What we set out to do
This summer, VPTL’s Student Technology Services set out to provide learning opportunities that students wouldn’t otherwise have access to by piloting a series of summer workshops held in the Lathrop Learning Hub. Our student staff identified a need for a low-pressure environment where students could informally explore technology topics that would normally be difficult for them either because the subject-matter falls outside their area of expertise or because they lack experience with the topic and consequently may not know whether they are interested enough for a larger commitment. While taking a regular class with all its required time, credit commitment, and prerequisites may not be attractive for students under these circumstances, the VPTL Student Technology workshop format provides a student-friendly and exploratory introduction to these topics in a hands-on format based on project-based learning approaches.
Another goal was VPTL’s desire to learn more about how students actually learn, in order to lay the groundwork for future student-led workshops during the upcoming academic year. We gathered student feedback to evaluate the success of the workshops and to help us make informed decisions with regard to improvements for future workshop offerings.
Topics covered so far include Electronic Art Sculptures, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, Branner Tech Talks: Sustainable Energy, Branner Tech Talks: Politics and Civic Engagement, and Phishing Attack Prevention.
Lessons Learned - Electronic Art Sculptures Workshop
• The low-pressure environment allowed students to branch out of their comfort zone. This was evident during the session from the unusually large number of basic-level questions asked. Several students remarked that they felt comfortable asking questions that they normally wouldn’t in many traditional classroom settings. Among the reasons for this were that they knew they were in a beginners’ cohort (“Everyone there was new to these concepts, so I didn’t feel intimidated”) and that they enjoyed the informal atmosphere (“It was a fun, relaxed environment, so it felt easier to ask questions”).
• The hands-on experience was far more effective and desirable than the lecture portion of the workshop. Student feedback was unanimous with regard to the active-learning portion of the session’s being more engaging, enjoyable, and impactful to the learning experience. Some students critiqued that the lecture portion could be further reduced to allow more time for active learning.
• The project-based learning aspect of the workshop unanimously received positive feedback. One student remarked that they were “excited about creating something and taking it with them.” Many students asked the following day, “How can I work on this [project] more?”
• Most of the critical feedback revolved around the timeframe of the workshop not matching student expectations. The session was publicized as lasting one hour, but in reality took double the time for most participants. Although two hours may not be considered long in many circumstances, the fact that it differed from the set expectation detracted from the experience. We learned that we needed to be as transparent and explicit as possible about class or activity expectations.
Lessons Learned - Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Workshops
• Experiential learning can be necessary to understand some concepts fully. All the students had some level of understanding of virtual reality before the workshop, but no amount of videos or readings compared to what they were able to learn during 5 minutes of experiencing Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality first-hand. This was evident when discussions about the implications and future of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality increased drastically once a few students went through the experience.
• Compelling tech can be used as a carrot. We learned that it’s important to look for ways to incorporate compelling technology applications into one’s teaching to attract student interest and prompt active learning.
• Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality can be used with existing content for a wide range of applications. Examples of topics with existing content available online include human anatomy, exposure therapy, climate change, disaster response, sports training, and 3D art. Virtual Reality is fully immersive and blocks out your environment while Augmented Reality augments your environment and the potential to interact with the environment.
Stanford student experiencing augmented reality for the first time as part of VPTL’s Student Technology Workshops.
Takeaways for Instructors
VPTL learned a lot of lessons during our trial of student technology workshops. All of the takeaways can be grouped into two major categories: strategies for prompting active learning and fostering student engagement.
• Enlist students in promoting your course. We found that most students tend to ignore much of the communications through email or other channels unless it comes from another student. They also know which methods will have the largest probability in reaching students.
• Involve students in the design of the course or activity. This will help to bring a student perspective directly into the process. Many students also become more motivated to learn and are enriched through the process when they’re involved at this level.
• Incorporate hands-on activities. Hands-on activities are a very direct and effective way of incorporating active learning that students generally tend to enjoy.
• Promote group interaction. Many students respond well to social group dynamics better than to individual-oriented projects. They feed off of one another and quickly become enthusiastic about a topic.
• Facilitate an environment in which students teach each other. Turning students into teachers deepens the learning for all involved. Grouping students with varied experiences and preexisting strengths can help to facilitate students to teach each other.
Given the success of the Student Technology Services Summer workshops, VPTL will be utilizing the student feedback and lessons learned to further evolve and expand student-led workshops in the Lathrop Learning Hub, as well as take the workshop program into the residences through the Resident Computer Consultant (RCC) program. Future workshop topics include 3D printing, podcasting, and Internet of Things.
Contact Mike Takahashi
if you’re interested in learning more, looking for ways to incorporate compelling tech, or being involved in future VPTL Student Technology workshops.