MSU Information Technology (MSU IT) is proud to announce the winners of the 2021 AT&T Faculty-Staff Instructional Technology Awards. Since 2005, MSU IT has partnered with AT&T on these annual awards to help drive awareness of innovative uses of technology by instructors at Michigan State University. The awards spotlight the increasing role of technology as a driver of student success. A virtual ceremony was held on May 27 to recognize the achievements of this year’s recipients.
Best Fully Online: Liz Owens Boltz, Education College, CEPSE Department
Best Blended: Antionette Tessmer, Broad Business College, Finance Department
Best Enhanced: Kyle Shack & Candace Robertson, Education College, CEPSE Department
Best Fully Online: Jason Smith, Engineering College, CoRe Department
Best Blended: John Spink, Broad Business College, Supply Chain Department
Best Enhanced: Eva Kassens-Noor, Social Science College, School of Planning, Design and Construction & Global Urban Studies
COVID-19 created an unprecedented strain on both faculty and students, with significant challenges especially surrounding remote learning. Faculty had to rely on technology to address and overcome these challenges. This year’s award recipients all found ways to utilize technology to improve their students’ experiences during the pandemic, but their philosophies and techniques varied greatly.
For some instructors, interaction with technology was central to the curriculum.
Honorable mention recipient Eva Kassens-Noor sought to teach students about next-generation technologies by giving them hands-on experience with a variety of hi-tech hardware including Temi robots, drones, Echo Dots, and more.
“You have to look at what learners do best when they are trying to grapple with materials or skills or values. We already know there's different types of learners, so whether you're an audio-visual one or kinesthetic one we can have a different approach to learning. Technology can help with that.”
Some courses were “flipped,” meaning that the lecture materials were consumed outside of class hours, and class time was devoted to more hands-on projects. This format, along with the use of Zoom video conference rooms to facilitate virtual collaboration on projects, allowed Antoinette Tessmer and Alex Arifin’s students to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The flipped pedagogy translates online very nicely, given the Zoom technology. Without Zoom, I don’t know what we would have done.” said Antoinette. “The introduction of the technology really helps the students grasp how the course operates and dive into it.”
Others used simple enhancements to boost engagement with the traditional coursework.
Take, for example, the work of award winner Candace Robertson (along with her academic partner and fellow award winner, Kyle Shack), who narrated their lecture materials and published them as audio recordings to give students an easier-to consume and more humanizing way to engage with the content:
“My philosophy starts with a very simple sentence: It's not about the technology. We did nothing fancy, really innovative, or groundbreaking. We just did it meaningfully and intentionally.
They could listen to the content while they were doing the dishes or, even better, they could listen to the content while taking a walk, breaking away from the screen for a bit. Hearing our voices would be another touch point of a human connection for them.”
Jason Smith similarly found that the shift to online learning and the lack of person-to-person interaction made it more difficult for the students to engage with the course content. To increase engagement, he edited his lecture videos using techniques popularized by YouTube to make the content more information-dense and lively.
“If you're in a lecture hall, you know how things are going to go. There is going to be a little bit of dialogue between you and the instructor. The instructor might not always have the most straightforward path with what they're saying, but if at the end of the day it's entertaining.
When you're online, sitting in front of a computer and you're engaging with content in that way, you're expecting that content to be like everything that you have seen previously which is highly edited, information-dense, quick and to the point and as entertaining as humanly possible.”
One concept that was consistently emphasized was that technology for the sake of technology was not the right approach. Each winner tailored their technology deliberately around what would work best for their students.
John Spink emphasized this in his personal philosophy.
“My philosophy is to optimize, not maximize. Many times, we want to do something new, but it needs to be based around the key learning objectives. Then we can use assessments to make sure that the students are meeting those objectives.”
Liz Owens Boltz added, “Sometimes low-tech is the right answer. In the course that won the award, we offered opportunities for students to engage with the ideas and concepts of the course either using high-tech solutions like apps or online materials, or low-tech or no-tech options.
Maybe they’re doing some ideating on paper and pencil or Post-it notes. Technology doesn’t have to be digital. Find the right tool and thinking purposefully and critically about the tool when implementing it into a course.”
While the philosophies differed, all award recipients believed that technology could help their students learn, and all of them deserve to be recognized. Their work sets a new standard for the future of the use of technology in education for not just Michigan State University, but for the entire higher education community.
Additional information about the awards, the recipients, and their coursework can be found at att-awards.msu.edu/winners/2021.