Tucked away at the end of a hallway in North Lake College’s K building is a classroom from the future.
Here, in K322, an NLC class is piloting a high-tech new setup allowing students to take the same course, at the same time, on two different campuses. Using video conferencing technology, the class has become so close-knit that its participants often forget they aren’t all in the same place.
The test course is MUSI 1306, Music Appreciation, taught by professor Sherry Boyd, who jumped at the opportunity to try the technology. Boyd explains that she is an eager early adopter of new technologies, most of all because, she says, “I love trying new stuff.” She teaches on Central Campus, and the interactive video feed is streamed to a classroom at North Campus in Coppell.
The video conference system, called “telepresence,” is built around Cisco video cameras which can automatically follow an instructor’s voice or turn to face a student asking a question. One of each classroom’s televisions displays the other location’s students; the other TV is used for notes and course materials. A video portal stores each recorded lesson and distributes the link to each student.
An intimate setting
In the music appreciation class, students on two different campuses banter and joke as if they were sitting next to each other. The cameras broadcasting to North Campus silently pivot to cover the full length of the classroom. The video feed never feels frantic, since the system knows to focus on the speaker, whether that speaker is Professor Boyd or a student asking a question.
The music appreciation students genuinely enjoy the experience. “It made class more entertaining,” one says afterwards. Another student explains, “I like the intimate setting – it really allows you to speak more.” A videoconference doesn’t sound like an “intimate setting,” but one of the North Campus students, speaking through the video screen, agreed. He told Professor Boyd, “I feel like your presence was still felt in the classroom.”
The professor is enthusiastic, too. “We haven’t had any issues,” Sherry Boyd says, “except for when the power went out.”
Cameras and cookies
Boyd knows that technology is no replacement for a human touch. She meets with students individually in “professor visits” to make sure that even faraway students feel a personal connection with their teacher. But she says she’s excited to teach more telepresence courses: “I love this class. I want to do more of it.”
But sometimes, there’s no way new technology can supplant old customs. At the Central Campus, Boyd set up a box of fresh-baked cookies for her students. To make sure the groups were equal, she delivered the North Campus group a box of cookies, too. “I dropped theirs off this morning at 7,” Boyd told her Central students. “I couldn’t give y’all cookies and not give them cookies too.”