The University of Arizona’s College of Education: A Progressive Approach to Learning
As Director, Instructional & Learning Technologies for the University of Arizona’s College of Education, Michael Griffith, MS (Educational Technology), supports faculty, students and staff in their use of instructional technology to enhance teaching and learning.
The U of A’s College of Education takes a progressive approach to teaching, leveraging ‘active learning’ in the classroom. “Rarely in an active learning classroom do you find someone in the front of the room talking–instead it’s about collaboration, engagement,” said Griffith. “We know now that students learn by being able to connect that new knowledge to their own experiences and the experiences of their peers. What the professor is saying might not resonate, but something that their peer said might help a student to fully internalize information.”
The Challenge: Facilitating Active Learning Through ‘Telepresence’
In addition to facilitating the needs of their online program, U of A is refining a new format that allows students with extenuating circumstances that prevent them from coming to class to take classes that are normally only offered face-to-face. The goal is nothing less than integrating ‘telepresence’ students into traditional classes while affording the same ability to engage as a face-to-face peer. When it comes to facilitating the needs of remote students, it’s not enough to make sure they can hear and see–they have to fully participate, as if they were physically present.
This, Griffith emphasizes, involves assembling the right technology mix. To facilitate the needs of telepresence students, he uses a combination of Zoom and Kubi–a robot that allows someone to remotely be ‘present’ in a meeting, controlling where they look, and interacting with people who are physically present. However, there is a remaining element missing, in that even with the ability to control what you’re looking at remotely, there are still visibility issues. For instance, it can be difficult to read what’s on the whiteboard due to a number of factors such as glare, obstacles blocking the screen, and distance.
For Griffith, the ‘aha’ moment for solving this problem came when he was investigating a solution that would enable low-vision students to see whiteboard content from any place in the room. Normally, low-vision students could only sit in certain parts of the room in order to see–and even when they did, there was no guarantee that they’d have adequate visibility. Griffith researched a technology called Kaptivo that solved this problem by digitizing and presenting pristine whiteboard content in full.
Kaptivo Provides the Missing Ingredient in ‘Telepresence’ Learning
Kaptivo uses patented digital image processing to render a perfect version of the whiteboard. It looks exactly like what is on the board, but better–no glare, smudges, or people in the way–and it improves legibility and crispness for easier reading. The Kaptivo device is installed above any standard dry-erase whiteboard and uses no special pens, downloads, or plugins. You view the whiteboard via the Kaptivo app using a web browser on any device, or share through your favorite video conferencing tool like Zoom, Polycom, Blue Jeans, Lifesize, and education LMS platforms such as Canvas. Kaptivo automatically chronicles your entire whiteboard session in real-time. When a significant change is made, a new snapshot is saved in a timeline, which you download individually or as multi-page PDFs. Additionally, with a single ‘click’ participants can create their own “snapshots,” which they can easily download, save or share at any time during the session.
With Kaptivo, additional screens that present digitized content from the master whiteboard can be placed throughout the room to help low-vision students see whiteboarded content regardless of where they’re seated. Students can also log into a web portal and view from their own device. This, however, also turned out to be the ‘key missing ingredient’ to the telepresence challenge. When combined with Kubi and Zoom, Kaptivo enabled remote students to fully participate in classrooms as if they were there. “About the only thing they can’t do is shake another student’s hand,” said Griffith.
Kaptivo has greatly improved the quality of learning by allowing everyone in the class–including those participating remotely as well as those physically present–to get a perfectly rendered view of all of the content that is presented on a whiteboard. Students with low vision, who typically sit closer to the front of the room, now have the freedom to sit where they’re most comfortable. And with the college’s recent upgrade to KaptivoCast, all content presented on a whiteboard can be saved and shared with students in a smart timeline that preserves not just the information, but it’s logical flow with the lecture. This was particularly important, Griffith points out, because students previously had to wait until after class was over to snap shots of whiteboards when context and meaning could be lost.
In short, with Kaptivo students can focus their attention on the immediate learning experience rather than note-taking. “We’re seeing a paradigm shift that says you no longer need to be a copy machine, but can instead use your brain cycles for engaging with the content,” said Griffith.
Thanks to the combination of Kaptivo, Zoom and Kubi, telepresence students–those who want the in-class experience but can’t physically be there–can get an equally high-quality experience that enables their full participation and meaningful interactions with instructors and peers alike. The telepresence program started with one class, but has quickly spread. Now, Griffith’s team has the ability to support any classroom at the university with this experience.
For the College of Education, this ability has provided a unique benefit by allowing students with the same education emphasis to more easily form groups based on their areas of study. “Previously when we’d have students in Chandler and students in Tucson, the groups would be broken up by geography. Now those students are able to form learning groups by their area of specialty. Students studying to be English, Math, Science teachers, etc., can associate more freely to maximize their learning experience,” said Griffith.