used for work rather than entertainment. When help is needed, about 30 percent of the instructors go the help desk or IT department before using another source. That’s followed by a 29 percent that use online resources, peers, and instructional technologists. The instructor from Nebraska stated that the survey isn’t fully represented, with self-service training as his choice. At his institution, Lynda.com is made free to all faculty and is a video streaming course service that “helps when trying to learn new tech skills, which we can then share with our students.”

A faculty member from the library of an Indiana university advised there be integration of instructional designers into academic departments. She also suggested that we stop viewing online classes as something new because by now, they should be a “part of the regular teaching landscape.”

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User Shadowing to Improve Student Quality of Life

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UX (user experience) teams are very important to the app development process because it gives developers perspective on how a user will use their product. This feedback guides developers to make an app that meets user expectations and even adds features the user might find useful but wasn’t looking for in the first place. To get a better insight on how a user might use their product, the developer will employ a team to ‘shadow’ certain users in order to understand what issues the user runs into and how they use the app itself.

K-12 leaders are already using the shadowing method to improve their students’ quality of life. By shadowing students for a single day of school, teachers learned how much time their students spent waiting in line, how little interaction they had with their teachers, and how exhausting the school day was. Higher education leaders hope to create a UX team someday in order to improve the design of their college and fit academics around the life of a student rather than having it the other way around.

President Meghan Hughes of the Community College of Rhode Island has already started employing some UX shadowing on her campus with some success. Through shadowing, she learned how class schedules conflicted heavily with public transportation schedules causing students to waste time just getting to and from school. Most college currently don’t have a UX team but higher education leaders one-day hope to implement the shadowing method (among many others) to improve their students’ quality of life. Some improvements currently being considered are class registration, class scheduling, textbook costs, financial aid, and the ease of the school’s online systems.

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Can an MIT Computer Learn to Scare You?

In the spirit of Halloween, MIT has produced a program that will learn to scare the user. They call it Nightmare Machine. Three researchers at MIT are using deep-learning algorithm to teach a computer to produce images of faces and places that scare people. One of the biggest fear invoking concepts is the threat that machines will act independently of their operators.

One of the researchers says, “We know AI terrifies us in the abstract sense, but can AI scare us in the immediate, visceral sense?”. He wants to make an algorithm that would create a “fake” set of faces from real images, then another algorithm to extract the image system from one photo and apply it to another. For example, they could choose a zombie-like feature from one image and apply them to a computer-generated face. The result is a contortion that might be called scary.

In order to learn whether the computer-generated images can scare people, the machine needs human participants. The computer will learn from volunteered responses on which kinds of images are considered scary and which aren’t.

One professor that is a researcher on this project knows a lot about fear. The focus of her studies is a sociologist, and she says teaching a computer to scare people will be difficult. Fear is distinctly personal and depends on individual experience. She says that with faces, expressions can be interpreted differently based on one’s culture. However, the idea of that people are repulsed by faces that look nearly human but slightly off – could also be fruitful ground.

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Flipped Classrooms

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With the increase of classroom technology, teachers are finding new ways to structure their classrooms through the use of digital media. The University of Wisconsin’s Engineering cohort has adopted one such teaching style known as the “flipped classroom” method. In this method, the teacher sends lectures to their students to watch at home and then applies those skills in the classroom.

The University of Wisconsin’s first engineering cohort initially started with 4 flipped classrooms but has seen a rise in this style of teaching and even encourages teachers to adopt the model. This model challenges professors to provide the lecture videos, but in return, helps their students gain valuable communications and collaboration skills. Greg Moses, an engineering physics professor, has seen a positive correlation to student grades with this new system and even points out that they have a stronger mastery of the material.

In hopes of spreading the new and innovative classroom model, The University of Wisconsin hosted a workshop lead by their chair of Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), John Booske. Over 30 other heads of the ECE department around the US attended and learned about the flipped classrooms and the positive effects of learning through blended instruction.

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Take a Trip to the Future of the Ocean

Climate change is adamant, and yet, some people are still having a hard time believing it is happening. Well seeing is believing, and at Stanford, you can use a free virtual reality program to explore a world where climate change kills off coral reefs. The Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience, a Virtual Human Interaction Lab, is a free science tool a part of Stanford that transports students to the sea floor then fast-forwards to the end of the century. This is when scientists have predicted that many of the coral reefs we have today are corroding through ocean acidification. The hope is to change people’s point of view and behavior in the world through a virtual reality experience.

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The Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience is a 360-dregree video project that addresses the problem of global warming and how it impacts the ocean and the lives it caries. It’s also a tool that allows viewers to explore the deep-sea and collect samples.

The simulation starts with putting the user into heavy traffic where they can they follow carbon dioxide molecules. They then float from car tailpipes leading to the sea where they’re absorbed. The user then steps into the waves and moves around the coral as time passes and they get to experience what it’s like as it loses its life and the acidity levels in the water increase. A narrator will explain what’s happening as this happens and tell them to do certain actions, such as a species count.

This software was created in partnership with marine biologists Fiorenza Micheli and Roy Pea from Stanford and Kristy Kroeker, from the University of California. It took two years to recreate a virtual replica of an actual rocky reef that exists around the island of Ischia in Italy where underground volcanic cents have been emitting carbon dioxide into the reef. The data that was collected from this reef has allowed researchers to measure and predict the impact this will have on marine life as time passes.

Lawmakers in Washington DC also got to experience this VR at a non-profit event, Ocean Conservancy. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island states that: “This simulation shows in rich detail the damage carbon pollution inflicts on our oceans. I appreciate the Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience for calling attention to the peril our oceans face and what we must do to protect them.”

For more information, please visit the main article on Campus Technology.