Innovative Practices Spotlight featuring Dr. Scott Warner and Dr. Louise Manfredi

CAE Innovative Practices Spotlight


Dr. Scott Warner, Associate Professor & Dr. Louise Manfredi, Assistant Professor, Applied Engineering, Safety & Technology

The Center for Academic Excellence is recognizing a faculty member every month in the CAE Innovative Practices Spotlight to highlight his or her innovative classroom practices and outstanding contribution to Millersville University.

Dr. Scott Warner and Dr. Louise Manfredi are being recognized for their exceptional use of BlueJeans web conferencing service in their Applied Engineering, Safety, & Technology courses.

Please continue reading to learn more about Dr. Warner and Dr. Manfredi's exciting experience and to learn ways to incorporate innovative practices into your classroom…

1. What innovative practice did you incorporate into your classroom?

SAW: We started using BlueJeans web conferencing systems to help us do technology-enhanced delivery of our graduate level courses.  This came about because of our desire to maintain having as much of a face to face learning experience with our students as would be possible and still provide them with the option to be in class when circumstances made a trip to Lancaster impossible.  Our graduate courses in the Technology & Innovation master’s degree program are always offered Thursday evenings from 6:00 to 9:00.  This provides consistency with scheduling.  With BlueJeans students who are unable to physically attend a particular night of class can now join in with the class in Lancaster by being a virtual presence.  They just need to have a computer with a camera and microphone and an Internet connection.  We’ve even had students use their smartphones or iPads as their electronic portals into the classroom.  As long as students come to Lancaster the minimum of five times per semester to meet their “residency requirement” they may use the virtual option for the rest of the course.  So far most of our students prefer to come to the Ware Center over using the virtual option but they do appreciate having that option.  Unlike the asynchronous method of delivering courses entirely online this approach does limit the geographic range to which our program can reach.  However, we feel that this is an acceptable compromise to give our students the important personal interaction with their peers and the instructors that they would otherwise not receive.  We currently have several students who travel considerable distance to be in the program.  Those travelers agree that they value that interaction enough to attend more than the minimum of five times.  They also agree that having the virtual option available is appreciated.  It actually came in handy for one of our students who had a baby a few weeks early.  She and her new son were then able to attend the remaining class sessions virtually using BlueJeans.

2. When did you implement the new practice into your classroom?

SAW: We first started experimenting with the real-time virtual experience when we were pilot testing our new graduate courses back in the Fall of 2014.  We did not have the use of BlueJeans at that time so we did small experiments with other products such as Skype.  At the time we did not know how or even if we wanted to use any virtual delivery tool in our new graduate courses.  However, since we were in the experimental frame of mind we thought it was as good a time as any to see if this type of online teaching and learning would work and still provide students with a “personal learning experience.”  A couple of times over that first semester I had different students serve as guinea pigs for our experiments.  Several times we had students use their computer systems from home, from sites on the Millersville campus, and even from the dinning areas from a few McDonalds restaurants.  Each time notes were taken about what worked, what did not work, what students liked or disliked, and what the instructor liked or disliked.  In the Spring of 2015 Josh Fleming from Instructional Technology approached us about using a new product called BlueJeans.  Louise and I went to a demonstration of the virtual classrooms that are on campus but, unfortunately, are not available at the Ware Center.  This gave us a baseline reference of what was possible with the virtual classroom technologies.  Josh then showed us the BlueJeans system and made recommendations for affordable equipment including a camera, a central microphone, cables, and other supplies.  In the Fall of 2015 we were ready to go forward with our new courses and with the BlueJeans system.  The first course that was taught using BlueJeans as a means for providing technology enhancement was EDTE 603: Fostering Creativity by Design.

LM: EDTE 604: Engineering Principles for the Non-Engineer which was scheduled for Spring 2016 was my first attempt at teaching a technology-enhanced graduate class with BlueJeans.  This class was the first time we had such a healthy online population, with at least 11 online participants weekly.  I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that I could communicate with students in the physical and virtual classrooms and try to create exercises that brought these two groups together. 

