By Aline Batawi
New technology pioneered by Google was used for the first time this semester by faculty and students at Alma, Albion and Calvin. It allows for classes to be taught across the three campuses.
“This technology enables Alma to reach students on other campuses and for students to take classes not offered at their institutions,” said Justin Fonley, learning technology coordinator.
The three colleges are the first to pilot some aspects of this technology.
The courses offered are all 300 level classes and include “Earth, Art, and the Environment” offered through Albion, “Visual Sociology” at Calvin and “Media Theory and Culture” taught on Alma’s campus by New Media Studies Assistant Professor Anthony Collamati.
“Especially with advanced subject matter it’s hard to offer a class as often as it needs to be offered because faculty are trying to cover the basics for students,” said Collamati. “This is a way for students here to take courses that aren’t offered at Alma.”
This pilot technology was coordinated through the Michigan Colleges Alliance. With Google support, this is the first time this technology has been piloted in education.
“This is a first,” said Fonley. “Alma hasn’t often gotten to be a first in working with new technologies and the technology is unique which makes it exciting.”
“To be the very first to be piloting Google technology at Alma College of course, is exciting,” said Andrew Bare, assistant director of instructional technology. “For someone who works every day with technology in teaching and learning it doesn’t get more exciting than being able to test new Google technology.”
The most unique aspect of this how the classes function is an interactive whiteboard called Jamboard, developed by Google. This is the first time the Jamboard has been used in an education setting.
“What makes this whiteboard special is you can connect it to other Jamboards at the other schools,” said Bare. “So we have our Jamboard connected with a Jamboard at Albion and Calvin during classes: you can have someone write something on the screen at Calvin and it appears here at Alma.”
“You can connect the Jamboards through an app and you can use that app on tablets, touchscreen computers, and Chromebooks and you can connect into the same session that the Jamboard is in,” said Bare. “From those tablets you can add things on to the Jamboard.”
“The Jamboard brings so many advantages of digital instruments,” said Collamati. “It can archive things, it can connect to the internet, you can clip images and pages and drag them in, the ability to do more hands-on exercises is easier.”
According to Bare, that aspect of the Jamboard is what has never been piloted before. Other institutions have purchased Jamboards and may or may not be using them but Alma, Albion and Calvin are the very first pilot of the Jamboard in education.
According to Fonley, the three schools are able to connect via Google Hangouts, which is a communication platform developed by Google that acts much like FaceTime.
So far, the execution of the technology has been smooth and with the help of Google Support has been an easy use.
“We’re in contact regularly with the Google techs who are working with us and they’re looking for our input and feedback on this,” said Bare. “They’re looking for feedback from our students and I feel the excitement from the students who are in the class because I think they’re getting the idea that this is something big.”
According to Fonley, there have only been minor glitches and no major issues. The fluidity of the classes has not been effected and has been executed seamlessly.
Although this technology is still in the early stages of use, there is an air of promise that surrounds it.
“I think everyone sees potential in it,” said Collamati. “I want to give the best shot I have of trying to bring out the best that it has to offer. We want to use it to enrich the time students have here and to give them more options.”
“I think faculty and students have a lot of ideas about how they can use this technology in different courses and that’s exciting,” said Collamati
“I think one goal with this is strengthening course offerings,” said Bare. “It is a way of sharing strengths between campuses.”
According to Fonley, the classes right now are small but in the future, it could expand across campuses.
Ultimately, this new piloted technology could change the way education is approached and hopefully create a more interactive and diverse way of learning for students and faculty.