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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

UNCP’s interactive video classrooms are ready to travel

The future of distance education has arrived at UNC Pembroke.

UNCP’s offices of Distance Education (DE) and Information Technology (DoIT) held an open house on November 10 to demonstrate an interactive video classroom (IVC) for faculty. They communicated with distant sites from the mountains to the coast.

Charles Tita

Charles Tita

Robert Orr

Robert Orr

Terry Locklear

Terry Locklear

Black Line

The technology – a smart board, 52-inch TV, cameras, microphones and controller - allows UNCP professors to teach in more than one location simultaneously, while maintaining a high level of interactivity with students.

Four faculty members who tested the classrooms in the fall semester gave their endorsements.

Business professor Dr. Rami Maysami co-taught a class in Asian economics at UNCP and China.

“Technology is really good when it’s working,” Dr. Maysami said. “It worked well.”

But there is an IVC learning curve, he said, and teaching internationally can pose difficulties at times.

“I went to China for four days to get their site ready,” Dr. Maysami said. “They had a totally different idea about IVC. They thought it meant videotaping the class.”

Bandwidth in China is another issue and so was the time difference, but the economics professor said: “the best part was our students talking to their students.”

Social work professor Dr. Veronica Hardy taught a class at UNCP and to the Sandhills Community College cohort. She offered teaching tips for future IVC instructors.

“One thing I did was get a lot of feedback from the students to make sure they were involved,” Dr. Hardy said. “Teaching this way takes a lot of planning - don’t spring a guest speaker at the last minute on the class.”

There was a high level of participation with students at the remote site, Dr. Hardy said. She made a point of checking students on the monitor.

Social work professors Georgiana Mack and Veronica McPhatter said they were “fearful” at first but that soon passed.

“I had not taught an IVC class or an online class before,” Mack said. “Our fears dissolved quickly.”

“Don’t be afraid because there is a team behind you,” McPhatter said. “Also, be flexible and preparation is critical.

“Our staff at Sandhills is very helpful with handouts and tests,” McPhatter said. “We learned to use Blackboard to give tests online and provide materials for the class.”

Representatives from DoIT and Distance Education (DE) made presentations at the open house.

“There is a need to reach out and create distance education opportunities,” said Dr. Robert Orr, UNCP’s chief information officer. “We’re trying to reduce the sneaker net – that is running up and down the roads.”

Dr. Orr spoke to a group of 22 at the open house from a Wilmington, N.C., restaurant.

Dr. Charles Tita, DE director, supervised the installation of IVC classrooms at Sandhills and Richmond community colleges and on Ft. Bragg. A $133,000 grant from UNC General Administration and funding from UNCP’s Office of Academic Affairs paid for the equipment and installation, he said.

“We want to go live this spring with more classes, so we are beginning faculty training here at the open house,” Dr. Tita said.

Terry Locklear, project coordinator for DE, said the five IVC classrooms are in Lowry, Sampson, Dial and Oxendine buildings and in the Regional Center at COMtech.

Locklear brought his support team of James Lewis, Mike Pittman and Emily Jones.

“This technology has improved so much in a short time,” Locklear said, while communicating with four remote sites simultaneously. “When you are teaching in an IVC classroom, we’ll have a technician on-site.”

James Lewis was at the controls for the demonstration.

“We have not lost a class this semester or last,” Lewis said. “The quality is excellent, and the students are engaged.”

Criminal justice professor Dr. Mario Paparozzi taught a class at four sites simultaneously. Business professor Dr. Joe Lakatos is teaching classes this semester from his home in Wilmington, N.C., due to an illness.

Next semester, IVC will take UNCP to Mexico and beyond.

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