Google Powers Pilot Classroom Collaboration

Alma and partner schools are the first to use new course-sharing technology for delivering learning at multiple sites.

Alma College students interact with the Jamboard. Alma College students interact with the Jamboard.

New Google technology — including the digital Jamboard — debuts in classrooms for the first time as students and faculty from Alma, Albion and Calvin colleges collaborate on a course-sharing pilot program during the winter 2018 semester.

The pilot, coordinated through the Michigan Colleges Alliance, uses conferencing technology that allows students to interact at multiple sites concurrently. Faculty from each school will teach a course to around 15 students, up to seven from the local campus and up to 14 remotely from their respective campuses.

Grand Rapids-based Steelcase also has joined the pilot program, providing new furniture for the unique classroom space on each campus.

The courses are the first to pilot this technology in education, according to Google.

Read Inside Higher Education: “Sharing Courses? Google It.”

“This is a big deal,” says Andrew Bare, assistant director of instructional technology at Alma College. “We are working with a brand-new Google product that has never been used for delivering remote learning. It’s an exciting new way to teach and expand the range of course offerings.”

Alma classroom for the Google Course Sharing Pilot. Alma classroom for the Google Course Sharing Pilot.The pilot courses are “Earth, Art and the Environment” offered through Albion, “Visual Sociology” through Calvin, and “Media Theory and Culture” taught by Alma’s Anthony Collamati, assistant professor of new media studies.

At Alma College, space in the Digital Media Commons in Swanson Academic Center has been converted into a high-tech classroom with two large monitors connected to Hangouts Meet hardware to enable high-quality video conferencing. The Hangouts Meet application enables students from all three campus sites to interact “face-to-face” with each other.

The 55-inch Jamboard — an internet-connected digital whiteboard with 4K touchscreen — provides the capability to mirror information across multiple sites. It has a variety of presentation tools, such as drawing shapes in different sizes and colors, pulling photos and website screenshots, taking pictures with a built-on webcam and video chatting/conferencing. Students at all three sites, along with the instructor, see each other and interact through the Jamboard.

In addition, students will load the Jamboard app on their tablets, effectively transforming the tablets into mini-Jamboards. Students are able to work as a whole class or in groups, even though the class is in multiple locations.

“It’s incredible that we are the first to pilot Jamboards in education with Google, along with Albion and Calvin,” says Collamati. “It’s one of the things I love about teaching at Alma; the college is open to new learning experiences and working collaboratively with companies like Google. The support has been tremendous.”

The technology allows students and instructors to collaborate and share ideas, even though two-thirds of the class are miles away in classrooms on other campuses. Students can send their questions, images and digital “sticky notes” to the Jamboard for all participants to see; the instructor can toss notes across the screen, rearrange them, and group them by category.

“The Jamboard is particularly fun,” says Collamati. “It can transcribe handwriting into type, search for images across the internet, even label ideas with digital emoji stickers. The most promising feature is its ability to link up different boards and users in real-time.

“When I teach online classes, I miss the face-to-face interaction,” he says. “This is different. There are people in classrooms, in real time, in visual sight on large displays, interacting with each other and participating in the class discussion.”

Alma College students will receive Alma credit for the NMS course and transfer credit for the Albion and Calvin classes. Alma students enrolled in the pilot courses also receive a free tablet that they can keep upon successful completion of the course.

Story published on January 31, 2018