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College of Liberal Arts

Research and Writing as a Collaborative Process

(story collected in 2012)

Paulette Swartzfager, a lecturer for RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, has found the RIT Confluence Wiki and the Plagiarism Detection Option (Turnitin) in the myCourses’ Dropbox to be helpful learning tools for students in her Writing Seminar course. Through a team-based research project, students use the wiki to post, comment, and collaborate on topics they investigate through the Wallace Library research databases, online resources, in-person interviews, and self-administered surveys. Paulette makes the Plagiarism Detection Option visible via a myCourses’ Dropbox so as students submit their drafts they can check their work to make sure they are citing referenced sources properly and refining their own original thoughts and ideas with each edit.  The overall goal is to empower students in their development as writers and critical thinkers within the various academic disciplines they are studying at RIT.


In her Writing Seminar course, Paulette Swartzfager sets out to help students build their confidence and identity as both researchers and writers. To address this, Paulette has students work towards strengthening their writing competencies in a number of areas.  Along with researching and practicing effective structure, proper grammar, mechanics and citation, they are also guided through a cyclical method of writing, reflection, collaboration, and editing. What she wants students to walk away with through this process is a better sense of themselves as writers and researchers as they continue on in their academic programs.

For Writing Seminar, one of the activities Paulette has students work on is the Research Writing Project. This project consists of two parts. The first part is a collaborative research component for which different student teams are assigned a broad topic for exploration through online research. Early on in the quarter, a workshop is provided on how to use the Wallace Library databases for focused research. The second part is the independent writing activity that goes through several revision cycles. Paulette sets up RIT Wiki pages or  “group-editable websites” (Figure 1), for each team for collecting, sharing, and commenting on resources.  Throughout this phase, students within the research teams are encouraged to comment on each other’s findings and offer ideas and suggestions as they each determine what specific areas they are interested in writing about for their individual papers.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

 Click Images to Enlarge 
As each draft of the individual paper is due, Paulette instructs students to use myCourses’ Plagiarism Detection Option in the Dropbox tool (Figure 2), which uses Turnitin (Figure 3) to gauge, for themselves, how much of their work is original and from other sources.  She has them look at what sources they are referencing, if they are citing them properly, when and how to paraphrase versus quoting a source directly, and most importantly, constructing their own insights and observations rather than simply repeating what others have written.   For a final draft, she requires that no more than 20% of their papers be quoted or paraphrased from other sources.













Paulette found that introducing both tools early on during the quarter works best.  Even though students do not use the wiki until Week 7, she sets them up at the very beginning of the course so students can practice posting and commenting with each other.   Overall, adding text and links, editing, and posting comments has been easy for her students through the use of the wiki. With the wiki, the ability for students to edit and comment on each other’s postings has typically generated more thorough research activity because students build on one another’s findings and sources.  By using the Plagiarism Detection option in the myCourses Dropbox, Paulette has discovered that students are a lot less apprehensive about the writing process as a whole.  In a 2011 Chronicle of Higher Education interview, Paulette indicated, “They use it as a tool. They keep resubmitting it and working on it until it gets appropriately in their own words, or in quotations, or cited" (Parry).

Student Comments for Writing Seminar:

  • "The aspect of this course that I found to be very helpful was the fact that a good deal of the writing is actually done in class.  …Also the peer reviews, which we did in class were helpful because it was interesting to read others papers and compare their writing to your own.  Also this process produced ideas that I would have never thought of and while I did not always use these ideas just thinking about them is important in the revising proces."
  • Our class was very diverse and just being in class allowed me to learn a lot.  The group research also helped me to learn about other languages and cultures as the surveys that our group completed produced interesting results.”
  • “When I read my own literacy narrative and compared it to others in my class, I realized how different each of our experiences were especially since we have many students who are from or have parents from other countries.”



Parry, Mark. "Software Catches (and Also Helps) Young Plagiarists". The Chronicle of HIgher Education.

