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The Power of Innovation with Collaboration Technology

By Terry Vahey, CIO and Associate Vice President for IT Services, San José State University


Terry Vahey, CIO and Associate Vice President for IT Services, San José State University

Powering Silicon Valley

San Jose State University is Silicon Valley’s number one source of graduates in education, engineering, computer science and business. In 2012, the university embarked on a five year journey to upgrade the technology infrastructure with the goal of enhancing student success through continuous learning innovations.

"Instant feedback and communication has enhanced the learning experience while opening up a breadth of opportunities for the students, regardless of geography"

The university now boasts a robust suite of collaboration technology. But what exactly is collaboration? We know it is crucial in today’s global environment in order for any business to succeed including higher education. The earlier we can get students to understand collaboration and working in collaborative, interdisciplinary environments, the more successful they will be when they enter the workplace.

The goal and the power of collaboration technology is that it allows people to share information as naturally as possible. We do this by providing the best collaboration tools to connect with peers and other organizations and empowering people to work their way where, when, and how they want without limits. Then we help people innovate to develop ideas and solve problems.

Two key dynamics serve as catalytic forces for technology innovation in a higher education learning environment. The first is the current generation of undergraduate students who are largely millennials, born 1980 - 2000. Millennials expect technology to simply work so you better make sure that it does. They are multitaskers, often described as digital natives connected and predisposed to collaborating and cooperating with each other. The better you understand the behavior and preferences of millennials, the better you will understand how to harness it as strength through collaboration technology.

The other key dynamic is the collaboration between the IT department and the faculty community. A 2013 Campus Computing Survey identified helping faculty members integrate technology into teaching as the most important goal for senior technology administrators at 451 two and four year colleges and universities. This remains a big challenge but finding the early adopters has been a key to success at San Jose State University.

Empowering Technology Adoption

Julia Curry Rodriguez is an associate professor of Mexican American Studies in the College of Social Sciences. In the spring of 2103, she was assigned to teach a Public Speaking class. Many of the students were the first in their families to attend college and had some challenges with higher education. Curry had requested a new Next Generation classroom equipped with greater technology before knowing she would be teaching a Public Speaking class and discovered a unique use for Lecture Capture.

Lecture Capture was intended for faculty to videotape their lectures so that students could review the materials outside of class. Curry used the option to record her students rather than herself. Like many faculty, she didn’t have much time to attend classes to learn the technology. She went to the intersession instruction and when the semester began, she asked for technical support to help her jumpstart the class until feeling comfortable with the tools.

Unintentionally, she began to flip her class, recording students giving their speeches. Students were able to use the recordings to learn their own speaking techniques, and developed critiques of themselves and their peers. Perhaps the most important outcome was that students could critique themselves to find both strengths and weaknesses and to demystify their own public speaking fears. An added bonus of using Lecture Capture was that Curry could spend her time focusing on the students, not taking notes. Then, by grading while watching the recorded speech, she could show her students how they met the requirements, where they excelled, and where there was room for improvement.

In 2014, Prof. Curry received a Distinguished Service Award for her work with economically disadvantaged students nationally and at SJSU.

Creating a Culture of Innovation

The fast pace of change, now marked by technology cycles that last two to three years, has enabled us to provide ubiquitous technology to faculty and students. This enables all students to collaborate with WebEx in and out of the classroom. We no longer need specially built classrooms for collaboration.

We have brought TelePresence inside the classroom, delivering high definition, high quality sound with visiting lecturers from other universities and industry without having the expense of travel with each visit. We record the lectures so faculty and students can review the entire lecture at a later date, or edit portions of it for specific assignments. These technologies allow the faculty to teach innovatively in traditional lecture, flipped learning and hybrid approaches. Providing options to faculty gives them the freedom to teach in the most effective way for their course.

San José State University's Incubator Classroom is a learning space designed to facilitate teaching and learning. The classroom enables professors to experiment with flexible learning environments and every piece of classroom technology is selected to enhance faculty student interaction, encourage active learning and increase student involvement.

Incubator classrooms have every piece of technology available in the classroom. These are the most used rooms on campus, giving students time to learn the technology without having to teach the technology directly. Technical support is provided in the classroom.

In the Spring2016, SJSU will introduce IT Ambassadors to help students understand the limitless possibilities of using technology to learn. As previously noted, millennials are often regarded as digital natives. Exposure to technology in the early years is believed to give digital natives a greater familiarity with and understanding of technology than people who were born before it was widespread.

Keys to Success

The absolute trigger to technology adoption is finding the early adopters and there are some common sense reasons for being an early adopter. When the technology provider has a good reputation, when there’s good support in place, when there’s a lot to be gained, and when it’s a good time for change, you have everything to gain by getting on board early.

Provide support where it is needed and enable it with resources. Give people the tools and show them the possibilities. The serendipity of technology is that many people will figure out how to use it or find new ways to use it.

Lastly, recognize innovation and the early adopters. There is nothing more successful than success. At SJSU, we are committed to creating an environment of unbounded learning with an innovative, engaged learning community to prepare students with adaptive skills and knowledge for a global 21st century.

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