7 technology considerations to support on-campus blended synchronous instruction

UIC is preparing to offer four learning models for the fall 2021 semester: online asynchronous, online synchronous, on-campus hybrid and on-campus blended synchronous.

Depending on conditions for the fall, the on-campus blended synchronous instruction may be the most used for undergraduate courses with enrollment of fewer than 100 students. This model allows students to have in-person instruction and offers flexibility for those students unable to come to campus, blending together face-to-face and synchronous online elements. While technology is needed for all learning models, perhaps the on-campus blended synchronous requires the most planning of all.

The Center for the Advancement of Teaching Excellence (CATE) in partnership with Technology Solutions and various College IT departments are working together to prepare classroom technology and network connectivity to support lecture capture and live-streaming in as many spaces as possible. However, classroom hardware and network connectivity are not the only technology components required for effective flexible learning.

Successfully creating on-campus blended synchronous learning relies on leveraging the right learning tools. In a recent white paper by Christine Skopec from Collegis Education, seven technology components are identified as key components of flexible learning. Below, we describe them and explain how they are present in UIC’s learning ecosystem:

  1. A centralized hub for the course —Students need to be able to log into a centralized system to access course materials, participate in discussions and verify due dates. And these platforms are just as crucial for instructors. UIC uses Blackboard as a learning management system.
  2. A synchronous web conference system — Students can chat, talk, and see each other using video streaming to allow remote students to attend class in real time. At UIC, there are two tools recommended: Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate. Some useful features include: polling, breakout rooms, chat functionality, screenshare capabilities, and mobile access.
  3. A video platform service —There will also be instances when students will need to miss class due to illness or a scheduling conflict. In any of these cases, being able to access recorded content is crucial.  UIC offers two video platforms: Echo360 and Panopto. Both integrate with Blackboard and include Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology to provide automated closed captioning, as well as other features such as indexing of lectures.
  4. High-quality classroom hardware — Depending on the classroom, a flexible classroom setup would include: high-quality cameras, microphones, speakers, monitors or displays, computer and tablets. UIC has only seven spaces in which a true HyFlex learning environment is possible, where both students and instructors are able to see and hear one another. However, CATE and Technology Solutions are partnering with UIC Colleges to improve classrooms and allow for the recording and live streaming of classes via Echo360 hardware or software-based solutions. While this KB article shows the AV systems available at UIC today, a searchable database of classrooms and its capabilities is being developed so instructors can see the hardware available per classroom.
  5.  An integrated ecosystem — Microphones connect to video software, video software must connect to the LMS, and the LMS must integrate to the student information system (SIS). UIC instructors and students are automatically added to the Blackboard (LMS) course site from Banner (SIS). With a tool like Acadly, attendance is automated and grades for activities are synced in Blackboard while using Zoom to livestream, and Zoom recordings can be automatically moved to Panopto and Echo360 from the user’s settings. With Echo360 hardware, all active learning can happen in one application available to students from Blackboard.
  6. Accessibility — An instructor leading a well-designed course that incorporates technology will only be effective if students are able to participate. However, faltering internet connections and lack of an adequate device can pose serious problems for students. Echo360 and Panopto make it possible that asynchronous content is always available so that students can catch up later if they were struggling with their internet connection during class. Additionally, the COVID-19 Long-Term Laptop and Hotspot loaner program will continue to help students who lack access to a computer and estable internet connectivity.
  7. On-demand support — It’s always possible that something could go wrong during a critical moment during class. Instructors and students alike should be able to call a hotline to seek assistance with their issue. At UIC, the LTS Support team responds to teaching with technology requests and incidents both for classroom technologies and learning systems, including the LMS and all centrally managed EdTech tools, like Echo360 and Panopto. Additionally, Technology Solutions supports instructors and students with internet connectivity, communications, and identity issues. Furthermore, localized IT in the colleges provide another support mechanism to respond to instructors and students’ questions.

As CATE partners with the various colleges to prioritize technology for this initiative, we will focus on what’s essential for providing the type of education experience UIC students expect. It’s important to point out that intentional course design, technical and instructional support for instructors, and adequate faculty training are essential components in any of the learning modalities. Overall, with proper preparation and a willingness to be flexible, the classroom technology at UIC will allow instructors to use on-campus blended synchronous instruction successfully this fall.

To learn more about UIC teaching in Fall 2021, join the CATE Summer Institute kickoff meeting. Register at teaching.uic.edu/programs/instructors/summer-institute

For questions, contact the Center for the Advancement of Teaching Excellence (CATE) at teaching@uic.edu

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