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Faculty tech projects showcase academic innovation

A University of Redlands professor presents his research during a faculty technology grant showcase.
School of Business Professor Mehrdad Koohikamali explains how an mobile app he developed enhances students’ spatial learning. (Photo by Kristyn Paez '19)

On October 23, members of the University of Redlands community gathered for the fifth annual faculty technology grant showcase. Initiated by President Ralph Kuncl and funded by the Provost’s Office, the faculty technology grant program promotes faculty members’ innovation in learning and teaching.

“Since the beginning of the grant program, 43 faculty members have successfully completed 34 projects that have focused on GIS [geographic information systems], 3D printing, and other interests,” said Shariq Ahmed, director of academic computing. “This year, funds were granted [for] hardware, software, and mobile apps.”

Over the past five years, nearly $80,000 has been awarded. This year, 11 professors worked on nine projects ranging from utilizing QR codes to exploring online learning techniques.

At the gathering, presenters illustrated their projects and reflected on the processes and results of their work.

School of Business Professor Mehrdad Koohikamali explained how emotional attachments to physical places can be recorded with GIS data points to enhance students’ spatial learning and knowledge.

Biology Professors Dustin VanOverbeke and James Blauth demonstrated how a multiyear project to collect information on various tree species across campus resulted in a tree map. Students from the professors’ botany, first-year seminar, ecology, and entomology courses collected data and affixed small plaques with QR codes to various trees. Passersby can scan the QR code using their smartphone cameras and learn information about a specific tree, including the species, whether it produces flowers or fruit, and the kinds of insects that interact with it.

“We were inspired by the Pokémon Go app and wanted people to interact with their environment,” said VanOverbeke. “Students’ involvement in mapping the trees and collecting information replaces research paper assignments, and at the end of the course each student is an expert on a tree species.”

Professor and Clinic Director of the Truesdail Center for Communicative Disorders Julie Shuler explained how mobile apps and iPads can be used for graduate clinical training in communication sciences and disorders. After utilizing specific speech therapy apps in clinic sessions, communicative disorders graduate students reported they felt comfortable using these tools with their clients.

Other professors expanded on the implementation of various online learning techniques. Professor of Choral Studies Nicholle Andrews developed online courses for music students to learn about body mapping. Renee Van Vechten, a professor of political science, transferred lecture content into short videos and quizzes for students to take outside of class in order to have more time for interactive activities and discussions in the classroom.

After learning that her students’ commutes were interfering with their learning, Professor Ann Blankenship Knox decided to explore online class sessions using video chat technology. “Part of the course was taught face-to-face in the classroom and part of it was taught online, through video discussions,” she said. “I created an online teaching policy for the program, and now see it as an opportunity to make our curriculum and faculty offerings stronger.”

Additional projects focused on using technology to prepare students for their careers. Collaboration between the School of Education’s Nicol Howard, Nirmla Flores, and Stephanie Quan resulted in a workshop for students to identify and address digital inequities in the classroom. Andres Luz, a professor in the School of Music, explained how sound art kits, including a microphone and other audio technology, are helping students prepare for careers in film and audio engineering.  

“This showcase is a great overview of how many people are working in all kinds of ways to enhance and improve their own research, teaching, and pedagogical skills,” said Provost Kathy Ogren. “It’s about showing our students what constant learning in a digital environment looks like.”

Learn more about U of R’s faculty technology grants and programs of study.