Victor Perotti
Associate Professor
Saunders College of Business

Social Networking for Virtual Collaboration: DigEnt

(story collected in 2012)

Victor Perotti is Associate Professor and Area Leader, Entrepreneurship & Digital Business, in the E. Philip Saunders College of Business.  He has led the Digital Business initiative at RIT and was the recipient of the Provost's first Innovative Teaching with Technology Award in spring 2012 for his work designing and implementing DigEnt. DigEnt is a social networking portal where students learn through collaboration and exchange of ideas with their classmates, RIT alumni, entrepreneurs, investors, and instructors from all over the world. It gives RIT students an opportunity to interact with professionals in an open forum where they can create, refine, and advance their project ideas. Vic's expert teaching has led to other prestigious awards, such as the Richard and Virginia Eisenhart Provost's Award for Excellence in Teaching (2000) and the Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching (2004).  Vic's most recent research examines social networks, social computing, mobile collaboration, digital entrepreneurship, electronic communities and video game business models.

Vic wanted to use a tool that would promote a lot of class discussion, not just in the classroom, but outside of the class as well. He wanted his students to start thinking like entrepreneurs, learning to interact with potential partners, investors, and other entrepreneurs in the real world. He designed DigEnt to provide his students a learning environment that is familiar to them, where they can unleash their creative ideas and share their work with professionals in the field on a global scale (Figure 1).  For example, people from different stakeholder groups, such as other RIT students and alum, and known entrepreneurs, are invited to join DigEnt to share in an ongoing discussion about how entrepreneurs are running businesses on the Web.

DigEnt Landing Page

DigEnt creates an environment for social learning, and free-flowing thoughts and opinions. It provides students with a wide array of assets and resources, the most valuable of which is the access to entrepreneurs who have been there, and are currently there, to share their knowledge. Not only do the students find the experience valuable, but participants from outside of RIT have really enjoyed the experience, creating a back-and-forth, two-way value proposition.  Vic decided on a hybrid nature for his DigEnt space; the front landing page has an overview of DigEnt that is freely accessible to anyone in the world to connect. However, to view the content and participate in discussions, users must become a member of DigEnt. Vic personally approves each member, requiring that they show a commitment to participate in the learning environment with RIT students and to help maintain high-quality interactions on the space.



Vic doesn’t believe in rote memorization and spends little time in a traditional lecture format. He uses Problem-Based Learning because he believes that learning begins with a problem to be solved, thus is the best motivator to learn. He fosters an active and challenging classroom environment that encourages students to take ownership of their learning: "I give the students realistic problems they would encounter in industry and businesses in the global marketplace. Technology comes and goes, so the ability to assimilate new information and run with it is essential for future business leaders."

Vic believes that by giving unstructured and realistic problems to the students, it helps them understand problems better and find better and more relevant solutions. He is involved at every step of the project with his students to support and scaffold the learning that is taking place.

The DigEnt portal helps Vic promote the formation of interdisciplinary entrepreneurial teams. Designers, technologists, business professionals, entrepreneurs, and investors collaborate on this boundaryless and informal space to incubate ideas, share expertise and resources, support and collaborate. It is an open space that leverages social media and offers a number of popular tools for communication, such as blogs, videos, pictures, links, and messages.

Early in the quarter, students research and write a paper on prevalent revenue models and their relevancy in the current landscape. Mid-quarter, they brainstorm new business ideas and pitch for the best ones to form teams. Students spend the restof the quarter moving their ideas as far towards implementation as they can. Many of them get to the point of building prototypes, meeting with potential investors, and even establishing initial startups. Students are graded on their overall performance and participation, including on DigEnt, during this period.

Using his background in computing and cognitive psychology along with his teaching experiences, Vic designed an engaging environment for his students.  Building the DigEnt portal also presented several learning experiences for him as well such as having to adapt the DigEnt site to meet the changing revenue model of the hosting platform.   He first conceptualized the DigEnt project in 2007 when RIT students were already aggressive social networking users. He chose the social network, Ning, to build his DigEnt learning community, and students continue to participate and use it as a resource after their course has concluded. Today, DigEnt has seen the formation of many successful student startups and partnerships. Nearly a thousand individuals have found their way to the DigEnt network.  Entrepreneurs, faculty, and students from around the world and at RIT collaborate and learn in this innovative environment.

