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Grand Valley’s Technology Showcase Aims to Improve Learning by Putting the Latest Gadgets into the Hands of Faculty, Students

technology showcase

The Grand Valley State University Technology Showcase in Allendale, Mich., is offering opportunities for students and teachers to learn in new ways. Prominently situated within the school’s library, the 3-year- old Technology Showcase is less of a place to gawk at the latest gadgets and more of a hands-on lab where students and faculty can discover how to integrate technology and education—or even check out products for free for use on school projects or lesson plans. We talked to Grand Valley’s Eric Kunnen, associate director of eLearning and emerging technologies, about the Technology Showcase and its role in changing education.

MCPT: What is the goal of the Technology Showcase?

Kunnen: The ultimate goal is to bring about new and innovative or emerging technologies that students and faculty can interact with, that they can discover, that they can learn about. And then they can also share how they are using technology to enhance teaching and learning. It’s a drop-in space, primarily, where faculty and students can interact with these new technologies.

MCPT: How often do you get new products in the Technology Showcase?

Kunnen: The goal is to keep things fresh every quarter. Depending on when new technology is released, we will work to adopt it. So, for example, the Microsoft HoloLens recently came out, and we were part of phase one in deployment of that technology.

We try to track where things are headed in higher education and technology and pick technologies that are most appropriate for our campus. I often say we’re not trying to be the Best Buy of campus, but we are trying to bring about some new thinking around and accelerate the topic of technology that’s used in teaching and learning. So all the technology that we do have in some way, shape or form touches on either the classroom, or a faculty member’s role in their teaching or a student’s experience in learning.

MCPT: Are products there permanently, short-term or both?

Kunnen: Most of our technologies have been around since we started; however, we do rotate different technology in and out. So some of our technology is in storage right now, and we’ll bring it out periodically to keep things fresh. Some technology at some point does expire. Either it didn’t work out, or there’s a production version now.

MCPT: What have been the most popular products with students and staff?

Kunnen: We jumped into 3D printing right away. It’s been really successful because it was a really new technology. We’ve had students print your typical gadget, like cellphone cases, but we’ve also had some real world projects from students, such as a student who fixed his vintage stereo amp that he couldn’t find a replacement part for. We’ve had science teachers and math teachers print manipulatives for their classes, research equipment and those sorts of things.

Another popular technology is Oculus (a virtual reality headset). It places you in this virtual world where you can do simulations and experiments. It’s a whole new world of potential, especially if you look at certain disciplines like healthcare and architecture, those sorts of things that require some visualization for the material that would be either too expensive or not possible to recreate.

MCPT: What are some examples of how students or staff members have used products in the showcase to help with education?

Kunnen: All of our technology can be signed out by a faculty member or a student for a class project. So we’ve had students use a 360 degree camera for film and video class. We’ve had students come in to use the 3D printer to print a mock-up set for a theater class.

One of our technologies that we pre-ordered and got in before it was generally available was called Swivl. It’s kind of like a personal cameraman that allows you to put your camera into this rotating swivel device. You can set it up to record, and it follows you around wherever you walk. One of the things that was exciting about that particular technology was our College of Education came across that we had it. They tried it out and thought it would be a great application for their hybrid graduate teachers rotation program, because a lot of their mentor teachers were driving lots of miles across the state of Michigan to do classroom observations. So they went through a grant process and acquired several Swivl devices for that particular program. And now students set those up in their classrooms, record their teaching experience and then their mentor teacher can review it and provide some real world feedback based on their performance.

We also worked with a couple of chemistry teachers to investigate 3D projection technology. We got a couple of projectors, tried some things out, and now one of our classrooms in chemistry is set up as a 3D projector classroom where students wear the passive glasses. So they can wear those glasses in the classroom and better visualize protein molecules and other complex, hard-to-visualize molecules in chemistry.

MCPT: You have overseen the showcase for almost three years now. What have you learned during that time about what technology can or can’t do?

Kunnen: As a faculty member or a student you don’t know what you don’t know. So if you don’t have access to the technology or have never tried it out before that is a big limiting factor. Getting technology in the hands of students and faculty is one of the ways we can pioneer the future together.

Check out the Technology Showcase visitor’s page for hours or information on scheduling a tour.

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