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Technology Day 2014: Creating Community Through Technology

Joshua Belknap, Developmental Skills

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How can technology promote and strengthen connections within the college community and beyond? BMCC faculty and staff gathered to exchange pedagogical ideas about this issue at Technology Day on March 5, 2014.


Presentations on Digital Storytelling and Wiki Peer Review


Michael Gillespie, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, provided introductory remarks, welcomed the attendees, and announced the first presenters: Janey Flanagan, E-Learning Center Director, and Prof. Mahatapa Palit, Business Management. Their presentation, entitled “What’s the Relevance of ‘Digital’ in Today’s Instruction?” described a three-day intensive workshop, in collaboration with the Center for Digital Storytelling, in which eight BMCC faculty and two E-Learning staff participated, to learn how to create digital stories.


Quoting educational researcher John Seely Brown, Flanagan noted that the purpose of the digital story is to “wrap context around content.” Prof. Palit explained the digital storytelling process, and underscored the community-building aspects of creating digital narratives, particularly the fact that small project groups cultivated a sense of comfort and collaborative experimentation among the participants.


“ESL Students’ Collaboration in Wiki: Focus on Peer Review” was presented by Prof. Oksana Vorobel, Developmental Skills. Prof. Vorobel explained how L2 students (students learning English language skills) can effectively use interactive wiki web sites for the purpose of peer review, as well how these students perceived the experience of online peer review on wikis as opposed to face-to-face peer reviews.


Prof. Vorobel clarified that her study was a holistic description of four adolescent ESL students, based on data she collected on the students’ online and face-to-face literacy practices. According to the data, student perception of online peer review was positive overall, and students indicated that they preferred peer review on the wiki medium because it offered the opportunity for revision, as well as the freedom and independence to work asynchronously, in contrast to peer review in the classroom, which is locked into a specific time frame and more difficult to edit and revise the feedback.


Five Minutes of Fame Presentations


Since 2012, faculty and staff have offered “Five Minutes of Fame” presentations. These explicative demonstrations give faculty and staff a five-minute opportunity to present technology they have employed successfully, and describe the pedagogical thinking underlying their use of technology in the classroom. Presentations are followed by a brief Q & A session.


What are some advantages and challenges of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platform? Prof. Colin Persaud, Computer Information Systems, talked about this. According to Prof. Persaud, while MOOCs attempt to address the problems of higher education access and affordability by delivering free online courses, the dropout rate for MOOCs is extremely high (approximately 96%), and there are potential pedagogical problems at play as well, such as little to no feedback on assignments and exams, no advising, and no face-to-face interaction with experienced faculty. These are particular problems for under-served and low income students, which are precisely the students that MOOCs are meant to assist. One possible way to address these issues, according to Prof. Persaud, is to use flipped/hybrid MOOCs: students enroll in MOOCs, which combine online learning with traditional brick-and-mortar classes.


Prof. Deniz Gokcora, Developmental Skills, spoke of the benefits of using a bookmarking collaborative research program, Diigo, to create community in the classroom. Student members of the same group of readers in the same Diigo account have access to, and can read and comment on each others’ articles. There is also a sticky note feature that allows students to highlight specific sentences and post comments, which can then be integrated into their essays. Prof. Gokcora explained that students can create a sense of community as well as gain new confidence in their research and writing skills as members of the same course groups.


Prof. Chris McCarthy, Mathematics, talked about R, a language and software designed for statistical computing, graphics and analysis. R is open source software and is popular in both academia and in private industry. Prof. McCarthy discussed the pros and cons of the software, describing the learning curve challenges, as well as R’s potential uses to create graphics, histograms, linear regression visuals, as well as using R as a statistics calculator.


“Do you allow smartphones in you classroom?” asked Prof. Jun Liang Rice, Science. “Raise your hand if you do,” she said. Only a few attendees raised their hands. However, Prof. Rice detailed how useful students’ smartphones can be in the biology lab. Using the smartphone’s camera function allows students to photograph cells through the eyepiece of compound microscopes. Students can capture cell nuclei, plasma membranes, and cell shape change during osmosis. Students can also videotape color changes during chemical reactions or cytoplasmic streaming in live plant cells. Students become much more engaged in the learning process and in the biology lab activities when they create photo and video images of the microscopic objects they observe, according to Prof. Rice.


Professor Michelle Wang, Business Management, spoke about overseeing student career e-portfolio projects, using a website (free for educators and students) called Epsilen. Prof. Wang implemented two such projects, in Fall 2012 and Summer 2013, in which 49 students participated. Prof. Wang described what she learned over the course of the respective projects, and how to improve factors of success for the students For example, she found that a successful career e-portfolio project requires one-on-one instructor coaching, frequent feedback, technical support, weekly lab hours, motivation to work outside of the classroom, and an embedded project grade.

“Using Educational Technology to Enhance Effective Math Teaching and Learning” was the focus of the five minute presentation by Prof. Lina Wu, Mathematics, and College Laboratory Technician Zhi Wu, Mathematics. They described how to use Maple 16 software as a tool to facilitate student learning in advanced math courses. The software Maple 16 generates different art diagrams by “translating” graphing equations into visual art. The underpinning pedagogical goals of the project included improving students’ conceptual understanding of polar graphing in calculus as well as developing student skills in using the software itself. Prof. Wu’s students created a 2014 Polar Art Calendar.

Walk Up and Learn

The final hour of Technology Day consisted of additional hands-on demos at workstations equipped with laptop computers. These presentations gave attendees the opportunity to interact with demonstrators, ask questions and see the instructional technology in action. Presentations included:

·       “Making Commenting Personal and Efficient with the iPad” (Prof. Christa Baiada, English)

·       “Digital Storytelling in the Classroom at BMCC” (Prof. Deborah Gambs, Social Sciences and Human Services, and Prof. Shoba Bandi-Rao, Developmental Skills)

·       “E-Portfolios at BMCC: Implementation of Digication in FLA and ASAP and the Pedagogical Value of Using Digication in the Classroom” (Alexandra Pyak and Angela McAleese, Freshman Learning Academy; Leslie Leppert-McKeever, ASAP; and Prof. Eda Henao, Modern Languages)

·       “Creating Interactive Online Lessons with Softchalk” (Ruru Rusmin, E-Learning Center)

·       “Levelfly Learning Management System” (Diana Caban, E-learning Center)

·        “Blackboard Mobile Learn App” (Donna Dickinson, E-Learning Center)

·       “Diigo” (Prof. Saniye Deniz Gokcora, Developmental Skills)

·       “E-Learning Orientation Course for Students” (Alex Pereira, E-Learning Center)

A special thanks to all of those who served on the Technology Day Planning Committee: Co-Chair Mary Sepp, Developmental Skills; Co-Chair Joshua Belknap, Developmental Skills, ESL Lab; Associate Dean Michael Gillespie, Academic Affairs; Shoba Bandi-Rao, Developmental Skills; Diana Caban, E-Learning Center; Louis Chan, Public Affairs; Donna Dickinson, E-Learning Center; Peter Dinh, Public Affairs; Gregory Farrell, Learning Resource Center; Janey Flanagan, E-Learning Center; Saniye Deniz Gokcora, Developmental Skills; David Krauss, Science; Tom Lew, Instructional Technology Services; Vinton Melbourne, Media Center; Melinda Neus, E-Learning Center; Colin Persaud, Computer Information Systems; Ruru Rusmin, E-Learning Center; Nadia Sandy-Bruce, Learning Resource Center; Oksana Vorobel, Developmental Skills; Tom Volpe, Public Affairs; Lisa White, Media Center; and Acting Director of CETLS, Susie Boydston-White, Science.