DigEnt has been a top hit on Google for "digital entreprenseurship

Vic believes that to create an effective and engaging virtual space for learning, it is important to understand and embrace the organic nature of interactions of 18-to-22-year-olds on social networks. Instructors also need to model the behavior they want from their students in that space by posting and inviting intelligent comments, and bringing more resources to the community. Vic shared, "You are a leader but you are also an exemplar for how you want them to behave and they will observe that and follow that behavior."  He also feels that forcing students to adapt to tools that are very different from their natural inclination, habits and current trends can be counterproductive. Instead, faculty need to observe and integrate the tools and technology that students are already using (or would like to use). This can be a great encouragement for them to participate.

Portrait of Brian O'Keefe
Visiting Professor
B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences

Students Creating Mobile Experiences

(story collected in 2012)

Since Fall of 2011, Brian O’Keefe, a visiting professor for the Golisano College of Computing & Information Sciences, has been teaching Mobile Experiences for Tourism (MET).  MET is a unique, multidisciplinary course experience in which students across a number of graduate-level, academic programs work collaboratively to develop mobile technologies with a specific focus on the tourism industry.  An important goal of this course experience is to have students collaborate and communicate within and across their project teams in order to simulate a realistic work environment.   Not only has the course provided students with a “pseudo work place” experience in which to apply their skills, they have also contributed to cutting edge research in mobile technology infrastructures that can be used in the tourism industry.



O’Keefe and his students haved worked on developing a customized mobile experience called Brick City Tours.   The goal for the finished Brick City Tours mobile infrastructure, was to provide prospective students and their families, who tour the RIT campus, an enriched and personalized experience before, during, and after their in-person visit.  This mobile product acts almost like a virtual  ‘note taker’.  As the visitors explore the campus, supplemental, electronic materials and related content are generated and saved based on the campus locations they explore on foot.   Through the mobile device’s GPS capability and a GPS fencing infrastructure the team has integrated into the product, these prospective students and their families can focus on the campus tour, get to know their tour guide, and ask questions all the while customized information is being automatically logged for their reference later on.

Brick City Tours' Mobile Interface

Utilizing a “design studio” approach, students are assigned to three distinct teams based on their respective areas of study: Human Factors, Interaction Design, and Development.   Professor O’Keefe chose these teams to replicate the kinds of teams found in related professions.  Students from four different programs were involved in helping to develop the mobile infrastructure for Brick City Tours. These graduate programs included Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology out of Liberal Arts as well as students from three of Golisano’s graduate programs – Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction, and Information Technology.   The Human Factors team did field work and interviewed various stakeholders to help inform the mobile product function and design; the Interaction Design team developed comps and workflows for the user interface based on stakeholder input and communicated this to the developers; and the Developers team determined the code and built the actual infrastructure of services.

Students teams working in the Center for Student Innovation

Brian shares:

“The experience I wanted the students to walk away with is two-fold: what it’s like to be in an HCI program. HCI as its own entity is multidisciplinary. It is cross- disciplinary; it’s what makes HCI HCI!  So, I wanted to really give them a good feel for what that is and in that kind of research area. The other side is more of a design studio setting.  Eventually once they get into the work place or if they had been in the work place before, they will run into scenarios where they are working with lots of different teams, whether it’s marketing or business development or a managerial team looking to make sure they get the product out the door on time.  In those scenarios many different requirements are given to different people at different times and in different scenarios. And, the students really need to adapt very quickly to all those changing elements in a design studio setting.”

Overall, the experiences that students have had in Mobile Experiences for Tourism have been empowering.  Brianna Slutsky, Dmitry Bespalov, and Anushri Thanedar share what the course was like for them and how it has enhanced their own skill set and prepared them for working in their respective disciplines.




Brianna Slutsky, Student, MS  Experimental Psychology, CoLA



Dmitriy Bespalov Student, MS Computer Science, GCCIS

"I have experience in developing and in iPhone developing, especially.  So, this class was interesting for me to actually apply my knowledge and do something innovative and do something that has never been done before …… The most important cross-disciplinary experience was exposure to different phases of the application development, of the project; starting from the initial idea, starting from brainstorming and going through the iterative process of design and implementation.  When I, in the first few weeks, was able to come up with a raw prototype, after that the team was building up on it, we were discussing the design, we came up with new ideas and they were able to think more for the future stages. All of us produced some kind of integrative value and that worked really well.“