3. Did the students willingly accept the use of the new practice? What were the reactions of the students?

SAW: I believe that having the students play an active role in the early experiments allowed us to have their buy-in from the very beginning.  I also think that the use of the virtual tool as an option instead of the only means for delivering the course allows students to have choices.  Those who prefer the face-to-face classroom can come to the Ware Center for the entire course.  Others may have circumstances that make physical attendance at the Ware Center prohibitive so they use the BlueJeans system.  One of our current students travels 3 hours one way from his home in New Jersey.  He has consistently attended more than the minimum of five class sessions per semester because he values the interaction with people in the classroom but he is also practical about the drive.  He is appreciative of having the BlueJeans option available.  Overall, the students have been pretty patient about the learning curve of using BlueJeans.  Some of the students are very technologically savvy about using this type of web-based conferencing system.  In my opinion Louise has demonstrated in one semester a high level of sophistication with the use of the system.  After one year I am feeling like I am getting more comfortable with the system.

LM: I would agree with Scott.  We have been fortunate to have students who understand that technology is not always on your side and their patience was greatly appreciated by me!

How has the use of the new practice positively affected the classroom learning environment?

SAW: Students are willing and eager to answer questions using their immediate access to the Internet.  During the course of normal classroom discussions specific facts may not be immediately available to the class through the readings or through reliable memory, so increasing numbers of students are just looking it up through search tools on the Internet and then sharing that “new information” with the class.  It means that the discussions are being “fact checked” in real time and that students are now able to immediately access information that may not have been available in the past.  It also opens up opportunities for additional discussions about the new information and for discussions about the validity of the new information.  Having immediate access to the Internet also enables the use of images and videos to compliment and enhance the points of discussion.  I also think that the real-time connections enable the students to have informal virtual visits with their peer’s classrooms and workplaces.  In a similar vein, we have had opportunities to be virtual guests into people’s homes where we have met family members, significant others, and pets.

LM: I have learned a lot about my students as people through BlueJeans, phone conversations, email and instant messenger.  The majority of our students are busy professionals, and using technology has allowed me to continue our conversations across multiple platforms at any point in time when they have a free minute.  Teaching and communicating in this way has helped me to reinforce the idea that at the graduate level, we are a partnership rather than the traditional model of teacher and student.

How has the use of the new practice affected student engagement in the classroom and the level of participation?

SAW: I think that the individual’s level of acceptance and engagement through and with the BlueJeans system is determined significantly by his or her learning style.  There are those students who are receptive to using this option and there are those who are absolutely resistant, and there are those students who are willing to withhold judgment until they have more opportunities to try out the system.  It demonstrates the typical model of how people accept something new; there are early adopters, late adopters, and those that fall somewhere in between.  Louise and I have been conscientious about creating a classroom culture that does not pressure students to accept one form of delivery of the instruction over another.  Thus students can choose which “classroom” they want or need to be in based on their likes or dislikes and the circumstances of their lives on a given week.  Because they have the choices and can then make their own decisions about where to be for that week’s class for whatever reasons I think they are more appreciative and therefore more engaged in the classes.

LM:  When you have a larger group of students online, it has been a little tricky to keep tabs on participation, especially for those who are on the quieter personality side.  Saying that, even when having sound issues, we were able to continue our discussions through the instant messenger function on BlueJeans.  Having weekly presentations also brought the group together as a whole, by learning about each other’s perspectives on engineering, and strategies as teachers.  A collegiate atmosphere definitely developed between the students which was encouraging for everyone involved.

What challenges did you encounter when implementing the new practice?

SAW: For me it was the learning curve of how to use the system.  I am grateful that the students were patient with me that first semester as I learned what to do and how to set up the physical classroom with the cameras, microphone, and the cables.  The occasional disconnect of the system is also an annoyance but once again, the students have been patient.

LM:  One of the biggest challenges for me as an instructor, was to ensure that everyone, online and in class, were fully engaged in both conversation and any activities that I had designed for the class.  We were able to get some breakout groups working, using as many different software applications as possible.  We had great success in having our students to interact with each other.

How did attending Camp IDEA or a CAE Professional Development session contribute to your learning and use of the innovative practice?

SAW: I cannot identify any one experience through Camp Idea or CAE Professional Development sessions that contributed toward my early experiments with the virtual classroom.  However, I am certain that participation in various CAE sessions, especially during the experimental phase of our ramp up to and implementation of the BlueJeans system were beneficial toward my understanding of what was going on with online education at Millersville University.  Whether it was through informal conversations with colleagues at CAE sessions about their experiences with online education or through specific CAE training sessions I know that the CAE and Josh Fleming in Instructional Technology were significant contributors toward setting the foundation for the use of the BlueJeans virtual classroom system by our graduate program.