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Technology Showcase Explores 'Serendipitous Learning Opportunities'

A room in Grand Valley State University's library gives students and faculty a chance to experiment with emerging technologies and evaluate their educational potential.

Grand Valley State University's Technology Showcase provides an immersive environment to interact with an array of emerging technologies.

One of the assignments Erica Hamilton gives her secondary education students is an exploratory field trip to the technology showcase room in the new library at Grand Valley State University (MI).

"Most of them had heard of Google Glass, but they had no idea of what it was," she said, so one goal is for them to be students and just explore. "Another goal is for them to think as teachers about whether these technologies have potential in a future classroom or not."

Hamilton's enthusiasm for the technology showcase, housed in a 14- by-17-foot room in the library's atrium level, is music to the ears of Erik Kunnen, associate director of e-learning and emerging technologies.

Kunnen joined Grand Valley two years ago just as the $65 million Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons was opening. Libraries across the country are redefining themselves as learning commons and many are adding maker spaces. But Kunnen said Grand Valley has gone a step further, because its showcase, officially opened in January 2014, provides an immersive environment to interact with an array of emerging technologies ranging from Oculus Rift to Double Robotics' telepresence robots to 3D printers.

Tech Showcase Research Areas

  • 3D Scanning and Printing
  • 3D Visualization
  • Augmented Reality
  • BYOD
  • Flipped and Hybrid Classroom
  • Game-Based Learning and Simulations
  • Gesture Computing
  • Holographics
  • Immersive Visualizations
  • Internet of Things
  • Learning Analytics
  • Mobile Computing
  • MOOCs and Online Learning
  • Open Education Resources
  • Robotics
  • Tablet Computing
  • Telepresence Solutions
  • Wearable Computing
  • Web and Cloud Computing

By continuously researching and monitoring trends, the showcase focuses on identifying emerging technologies that have potential applications across campus.

The initial concept for the showcase had been developed during the library's design phase, but not fleshed out, Kunnen said. "The dean of the library, Lee Van Orsdel, and the architecture firm SHW Group collaborated to create spaces to offer serendipitous learning opportunities," he explained. The idea was to be intentional about embedding technology into the library; to create a place where students could stop by and be exposed to new things they might not have originally come to the library for. But when Kunnen started two years ago, there was just an empty room with four outlets and a sign that read "Technology Showcase."

Kunnen went to people in IT, students and faculty with this simple question: If you were to think about a technology showcase, what would you place inside it? Based on the feedback he got, he created a one-page business plan with a vision and mission to guide the work. "We assembled the technologies, put them on display, interacted with faculty and became a destination site for students coming for orientation," he said. "Now the library can preserve the past and pioneer the future by getting faculty to think differently about how they can teach and students to think differently about how they can learn. They can envision what the backpack of the future will look like — or will they even have a backpack?"

Each semester, Kunnen has eight student assistants working in the showcase. "One of the intentions of the new library and information commons is that the building is radically student-centered," he said, "along with supporting the notion of students helping students. Students are encouraged to make the building their own." A student organization has grown up around the showcase that arranges periodic speakers on topics such as 3D printing.

Although much of the showcase foot traffic is students stopping by on their own, some faculty members find it valuable to bring their whole class to the showcase. "If you think of a faculty member teaching a popular basic computer class, when you get to the chapter on input devices, it is nice to be able to take students to the showcase and let them have experience with a laser keyboard or an armband device that allows for gesture control," Kunnen said.

One key metric of success is how many technologies faculty members are adopting after experimentation in the showcase. "If the technology never leaves the showcase, then we are doing something wrong," Kunnen said. For example, when the Chemistry department wanted a way to envision 3D molecules in the classroom, the showcase helped evaluate different 3D projector technologies. The department ended up with an Epson dual-stack projector series, with two projectors facing one screen and sending polarized light. The students wear passive glasses like the devices used for 3D movies. "It turned out to be a great way to envision a highly complex protein molecule," Kunnen said.
In another example in the College of Education, Erica Hamilton piloted the use of a Swivl camera for capturing student teaching. "I teach a practicum course where we record our own teaching and come together and talk about practices with peers," she said. After finding the Swivl very easy to use, her colleagues wrote a grant to get several Swivls to use in a graduate teacher certificate program. Some students in the program reside across the state from Grand Valley, so the Swivl cameras are used to allow faculty to observe and to provide cost-effective feedback to student teachers in rural settings without having to travel to those sites.

But for every new technology that catches on, there are others that students and faculty haven't found use for on campus yet, even if they are cool, admitted Kunnen. He and Hamilton agree that that it's important for students to recognize which technologies aren't ready for prime time. "I don't want them to think just because it is new technology it is going to be good for learning," Hamilton said. "I want to help them discern whether they would use something in class and if so, why, and if not, why not."

Overall, Hamilton sees the showcase as an amazing resource. "Whether you are working with future teachers or engineers, it is one thing to read about these technologies and it is a whole different ballgame to have them on campus. To see a 3D printer in person or create your own object is a totally different experience than watching something on YouTube," she added. "That goes to theories of learning: Humans learn faster when we have an opportunity to have hands-on experiences with whatever we are learning about and we have opportunities to try things out in practice in a low-stakes setting. The showcase is a great setting for faculty, staff and students to explore more about digital tools that are available, and even though they may not use them in their own field, just having more understanding is always good."

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