Anushri Thanedar Student, MS   Human Comptuer Interaction,    GCCIS

"The single most important thing that I really liked about the Mobile Tourism course is that it really helped me push my limits.  Previously, I only used to work on wire framing and prototyping, which is just like making plain and simple, black and white user interface designs.  But with Brian he was never actually satisfied with just one thing.  He always asked us to go ahead, push our limits, so, I actually went ahead and did a lot of work on Photoshop, I did a lot of work in Visual Design, which I haven’t really done before. I didn’t even know that I had a visual designer in me. And, I learned a lot from that.  Another thing that I really liked about the course was that it was multidisciplinary. We worked a lot with the Human Factors team, we worked a lot with the Development team, so, I came to know about nuances in both of those fields, which I didn’t really know about before.”


Cecilia Ovesdotter Alm
Ovesdotter Alm
Visiting Professor
College of Liberal Arts

 Interdisciplinary Team Work in Language Science

(story collected in 2012)

Cecilia Ovesdotter Alm leverages the experiences and backgrounds of her students along with content-specific classroom technologies to engage students with language science concepts. She recognizes that students working together in interdisciplinary teams adds meaningful dimensions for generating ideas for exploring human technology solutions. The individual skills and perspectives her students bring enrich the learning environment while she considers herself their guide through the process. Not only does Cecilia integrate active learning teamwork activities, but she also uses computational analysis as well as educational technology tools in the classroom to help students develop theoretical and applied concepts in tandem.

As an example, in a course with the title Language Technology students examine language-centered technology developments from writing systems (as precursors) to modern human technologies such as natural language and speech processing systems. Students develop a conceptual understanding of both the methods behind these technologies and their affordances and limitations. Students also study the relationship between language, technology, computer-mediated communication practices, and socio-cultural implications. In her Language Technology course, Cecilia uses a combination of peer activities and content-specific technologies and lab activities to help facilitate the learning experience in the classroom. Cecilia has also utilized 3-screen projection during language analysis activities in her language science classes.

Professor Alm utilized 3-screen projection during language analysis activities in her language sicence classes.

At the beginning of the course, students complete a survey to assess their background knowledge, their motivations for attending the course, and their special interests in the area of human language technology, as well as their background knowledge and practical skills with using different writing systems and computer programming languages. This information helps Cecilia to create teams of students whose disciplinary strengths compliment each other. She has found that this form of interdisciplinary collaboration gives students practice with communicating across the disciplines, helps students with developing solutions as well as with identifying content-relevant research questions, and allows them the opportunity to assume roles within the groups that suit their academic interests and skills as well as broaden their intellectual perspectives.

For paired presentation assignments, which involve teams of 2-3 students, Cecilia engages students with reviewing, presenting, and facilitating class discussion around two short case-study articles per team. The first article is instructor-assigned for each group.  The second article is chosen based on the group’s interest, but requires instructor approval.  A peer evaluation through the myCourses Survey tool is used to engage students in thinking about effective presentation characteristics. Students also benefit from the experience of presenting in a technologically-enhanced classroom with multiple screen projection. These initial case study reviews and presentations can lead to the topics that students are interested in and which culminate in a collaborative or individual project report. The projects can be implementation-based, usability-orientated, or have a theoretical, research literature-oriented nature.  With Cecilia as guide, students are challenged to develop the topics they are interested in and to formulate and explore research questions for their projects. 

Cecilia had requested the use of the Teaching and Learning Technology Studio for several of her courses. She has found this facility useful in allowing her students to engage with course content and language science analysis tools and concepts in varied ways. One of the approaches that she has found helpful in conveying concepts in language science, or linguistics, is to present conceptual materials and A/V or visual media concurrently using multiple screen projection. The students also work, hands-on, with a number of resources in class lab-style activities (such as Praat and Python) as well as web-based resources when exploring and analyzing language science concepts.  Cecilia has found that students working in interdisciplinary teams have yielded innovative projects and problem solving in the intersection of language and technology. Not only has the mixing of disciplines been a factor in contributing to this richness, but so has the diversity of students. For example, in her Evolving English Language course, students who are native as well as non-native to English, or who have experience with signed language, have contributed valuable insights, knowledge, and topics to the course.

