"The student demand for bandwidth is incredible. Fortunately, with technology, there is always something newer or better on the horizon," says IIT's Nima Nemaei.

Sep 24 2011

Support Collaborative Learning with Enhanced Technology

The more technology universities deploy, the more likely they are to aid collaborative learning environments.

What's in a name? When administrators at Illinois Institute of Technology thought about that, it drove their efforts to become a teaching institution with high-caliber IT.

"Most students are coming to campus with not only laptops but multiple devices that need wireless connectivity," says IIT Technology Manager Nima Nemaei. "They want more bandwidth and faster connections, and they want to walk everywhere, even outside, and get coverage. And we have to answer that challenge."

That's why the private university in Chicago has invested heavily in equipping its classrooms with projectors, document cameras and other 21st century teaching tools. The institute has bolstered its distance learning program in recent years with more online courses, and, more recently, invested in one-to-one computing and mobile learning.

In fall 2010, IIT launched an initiative to give free tablets to faculty and freshman students with the aim of increasing collaboration and making learning more interactive.

Through a mobile app, students and professors can use the tablets or their personal smartphones to access the campus course management system. Once on the CMS, they can chat via blogs and discussion boards. To ensure ample bandwidth, the IT staff is in the midst of upgrading the Wi-Fi network with new 802.11n equipment across IIT's five campuses.

Colleges and universities coast to coast are investing in educational technologies to enhance learning, prepare students for future careers, and attract and retain students.

Today, 92 percent of current high school students and 87 percent of current college students say technology offerings are an important factor when choosing colleges, according to the 2011 CDW•G 21st Century Campus Report, based on a survey of students, professors, and IT and college administrators in higher education.

But even though 98 percent of college administrators say learning and mastering tech skills will improve students' educational and career opportunities, administrators point out that attracting and retaining students (along with addressing budget shortfalls) are much higher priorities than technology. In fact, just 22 percent of administrators identified using technology to improve student learning as a priority.

"Because technology always changes, we will always be updating equipment," says Stetson University's Gerry Ewing.

Photo: Alex Mcknight

The result is a disconnect between administrators' priorities and what students expect of campus technology. Colleges, however, can use technology as a differentiator and a way to retain and attract students, the survey concludes.

Gartner Analyst Ron Bonig agrees: "Students want to interact with their institutions with whatever mobile device or devices that they bring to campus. And the level of sophistication and breadth of technology adoption on a campus is one of the differentiators between institutions that students are looking for."

Even if administrators are reluctant, the move toward the creation of 21st century classrooms (with projectors and student response systems that allow faculty to deliver interactive, multimedia-rich presentations) continues. Plus, increasingly, campuses are adopting new technologies outside the classroom such as online learning, electronic textbooks and other digital content, and supporting mobile devices such as tablets.

Wanted: Bandwidth

Students and faculty rate wireless networks as the most essential classroom technology. Today, 85 percent of IT staffers polled say they have installed wireless networks – and IIT is no exception.

31% of students in 2011 say they use technology as a learning tool in class every day (a 12% increase from the previous year).

SOURCE: CDW•G 2011 21st Century Campus Report, July 2011

The 7,700-student research university, with programs in engineering, sciences, architecture and five other disciplines, was an early adopter of Wi-Fi. It first installed 802.11b access points in 1999 and upgraded to 802.11g a few years ago. But in May 2010, faced with an explosion of personal devices and the launch of its free tablet program, the college needed to upgrade its existing system, which at the time supported 54 megabits per second of throughput.

The IIT staff purchased 802.11n Meru Networks equipment and access points capable of providing up to 300Mbps of throughput. It's perfect for a dense user environment where students carry multiple devices into classrooms, and residence halls house up to six students per room, Nemaei says. Students can roam around using their devices without losing a connection.

"The student demand for bandwidth is incredible," Nemaei says. "Fortunately, with technology, there is always something newer or better on the horizon, so we can keep updating our access points."

The new Wi-Fi equipment includes wireless controllers, which centralize and ease management of the access points. The systems network controls let the IT department manage bandwidth globally and separate voice, video and data traffic to ensure that the most important applications, such as campus voice communications and emergency notifications, get the bandwidth they require, Nemaei says.

The university has installed 468 access points in its residential buildings, on the main campus and on the downtown campus. This school year, IIT plans to purchase more access points to upgrade remaining campus locations as well as improve outdoor coverage at the main campus.

Overall, the new Wi-Fi network satisfies student requirements. "The performance is good. With 802.11n, it's faster with better download rates, and that's all they care about," Nemaei says.

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At the Desk

At Stetson University, like IIT, technology refreshment is a continuous effort.

"We are never finished. Because technology always changes, we will always be updating equipment," says Gerry Ewing, director of technology applications at the private college in DeLand, Fla.

Stetson aims to keep the technology in its classrooms current so that its faculty and students have the latest teaching and learning tools.

In 2001, the university began furnishing each of its classrooms with a ceiling-mounted projector, desktop computer, document camera, sound system, and VHS and DVD players. Most classrooms also have Crestron control systems and touch panels, allowing professors to easily toggle between the classroom suite of devices and changing audio volume.

"I'm a big believer in multimedia classrooms. There is such a wealth of visual materials out there that is beyond boring ­PowerPoints," Ewing says. "If professors show students a short YouTube video or zoom in to a location with Google Earth, it can make a better impact than just lecturing to students."

