Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Dic 26, 2017 – Click here for the Spanish version
Hiram College is integrating mindfulness and technology into students’ daily lives and is the first four-year college in Ohio to launch a one-to-one iPad initiative: Tech and Trek. This initiative, in the Traditional College, and a change in curriculum delivery in Professional and Graduate Studies (PGS), were designed to transform the educational experience of undergraduate and graduate students.
Hiram College is transitioning to what it calls the new liberal arts, says Instructional Designer Evangeline M. Varonis. To maintain its roots in the liberal arts while incorporating mindful technology to meet the changing needs of all its students, Hiram introduced two pedagogical transformations. Today, undergraduate students benefit from school-issued iPads, and professional and graduate level students benefit from a flexible schedule that fits into their busy lives. Located in Northeast Ohio, Hiram College is a private liberal arts school with a population that includes many first-generation students from 31 states and 14 countries.
Hiram’s educational model includes a foundation of faculty support to ensure student achievement. In 2012, Hiram integrated Blackboard Open LMS into its technology infrastructure. All the faculty and students of PGS began full use of the system in 2016 when PGS began offering blended courses. Varonis joined the College at that time to support the technology. She quickly transitioned beyond working with the non-traditional program to assisting all Hiram faculty. Since then, with the launch of Tech and Trek, the Office of Learning Technologies was created and two additional full-time staff, including a director, were added to support the institution.
Tech and Trek Initiative
Hiram alumnus Dean Scarborough and his wife Janice Bini awarded a $2.1 million gift to help launch the “Tech and Trek” initiative. The program outfits full-time traditional undergrads with iPads and new hiking boots. The “Tech and Trek” logo includes a picture of an iPad, a hiker, a mindfulness symbol, and a lightbulb to symbolize innovation.
“Tech and Trek” is designed to teach students when to use technology and how to use it, says Varonis. “Faculty instruct students how to use technology mindfully as a tool to enhance their learning. That’s the piece that is missing in some of the other mobile programs.” An example includes instructor-directed “devices down” time when students put aside technology, including cell phones.
“Tech and Trek” is the brainchild of Hiram College President Lori E. Varlotta, Ph.D. The idea originated from an education meeting Varlotta attended at Apple headquarters. There she learned that a few colleges and universities were issuing both faculty and students their own iPads. Today, the “Tech and Trek” program is available to all full-time undergraduate students and faculty on the main campus. An additional grant has been awarded to pilot an additional iPad program at one of Hiram’s community college partner campuses.
The Trek component of the initiative was supported by a partial corporate gift from Red Wing Shoes in conjunction with private donor support. Every traditional undergraduate student receives a pair of Vasque hiking boots for their treks, whether they are on campus, at the field station, or learning within the local community or internationally.
“Tech and Trek” provides flexibility to students wherever they are located. The real benefit is for students who cannot afford the same technology, says Varonis. “The goal of the program is to level the playing field. Regardless of income, students will have the same technology in class. All iPads are loaded with the same learning apps and Microsoft Office 365.”
With faculty and staff increasing the use of technology, Hiram College had to upgrade its technology infrastructure. Classrooms were upgraded to include Apple TVs so students can view material on their professors’ iPads and connect to Apple TVs to showcase their own work.
The iPads have also facilitated the use of Blackboard Open LMS. For example, faculty can respond to student assignment submissions by annotating them with their Apple pencils. This eliminates the need for faculty to download and print assignments and allows quick feedback. “Students like Blackboard Open LMS,” says Varonis. “More and more students are expecting the use of Blackboard Open LMS for their courses.” The quick and easy access to the syllabi, grades, and other documents make it a popular tool. Another benefit is the positive environmental impact with faculty and students printing less.
Professional and Graduate Studies 8-Week Blended Courses Initiative
Quick and easy access to education is also important for non-traditional professional and graduate students. Hiram’s Traditional College offers a 12-week course session, followed by a 3-week intensive course session in both fall and spring. This was not a good fit for adult learners because they typically enroll part-time because of other responsibilities, says Varonis.
Recognizing the different responsibilities faced by adult learners, Hiram College introduced an eight-week blended format for PGS undergraduate level courses in the summer of 2016. Students spend one week face-to-face with their professor and then the next week participate in an online format. Students may enroll for an eight-week course and then have the flexibility to skip an eight-week session. According to Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Jennifer L. Miller, Ph.D., the intent was to provide more starting points for adult learners throughout the academic year. This could increase speed to graduation by allowing students to take more credit hours per semester in a better-balanced course load.
Using Blackboard Open LMS, students have the opportunity to access the class syllabus a week before the start of the term. This provides an opportunity for students to understand the class time commitment and the professor’s expectation.
The New Liberal Arts
Going forward, Hiram College’s long-term plan is to see how the initiatives are working in support of the New Liberal Arts. “It will take a year to start seeing the impact of Tech and Trek on learning outcomes and we are collecting data to assess this impact. Meanwhile, a year into the blended learning initiative, we have already seen positive results,” says Varonis. Faculty are embracing the technologies and are excited about changing the way they teach. Their opportunities for interacting with students are increasing as well. Both of these initiatives are helping widen the pathway to course and degree completion.
Hiram’s Tech and Trek program and integration of blended learning help define the College’s New Liberal Arts, according to Varonis. She says that integrated study, high-impact experiences, and mindful technology enable Hiram students to capture, connect, and reflect upon life-changing ideas, feelings, images, and questions through these transformational programs.
Photos: AFP Dustin Franz