It’s an October afternoon, and Lab 266 at 808 Commonwealth Avenue—one of five state-of-the-art classrooms belonging to Metropolitan College—is being fine-tuned for optimal audio. The question of the moment is how to capture the voices of the instructor and students, but not the omnipresent hum of the central air or the busy tapping of dozens of keyboards.
These high-tech labs represent the cutting edge of MET’s ongoing explorations in the realm of technology and pedagogy. Fitted with cameras, projectors, whiteboards, and numerous microphones—as well as an array of computer workstations—the rooms serve as ground-zero for the multimedia presentations of instructors who simultaneously lead class, record their lectures, address the queries of those attending remotely, and contribute to an archive of learning tools available to students.
Essentially, the labs enable faculty to create a virtual learning environment while hosting a live class, and serve as ideal resource for the College’s blended courses—which are offered primarily online with a set number of on-campus plenary meetings. Most importantly, the technology supports innovation in the classroom, enhancing faculty creativity and the student learning experience.
“We have what I think are the best classrooms in the University,” asserts Associate Professor of Computer Science Robert Schudy, who teaches courses on campus, online, and in the blended format. “They offer quality video and audio recording of whatever happens in the classroom.”
This is critical, because Schudy’s classroom—like many at MET—is populated by students with a host of learning styles, among them those who want weekly evening classes on campus, and those who want a blended experience combining some campus time with the added flexibility of learning online from wherever they may be. In some cases, students in blended courses are able to attend classes remotely, via webcam—which allows for additional flexibility with busy schedules.
Schudy has fully embraced the use of technology in his classes. “More and more, I’m starting to use ‘flipped classrooms,’ where traditional lecture content is actually handled online,” says Schudy. This allows classroom time to be devoted to topical discussions and problem-solving. Students in Schudy’s on-campus course, Advanced Database Management, also have access to a fully developed online course website, complete with all the lectures, multimedia content, interactive animations, and other features designed to optimize the student distance learning experience. By providing this content to participants in his on-campus course, Schudy ensures that students have continuous access to the lectures, research, and examples they need to excel. Conversely, by incorporating the recordings made for his oncampus class into the online classes, he is able to meet students’ various approaches to learning. “It’s given me a better appreciation for how differently different people learn,” says Schudy. “There are extraordinary advantages to meeting students’ learning needs through the technology available to us here at MET.”
“Professor Schudy has adopted the blended format from the point of view of assured modality—that this is the way education will happen in the future,” says Leo Burstein, IT architect in MET’s Educational Technology Research office, who is charged with researching and identifying viable educational technologies. “Students get the best of both worlds, on campus and online, and it has enabled us to create a more enriching educational experience.”
While today’s learners—especially MET students, who typically balance a profession, a home life, and academic studies—may be more adept at multitasking with multimedia technologies and devices, Burstein says one of the College’s goals is to make the technology more accessible and useful to users.
“Once the Educational Technology Research team decides on a specific educational technology, MET’s IT office works closely with them—from piloting through implementation to developing support services to ensure that the technology can be used by faculty and students effectively,” explains Julia Burstein (MET’10), who manages information systems and services for MET.
“The technological support is extraordinary,” affirms Assistant Professor of Administrative Sciences Irena Vodenska (UNI’09), who has not only been supported by the educational technology staff, but also encouraged to use technology in developing multimedia representations of lecture material. “I was trained to be self-sufficient, to record audio and video sessions by myself, to set up and use the cameras and the tablet, and to record in my office whenever it’s most convenient for me. Educational technology at MET has been a goldmine for me to continuously explore and introduce enhanced methods of delivering material to students.”
Vodenska stresses that MET’s educational technology has done more than inspire faculty. It has helped students grasp complex concepts. “Instead of listening to a lecture once and reading the book, they have the opportunity to see and hear the same concepts in different formats. They can analyze these ideas from different angles, greatly improving the overall learning experience and knowledge retention.”
Educational technology has applications beyond computer science and business courses. According to Rachel Black, assistant professor and coordinator of gastronomy, “We have very well-known faculty who are not based in Boston. In their blended courses, they work with Leo Burstein to record lectures, and then they fly out to Boston twice during the semester for live classes. These are people who are the very best in the field, and we can bring them here to Boston virtually, and in person, throughout the semester.”
In Black’s blended travel course, Culture and Cuisine: Québec, students may attend on campus or entirely online, but all travel to Canada for the on-site component. “The technology makes the online experience much more dynamic. I give real-time lectures, but also have seminar sessions with the students where they can ask questions and present materials online. And, I record all those sessions for students who can’t log in synchronously.”
Dean Tanya Zlateva considers MET one of the early adopters of educational technology. “Technology has the potential to transform education,” she says. “The virtual world offers unprecedented multi-modal experiences—video, voice, animations, simulations, asynchronous and synchronous chats, threaded discussions, discussion boards, a variety of collaboration tools, real-time video with application sharing for live team meetings, presentations, and conferences. Our mission is to integrate the multimedia tools in a balanced and thoughtful way, and create an environment that promotes learning—while bridging the distance between student and teacher.
“It took millennia to go from the spoken to the written word and illuminated book,” Zlateva concludes. “It took about a century to go from a live theater performance to an asynchronous cinematic experience. In modern education we are trying to integrate all of the above, to keep the student engaged, and, as a result, also achieve measurable transfer of knowledge.”