Professor Alm teacing in the Teaching and Learning Studio

Some of the challenges that Cecilia has faced are in striking the right balance to effectively convey concepts to all students. With the use of the TLT Studio capabilities, she has increased opportunities to visualize materials to students. In order to maintain an inclusive, interdisciplinary classroom experience for all students, Cecilia has found the ability to present the material in both textual and visual ways via the multiple screen projection useful. In addition, students having the option to use computer-mediated communication tools during pair or group activities (for example with instant messaging or a word processing software) has helped effective communication in diverse student teams.

Leslie Kate Wright
Assistant Professor
College of Science

Online Annotation for Class Assessment

(story collected in 2012)

When Kate Wright of RIT’s College of Science heard about the web-based program Nota Bene, she thought it could be a good tool to help her maintain a better understanding of her students’ learning and also increase peer interaction in a large lecture class. Through Nota Bene, Kate’s students can read and annotate pdf documents that she posts to the application website. Based on the comments and discussions among students, she can gauge their grasp of the material and modify her classes as needed to ensure that students are learning the content.

Since it can be a challenge to know where students are with course concept in large classes, Kate uses reading assignments to get a better idea of what students do and don’t understand. This enables her to adjust class plans to make sure she is using class time effectively.  In Nota Bene, Kate posts articles, papers, and other readings. Students can comment or ask questions about the content, as well as respond to each other to start a conversation.

According to Kate: “The nice thing about the Nota Bene format is that unlike a discussion board or some other online forum, in Nota Bene the reading material is always on the screen… and when someone comments on a student post, they get an email [like Facebook] saying that someone has responded to your question or your comment and in the body of the email is a link that takes you right back to the reading material.”  By reviewing students’ annotations to the Nota Bene readings, Kate can identify vocabulary words that are misunderstood or being misused by students and find out what concepts are giving them trouble.

Finding appropriate readings was the first challenge. While Kate can use primary sources, such as journal papers, with her upper level students, it has been a little tougher finding the right material for her introductory-level classes. She didn’t want to use selections that merely repeated the material in the main textbook, so she looks for complementary articles that illustrate the concepts she teaches in class.

Kate makes effective use of Nota Bene by structuring assignments, rather than simply posting readings. She also uses the application’s ability to break the class into groups, dividing the class into groups of about 15 students, so discussions are more manageable and it’s easier for all students to contribute. It has also been important to make sure that the Nota Bene assignments are graded. While students recognize the value of the activities, unless it has an impact on their grade, they tend not to reliably follow through.

Kate shares:
“One time I put practice exam questions on Nota Bene… it wasn’t a graded assignment, [but] I was hoping that students would comment on them and discuss back and forth like they’d been doing with the assignments… [Only] 5% of the students commented on anything. It told me that if it’s graded and they get a little encouragement to do it, they’ll do it—and as the quarter went on, usage went up, comments got better. If there were no points attached… students aren’t going to do it.”

Kate uses a simple three-point scale for each assignment based on the effort students put into their responses. Once she could gauge student’s understanding of concepts through their comments and questions on the readings, she was able to use that information to modify her classes, if needed. For example, if students are having trouble with a concept, she can allot extra time to it; if they seem to have a good grasp of a learning point, she can check with some quick iClicker questions, and then move on.

Students took to using Nota Bene quickly since the commenting and discussion format is similar to Facebook.  Kate especially likes how Nota Bene brings in many of the elements of Universal Design and enables her deaf and hard-of-hearing (D/HH) and English Language Learner (ELL) students to contribute at the same level as others in the class, where they might be reluctant to do so in the classroom. This is also true of shy and introverted students. Nota Bene also provides data that she uses to assess student engagement, such as how many and which comments lead to longer discussions, especially in the upper-level course, where typically 60 to 75% of comments receive peer responses.  Kate has one caution for faculty who want to try Nota Bene or a similar application: while these activities are resource-neutral for students, they require a substantial commitment from instructors, who need to select readings, read and respond to student comments, and modify class plans.

Tywanquila Walker
Assistant Professor
College of Liberal Arts

Facilitating an Online Group Debate

(story collected in 2012)

For her Introduction to Psychology course, Tywanquila Walker wanted to find a way to engage her students in collaborative, active learning in an asynchronous environment that would promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content. She hoped to provide her students with an interactive platform online, where students could freely express their thoughts and collaborate to develop a critical lens of topics in the field. Tywanquila felt that students were not motivated to actively participate in online group projects because of the lack of face-to-face interaction and a general fear of group projects. Could she design an online learning environment that would foster collaboration, reduce anxiety, and provide an authentic learning experience?


