When Cyndi Roberts steps into her classroom in Columbus, Ohio, her 19 students finish their conversations and get ready to start the day’s lesson. Like a scene from a high-tech science fiction film, she’s followed by voice-activated motion-detection cameras as she greets 14 people in the seats in front of her and five students who are gathered almost 500 miles away.
For Roberts, assistant national dean, College of Engineering and Information Sciences at DeVry University, any distance vanishes. She writes on the whiteboard in her Columbus classroom, knowing her notes are appearing, in real-time, on the whiteboard in front of her students in Philadelphia. Cameras automatically follow the student voices and movements there too, so Roberts can hear their questions and see their responses.
Exchanges like this are the norm for students who take classes in DeVry University’s innovative connected classrooms. The new learning experience incorporates cutting-edge technology to connect two to three classroom locations for simultaneous instruction, with a single instructor.
“This connected-classroom technology is not merely a teacher standing in front of the room, lecturing to students over a video feed,” says Brian Bethune, Ph.D., national dean of the College of Media Arts & Technology at DeVry University. “It is a completely interactive, immersive education environment. Through this technology, we aim to meet the next generation needs and expectations of our students, and provide an enhanced experience. Here, students take active roles in discussions and interact with professors and fellow classmates – whether sitting next to each other, or in cities far apart.”
Framing today’s education experience
Currently, there are 23 innovative classrooms on campuses across the country, each equipped with voice-activated motion cameras, facial recognition software, high-definition wide-screen monitors with picture-in-picture views, desktop cameras and interactive touch-screen whiteboards. The technology enables an immersive learning community among students with diverse geographies and education needs.
The classrooms are used for courses ranging from engineering technology to composition and financial accounting. Instructors complete in-depth trainings so their curriculum fits the classroom format, rather than vice versa. While remote conferencing is widespread in the business world, a setup like this is completely new to education.
“From day one, I made a point to learn remote students’ names and include them – so much, in fact, I now have to hold back from calling on them exclusively,” says Teresa Hayes, a professor at DeVry University’s campus in Chicago. “It’s made me very aware of each student in my class. I can tell which ones are struggling and give them the attention and resources they need. The technology has changed the way I teach.”
Hayes’s adaptive approach represents the state of education as a whole. A Pew Research report, “‘How Do They Even do That?: How Today’s Technology is Shaping Tomorrow’s Student,” indicates that as technology changes how humans interact and access information, it is also changing how students prefer to learn. The report acknowledges digital technology not only enhances existing classrooms, but it can also completely change the relationship students have with their physical learning environment.
Driving tailored, targeted learning for tomorrow
Technology-driven classrooms can fill a gap in today’s globally connected world. When classes are only offered online or in-person, students who prefer on-site learning are limited by course offerings at their local campus. The connected classroom technology provides benefits on a practical level, including having access to more courses and exposure to video conferencing capabilities that mirror the way communications happen in many companies today.
The next steps for the technology will be to expand to more DeVry University campuses and more classrooms in the near future.
Toward the end of class, students from the different campuses wave goodbye and wish each other a good weekend. It seems connecting new friends is one thing that may never change about the college experience.