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How Can Universities Raise the Bar for Remote Learning?

Notre Dame's Eric Nisly and UPenn's Christopher Martin discuss emerging innovations in distance learning at the university level in this clip from Streaming Media East Connect 2020.

Christopher Martin: A lot of us in the spring semester felt like, okay, we have to go fully online, and that means we have to create the exact classroom experience on the internet. So everybody assumed "Oh, I guess we need to use a Zoom or a GoTo Meeting for and meet at the regular time each and every week." And it turns out that that's not necessarily always the right way to do it. Of course, for some classes, it's necessary to always have a live session or at least sometimes to have a live session. But focusing on course design, and whether or not it has to be live all the time, reconceptualizing, and thinking about it like, "What is the outcome that you're desiring for the course and are there other ways to achieve that?"

So, for instance, my brother Dave has just finished his first year of college (Go Dave!), and he's taken a public speaking course. And when he told me about that, I assumed, "Oh, they probably just spun up a Zoom session every week and gave presentations." And he said, "No, we used our Zoom sessions just to discuss best practices--what works, what doesn't work in public speaking. And then all the students actually recorded their public speaking presentations privately in their own homes, and then uploaded them into the LMS where students were able to go in on their own time and provide commentary and actually point out timestamps where 'There's something you said at this point that, you could have maybe done better,' or 'I really liked how you did this at this point.'"

And students were able to go back and watch themselves, which I think was a really interesting way to do it. I think it's much more helpful in that case to learn that way, because you're replaying your own public speech that you might've only given once and not been able to rewatch. So, things like that, just thinking about formatting and knowing the tools well enough to be able to provide suggestions for courses and for faculty who are looking to do this, to recreate their classes in an online setting.

Eric Nisly: Going forward, we're really looking at a plan for over four years: every classroom, having recording capabilities and conferencing capabilities too. In two-and-a-half months, Notre Dame has pushed up the start of the fall semester by two weeks now. We need to have every room to be able to be a hybrid. Some students will be able to be on campus, and we're expecting some students won't be able to. So with the expectation that every, every professor needs to be able to be recording every session, that's going to be a pretty intense lift here over summer to be equipping a few hundred classrooms of going from 15 to 400 locations to be doing records. The storage and the data contracts all have to be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, depending on which one you're talking about for the load. We've already scaled Zoom to be able to handle the conferencing, but the records of Zoom meetings like we're doing with this one, recording it for later, when you do a session with your class, you need to be able to record it.

We also just built out a full global classroom--that's what we've labeled it. There is another version--I'm not gonna say which university, cause I'll probably get it wrong--they had what they call the "Wow room," and we looked at some of that, and made it to where a professor can walk in, there's an actual operator there, large multiple screens to be able to see the students, to be able to interact with them more natively--as well as you can be natively in video. So you have large monitor on one side where everybody's speaking, then a large monitor being able to show who's talking and a large Microsoft Surface so that they can be doing more diagramming as opposed to needing to have a lightboard and changing camera angles.

But being able to integrate more interactive tools in one location and a more dynamic teaching process for those higher-end classes that need more interaction with the professor and with the content to be able to discuss the parts like formulas and outcomes and diagramming so that there is a much larger interaction. So we've equipped some of our studios that way. And then every classroom is going to be equipped with lecture capture and video conferencing.

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