Michigan State University Information Technology is proud to announce the winners of the 2021 AT&T Faculty-Staff Instructional Technology Awards. Since 2005, MSU IT has partnered with AT&T on these annual awards to help drive awareness of innovative uses of technology by instructors at MSU. The awards spotlight the expanding role of technology in the teaching and learning environment and the recipients and their work have continued to challenge the status quo of teaching and learning. A virtual ceremony was held on May 27 to recognize the achievements of this year’s recipients.
Best Fully Online: Liz Owens Boltz, College of Education, Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education
Best Blended: Antionette Tessmer, Eli Broad College of Business, Department of Finance
Best Enhanced: Kyle Shack and Candace Robertson, College of Education, Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education
Honorable MentionsBest Fully Online: Jason Smith, College of Engineering, CoRe Experience
Best Blended: John Spink, Eli Broad College of Business, Department of Supply Chain Management
Best Enhanced: Eva Kassens-Noor, College of Social Science, School of Planning, Design and Construction and Global Urban Studies
Year over year, the techniques utilized by MSU AT&T award winners have increased as the availability and capability of technology have continued to grow in sophistication. The COVID-19 pandemic placed unprecedented strain on both faculty and students, and the array of available technologies played a critical role in teaching and learning during the shift to remote learning.
This year’s award recipients particularly rose to meet these challenges in several ways. For some instructors, interaction with technology was central to the curriculum.
Honorable mention recipient Eva Kassens-Noor sought to teach students about next-generation technologies by giving them hands-on experience with a variety of hi-tech hardware including Temi robots, drones, Echo Dots, and more.
“You have to look at what learners do best when they are trying to grapple with materials, skills or values. We already know there are different types of learners, so whether you're an audio-visual one or a kinesthetic one, we can have a different approach to learning. Technology can help with that.”
Some courses were “flipped,” meaning that the lecture materials were consumed outside of class hours, and class time was devoted to more hands-on projects. This format, along with the use of Zoom video conference rooms for virtual collaboration on projects, allowed Antoinette Tessmer and Alix Arifin’s students to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The flipped pedagogy translates online very nicely, given the Zoom technology. Without it, I don’t know what we would have done,” said Tessmer. “The introduction of the technology really helps the students grasp how the course operates and dive into it.”
Others used simple enhancements to boost engagement with the traditional coursework.
Take, for example, the work of award winner Candace Robertson (along with her academic partner and fellow award winner, Kyle Shack), who narrated their lecture materials and published them as audio recordings to give students an easier-to consume and a more humanizing way to engage with the content:
“My philosophy starts with a very simple sentence: It’s not about the technology. We did nothing fancy, really innovative, or groundbreaking. We just did it meaningfully and intentionally.
They could listen to the content while they were doing the dishes or, even better, they could listen to the content while taking a walk, breaking away from the screen for a bit. Hearing our voices would be another touch-point of a human connection for them.”
Jason Smith similarly found that the shift to online learning and the lack of person-to-person interaction made it more difficult for the students to engage with the course content. To increase engagement, he edited his lecture videos using techniques popularized by YouTube to make the content more information-dense and lively.
“If you’re in a lecture hall, you know how things are going to go. There is going to be a little bit of dialogue between you and the instructor. The instructor might not always have the most straightforward path with what they’re saying, and it’s simply not entertaining. It’s a different story when you’re engaging with content online, so it made sense to adopt a different model for online learning.”
One concept consistently emphasized is that technology for the sake of technology was not the right approach. Each winner tailored their technology deliberately around what would work best for their courses
John Spink emphasized this in his personal philosophy.
“My philosophy is to optimize, not maximize. Many times, we want to do something new, but it needs to be based on the key learning objectives. Then we can use assessments to make sure that the students are meeting those objectives.
Liz Owens Boltz added, “Sometimes low-tech is the right answer. In the course that won the award, we offered opportunities for students to engage with the ideas and concepts of the course either using high-tech solutions like apps or online materials, or low-tech or no-tech options.
Maybe they’re doing some ideating on paper and pencil or post-it notes. Technology doesn’t have to be digital. Find the right tool and thinking purposefully and critically about the tool when implementing it into a course.”
Additional information about the awards, the recipients and their coursework can be found at att-awards.msu.edu/winners/2021.