Every year since 2001, Stetson has installed technology in as many classrooms as its budget would allow, reaching a maximum of 105 classrooms about two years ago. The IT staff now is circling back to each room to refresh equipment.

Projectors, for example, typically last six to 10 years. Stetson is replacing older projectors with new models that are brighter and offer much higher resolutions and crisper images, Ewing says.

The university, which recently purchased 20 new projectors, standardized on Panasonic three years ago because it found these to be the most cost-effective and easiest to maintain. Panasonic's projectors have an automatic cleaning filter, and the lamps cost much less and last up to three times longer than other makers' projectors, he says.

Ewing is also installing 26 new Elmo document cameras that feature SD memory cards so that instructors can capture images, such as handwritten lecture notes, and project them on the screen. Faculty can also plug the SD cards into their computers and upload images to the campus CMS so students can access them as well.

On-the-Go Learning

Today's students, whether living on campus or not, want access to online courses; they also want access to digital content, such as electronic textbooks and other course materials; and they want to be able to use ever-smaller devices. In fact, when CDW•G asked IT staffers to identify critical technologies, 44 percent said smartphones, 40 percent said tablets and 31 percent said e-readers.

Northeastern University's Educational Technology Center, which provides technology resources and professional development for faculty, launched an initiative in 2010 to increase the use of digital media and mobile learning.

To encourage faculty to embrace such technologies and learning approaches, Northeastern offers its professors a free digital camera with HD video, an audio recorder or a free tablet if they incorporate digital media or mobile applications in their coursework.

"Students increasingly have the expectation that their education will be mobile, social and connected," says

Alicia Russell, the Boston university's director of educational technology. "They are less willing to simply sit in a classroom and listen to a professor. They want to take possession of their learning and be more engaged."

72% of faculty and 66% of students say digital content – such as electronic textbooks, class notes and other course materials online – is essential to a 21st century classroom. Yet only 15% of colleges use digital content as an alternative to traditional print textbooks.

SOURCE: CDW•G 2011 21st Century Campus Report, July 2011

Northeastern faculty use podcasts, wikis, blogs, social networks and online collaboration tools, and they often ask students to develop digital stories or short documentaries
using video, audio, music and photo slideshows, she says.

Digital content is also on the rise at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz. Its library offers films on demand. Teachers can also reserve reading materials online, allowing students to review book passages or magazine articles as PDF documents, says Don Carter, NAU's director of e-learning. In addition, some professors use Camtasia Studio software to record short lectures as videos that are then uploaded to the campus CMS, he says.

These types of learning techniques are becoming the norm: 65 percent of students say they have taken online courses, according to the CDW•G report. Today, 75 percent of campuses offer virtual learning, 68 percent support video conferencing, and 61 percent support lecture capture. (To read more about how schools are blending online and in-class instruction, turn to "The Right Mix.")

Stetson University has piloted online learning, offering 10 online courses each of the past two summers. University leaders say that it's important to provide students with interactive, face-to-face instruction, so all the online classes were conducted live through video conferencing on computers, Ewing says.

In one class, a professor taught from Pennsylvania, while students logged in from as far away as Chile, Norway and Japan.

"It was very successful," he says. "We see it as a way students can travel in the summer and still complete the courses they need to graduate."

At IIT, when the fall 2010 semester started, the university gave iPads to about 500 incoming freshmen and about 50 undergraduate instructors. The university issued a standard set of applications, including in-house apps that provide notification of emergencies, let students register for classes and give all users access to course materials online.

To download the complete CDW•G 2011 21st Century Campus Report, go to www.cdwg.com/21stcenturycampus.

"The iPad is a one-stop shop for all their information, and it's a computational tool too," says Mike Gosz, IIT's vice provost of undergraduate affairs.

This past fall, the university issued the tablets to 530 incoming freshmen. The devices encourage more interactive learning among students, Gosz says.

"Instead of passing a paper or a laptop to see the screen, they just turn their devices and sharing occurs very quickly," he says. "The students love it, and we feel it adds to the educational experience and helps differentiate us in the market."

Reaching out: Campus tools and capabilities

Wireless access, course management systems and remote access to the school network top the list of technologies used by colleges today.

85% Wireless network and Internet service
79% Course management system
72% Remote access to campus network
65% Video and/or web conferencing
59% Virtual learning
49% Multimedia content streaming
48% Recorded class lectures
47% Student response systems
45% Open-source applications
43% Podcasts and vodcasts
41% Blogs and wikis
34% Tablets
16% E-reader devices

SOURCE: CDW•G 2011 21st Century Campus Report, July 2011

Helping Your Faculty Catch Up

Even though 81 percent of colleges provide professional development, faculty still struggle with technology.

Faculty, students and campus administrators say the biggest challenge to campus technology integration is faculty's lack of technology knowledge.

To improve training, those polled for the CDW•G 2011 21st Century Campus Report said campuses need to have tech-savvy faculty teach their peers, and that colleges need to provide training that is discipline-specific.

According to the report, training professors with a general approach to technology is often not helpful because it doesn't apply to their disciplines.

Boston's Northeastern University, for example, holds an annual conference where professors speak about their successes and strategies with classroom technology. Northeastern's Educational Technology Center also invites faculty from individual departments to meet to discuss their needs and to collaborate.

"It's important to have colleagues in the same discipline talk about their problems, so they can work together," says Alicia Russell, Northeastern's director of educational technology. "They don't always want to hear from us. They want to hear from each other."

<p>Callie Lipkin</p>

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