Tech Gurus to Improve Digital Age Classrooms


Tech Gurus to Improve Digital Age Classrooms

In the race to bring technology into the classroom, many educators appear to have tripped over the electrical cord leading to their laptops that generate the ubiquitous PowerPoint presentation.

That’s according to Shufang Shi, a SUNY Cortland associate professor of instructional technology who’s seen or heard her share of reality stories. On campuses across America, hordes of yawning college students are turning on their assorted personal electronic gizmos and completely — and understandably — tuning out today’s all-too-often tedious, digital age “slide lecture.”

Typically higher education faculty view social media associated with Web 2.0 and mobile learning as being disruptive to both teaching and learning, according to Shi and her colleagues.

“Faculty who are fluent in technology don’t always get the tools or support they need,” Shi said. “Nor do they always find a cohort of support from their peers, so they do things by themselves. It’s like everyone inventing their own wheel.”

Shi and peers from three other SUNY campuses — SUNY Fredonia, Onondaga Community College and University at Buffalo — proposed a project called “4C-CITI: Four College Consortium of Innovative Technology Integration.” Shi leads the project. 

“We faculty plan to work together through mutual mentoring as we use, demonstrate and then compile exemplary teaching strategies of technology integration for teacher education programs,” Shi said. “Our goal is to pilot a collaborative model of innovative instruction and to decrease cross-program insularity and capitalize on inter-campus skills.

“SUNY-wide, particularly among teacher education programs, we need to make digital age learning an integral part of the curriculum map,” Shi said. “We want to engage future teachers in deep interaction with content and pedagogy using digital age learning tools. We want our SUNY teacher education graduates to be not only tech-savvy themselves but to be leaders in technology integration in their schools and classrooms.”

University system officials like their plan, and on Aug. 2 SUNY announced that Shi’s project proposal was among 48 of 117 submitted to receive support. The 4C-CITI project was awarded a $20,000, one-year 2012 Innovative Instruction Technology Grants (IITG), in the middle of three different funding tiers.

Shi and her multi-campus research team plan to develop what they call “digital backpacks.”

“These will help faculty use web-based tools in their teaching,” Shi explained. “CITI-4 is adapting the concept of “backpacks” from prior uses, to get useable information into faculty’s hands, about using Web-based tools in context. Too often, learning new tools is all about ‘the new cool app.’ Since ‘cool apps’ are everywhere, the project is packaging apps with teaching strategies that faculty across disciplines can use. Backpacks will include not only an intro to functional Web 2.0 tools, but — more important — how tools can fit into existing assignments, amp up student engagement, help to formatively check on student learning and more.”

They will start by identifying core “backpack tools” that have dual feasibility for use in teacher education program course work and P-8 classrooms, and that can be efficiently used to promote digital learning among future educators. Through rounds of developing, modeling, reusing and refining, collaborators will disseminate digital backpacks within the four core campuses first and, later, across the SUNY system.

The project formally began in September. Team members from the four institutions met Aug. 8 and 9 at SUNY Cortland to get an early start.

smart pen demonstration
Demonstrating the use of the smart pen, with Shufang Shi looking on, is Sharon Raimondi of SUNY Fredonia. Karl Klein follows the discussion on his laptop screen. In the photo above left, Shi, a SUNY Cortland faculty member, teaches a class. 

 “I’m a big advocate of social media in the classroom,” Shi said. “I practice what I preach: I use social media tools to build and host my own courses. I model for my students how to meaningfully integrate technology into content areas to engage school children.”

When meeting recently, the collaborators showed proficiency with all manner of real-world equipment and software, from taking notes using smartpens that record and translate the conversation, to having one member attend the meeting via Web-conferencing technology.

The giant face on the screen at that meeting was Kathleen Gradel, a professor in the Language, Learning and Leadership Department, College of Education at SUNY Fredonia.

Meanwhile at the meeting table, Sharon Raimondi, a professor of exceptional education and director of the Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education at Buffalo State College, wielded a smartpen to quickly convert written notes from the conversation to meeting minutes with a recorded transcript.

Christine Widdall, an instructor in SUNY Cortland’s Childhood/Early Childhood Education Department, used an iPad to jump around the Web for ideas while taking notes with her smartpen and carrying on the conversation with colleagues.

Karl Klein, an associate professor and chair of the Computer Studies Department from Onondaga Community College, promised to bring many ideas to the table as the group works together to develop  and disseminate exemplary teaching strategies of technology integration for teacher education programs.

The Innovative Instruction Technology Grant awards will foster study and development of areas including educational gaming tools, e-textbooks, online classes and e-portfolios for lifelong learning, according to SUNY officials. The campus innovations and initiatives that are developed have the potential to be replicated throughout the SUNY system and benefit students and faculty nationwide.

IITG encourages development of innovations that meet The Power of SUNY’s transformative vision. Grant recipients are sharing project outcomes openly, enabling SUNY colleagues to replicate and build upon an innovation.

“This new competitive grants program will enable partnerships across SUNY to leverage technology as a means to educate students,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “It serves as an excellent example of the power of SUNY to realize efficiencies through the sharing of resources and instructional partnerships within our system.”

“The IITG program puts SUNY in a position to support specific projects on our campuses that have the potential to be implemented elsewhere in the system, to the greater benefit of our faculty, staff and students across New York,” said the program’s administrator, David K. Lavallee, SUNY executive vice chancellor and provost.

A complete list of grant-funded projects is available online at All awarded projects included an assessment and communications plan to ensure that the new innovations can be openly shared and replicated across SUNY. Funded projects demonstrating potential for multi-campus use will be eligible to apply for additional funds in 2013.