As both instructor and researcher, Tywanquila wants her Psychology students to develop critical thinking skills and employ an inquiry-based scientific approach. She also recognizes that students will eventually be joining a globally-interdependent workforce and will need skills for effective asynchronous communication and collaboration. Tywanquila wanted to simulate this environment in her online class through a group learning method.

Recognizing that group projects can be challenging for the instructor and intimidating for students, she decided on teaching strategies to help reduce anxiety, increase motivation, and foster a collaborative online learning environment. For example, to motivate students she allowed them to choose their own project topics (Figure 1), select their own groups, and define roles and tasks. She integrated a peer review tool to ensure fair assessment of group projects. Her students responded with a sense of shared responsibility and trust within their groups that they could produce a cohesive and professional project.

Figure 1 - Click Image to Enlarge





To implement her teaching strategy, Tywanquila used a combination of technologies to foster a collaborative online learning environment:

myCourses Groups Students could easily choose their groups and roles.
myCourses DiscussionsTeams were able to discuss their projects online. To ensure her teaching presence, she frequently visited discussions to provide guidance and support.
RIT WikiProvided a collaborative online location where students could develop their thoughts, share resources, and present their final project. The wiki also gave Tywanquila a transparent view of the group's activities and made individual contributions visible. The wiki allowed groups to strengthen their arguments with media, hyperlinks, and opportunities to face constructive criticism and defend their arguments.
Peer2Peer Tywanquila emphasized the importance of shared and equal contribution to the group project by including a peer assessment in her evaluation of the final product. Students provided feedback to their group members at milestones during the course, encouraging them to take responsibility for their part in the project outcome. The peer reviews also helped Tywanquila fairly assess individual contributions to the project.










With incremental adjustments to the course design, Tywanquila has been successfully using this approach for three quarters. Her students have reacted favorably to this design, and feedback shows that they appreciate the opportunity to learn a new online collaboration tool. In addition to gaining research skills, facing constructive criticism and supporting their arguments, her students also learned to use the wiki and successfully created a collaborative project in an asynchronous setting.

Tywanquila feels strongly that it is important to integrate technology in the classroom, since students will use these tools in the workplace and instructors are responsible to prepare them as professionals. The peer evaluations revealed positive indicators of group interactions. She found that students are complimenting and encouraging each other, as well as engaging in planning and discussions before starting the project. Student feedback surveys showed that 33 to 40 percent of students were willing to do another group project. She also found that students in these groups were self-regulating regarding contributions to the common project, and required minimal intervention from her. Tywanquila is very enthusiastic about implementing this model in future courses.

As one of her students puts it:

  • “I normally hate group projects because there is often a disproportionate amount of effort being put in by the members. The way she set it up, if you put in a lot of work, even if your group did not, you could still get a good grade. I then wanted to help my group members and not just because my grade relied on it. I found it very interesting and fun to work on.”

Andres Kwasinski
Assistant Professor
Kate Gleason College of Engineering

Augmenting Lectures with Custom Videos

(story collected in 2012)

Andres Kwasinski from the Kate Gleason College of Engineering has been able to use technology to help his students review his classes whenever they need to. Using software that records his voice and demonstrations from his tablet computer, he can provide students with a “re-creation” of the class that they can access through myCourses.  Because students responded positively to this strategy, Andres expanded on the idea by developing and distributing additional sample problems and homework reviews for his students. This gives them more practice and guidance than he would ever be able to fit within his regular lecture period.


Because of his research, including his work with RIT’s Network and Information processing Lab (NetIP), Andres frequently travels to conferences. Since he didn’t want his classes to miss out on lectures, he experimented by recording a lecture for a class to view while he was away.  When he returned, he asked students how the recorded lecture worked for them and received an enthusiastic response. Andres realized that if he recorded his lectures in class—both his voice and the electronic whiteboard that he projects in the room—his students could easily review the lessons as needed to help them with their homework. 

