A vision for connected classrooms


Kayla Friedrich

Robert Gervais

As unification measures begin to unfold, both Lyndon and Johnson State Colleges are continuing to work with new technologies, like using connected classroom setups as an offering for some of the lower enrolled courses on the campuses.

Given the new title of Northern Vermont University for the two campuses, using the connected classroom setup is one of the hassle-free resolutions that has been brought up for students that are interested in certain courses that don’t run due to low enrollment, as well as for faculty members whose courses might be at risk given low enrollment.

Bobbi Jo Carter, associate dean of distance education programs at JSC, noted that the utilization of videoconferencing for sharing classes is a wonderful resource. “It will allow for each campus to share the expertise of their faculty with students at the other campus without the time and expense of physically traveling between the locations,” said Carter. “This is a great option for eliminating travel difficulties due to either weather or distance, but it can also allow us to expand our coverage area and enrich the classroom experience through diversification.”

Coordinator of Instructional Technology Robert Gervais noted that Vermont Technical College has recently used these classrooms between their Randolph and Williston campuses with a focus on supporting the Nursing program, which originally was run through Vermont Interactive Television sites throughout the state.

“VIT site funding was discontinued by the State; antiquated equipment and the cost of technicians to support them could not be sustained,” said Gervais. “These newer, modern video conferencing classrooms are meant to support the loss of VIT sites, as well as afford colleges to share resources and potentially offer resources that were not available before.”

As far as some savings and further conveniences go for the long run with this technology, Carter said that there will be savings in time and mileage that will be realized by students and faculty who won’t be physically traveling between campuses.

“I believe that the overall value in the technology lies in the opportunities that it provides to students,” said Carter. “Videoconferencing allows us to expand course offerings, host guest speakers, and deliver global experiences to our students in order to enrich their educational experience.”

That being said, Gervais noted that the overall cost of the technology, and having the classroom space to devote have been the biggest hurdles so far. “Luckily, the chancellor has the vision to see that distance education is a viable solution for small rural colleges,” said Gervais. “Expansion will depend on funding, but we would like to expand and have more rooms, connections, partners, and overall available offerings for students.”

Current usages for the connected classroom setup at JSC have primarily revolved around a handful of business classes, along with department meetings. “As expected with the first couple of connections that we tried, there were some minor bugs to work out,” said Gervais. “Getting individuals comfortable with the technology in order to make it feel more like a seamless classroom has been the biggest hurdle.”

JSC Associate Professor of Business and Economics Henrique Cezar said that his experience instructing with the new technology at JSC has been positive so far, and that he sees a lot of future potential with it given the recent unification.“Students today like innovation and the use of technology in the classroom,” said Cezar.

Technologically speaking, Gervais said connected classrooms essentially use a webcam on steroids. “Our room has three high resolution cameras, microphones at the desk for each user, two large screen displays, including one touch-interactive display,” said Gervais. “Once video is captured, a Vaddio equipment system takes the camera and mic feeds and compresses them into a webcam feed to the PC in the room,” he added.

Overall, Gervais thinks that distance education should be a standard option for any course, with the exceptions where field experience or hands-on work is required. “It increases the offerings a school can make, and increases the potential student population as well,” he said. “One of the goals I’ve always had for any technology is to make the technology transparent and make this about the educational opportunity.”

With the main offering primarily being in the business department so far, Cezar said that there will need to be more classes using the technology so that there will be a better idea of how its usage might benefit other departments.