An outline of resources available to students in Andres' courses

Soon, he realized that this same process would enable him to expand his teaching by providing additional reviews and examples that he might not have time for in the classroom. “Example exercises are probably the most important thing that we do in class,” Andre says. Now, he had a way to provide students with extra examples without taking time out from his lectures. He could also give them detailed reviews of specific homework assignments that are important, “but can be dry in the classroom.”

Andres is a long-timer user of tablet PCs and frequently uses one in his research, so it was natural for him to use that as a starting point. During lectures, he uses a tablet PC connected to the overhead projector to replace the whiteboard. With pdfAnnotator and a stylus, he can write over a previously-prepared PDF file. As he does, Windows Media Encoder records the activity on the display, as well as recording his voice through the computer’s microphone. At the end of the lecture, he has a complete audio and visual recording of the lesson.

After the lecture, he converts the video to MP4 (mpeg4) format and posts the media file to myCourses, along with the lecture notes. “At the end, students have a record of everything that has transpired during the lecture and they can play it back at any time they want and as many times they want.” They can play the MP4 files on virtually any device, including smartphones, so they can access recordings wherever and whenever they need them.  One aspect of this solution that Andres notes is that he was able to implement it at virtually no cost, since he had already been using the tablet PC and pdfAnnotator. The rest of the software is available as freeware.

Voice and examples from the lecture will be available for students to review that same day.

One concern for Andres when he began posting his full lectures was that students would stop showing up in class. That, however, was not an issue; attendance remained the same. Like Andres, students saw the recordings as a way to augment and complement the lecture and homework experience, not to replace the lecture. In all, the videos received “a very good reception from the students.” One indication of this is that over half of his students mentioned the videos in an open-ended question on the course evaluations.

Charlie Border
Associate Professor
B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences

Leveling the Field in the Cloud

(story collected in 2012)

The Cloud is expanding the reach and ability of users around the world, and Charles Border is an enthusiastic advocate of the cloud in education and beyond. He is preparing his students to create cloud systems that allow users all over the world to take advantage of many different types of applications and data sets without specialized equipment or software.  First by co-designing his own cloud, then by collaborating with RIT’s Information Technology Services, and finally by utilizing a public cloud with his students, Charles is preparing his students to work creatively to serve users in new ways.

Charles started using cloud computing in his classes in 2005, when he worked with a student to develop a prototype private cloud. Charles states, “The original ideas came from a grad student whose project was to find all the different ways that this thing could not be done. We figured that the last one standing was the way that it could be done.” The strategy worked because his early version won a VMware award for Innovation in 2007.

This first cloud system let students work on virtual machines on their own PCs. To increase the systems capabilities, Charles worked with the ITS team at RIT to create a private cloud, the Remote Laboratory Emulation System (RLES) with a goal of enabling his students to work outside of the lab and still access the computer systems they had in the lab.
The next step was moving classes to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. This expanded the reach of his classes to international students on RIT’s campuses in Dubai and the Dominican Republic, as well as other locations.

This cloud technology lets students work with industry-standard systems—the same ones that they will use in the field. Moving from the RIT/ITS system to a public cloud meant giving up some degree of control, but Charles says, “sometimes what you have to do is let loose and trust in the future… So we did that and it’s worked out very, very well.”

Using cloud-based computing enables Charles’ students not only to work anywhere, but to do so with the systems that they will use professionally after graduation, two aspects of the cloud that students appreciate. Charles shares: “But the thing that I really like the best about it in my interactions with students is the creativity that it brings to the equation. Too often our industry is thought of as being very formulaic and very cast in stone, but cloud computing is a great opportunity for students to exercise their creative muscles and to be innovative and do creative things that they never could do in the past.”

Students learn the fundamental technologies and then the enabling technology that together make the cloud something more than a group of computers that they can access remotely. According to Charles, “Having access to a public cloud gives you abilities that you just don’t have any other way, and this is particularly important when you think about our distance programs."

This change is important enough that Charles and his colleagues took the advantage of calendar conversion to refocus the program on cloud-based systems to educate “system administrators who are not just the regular run-of-the-mill system administrators, but have a deep relationship with cloud computing and an understanding of the technology that makes it all so useful.”

About 100 students work in the private or the public cloud each quarter. The demand from the students to work in the cloud is very high—they want to be involved in it. The next challenge for his students will be how they will work with people in other domains to use the cloud to make great amounts of information available to people all over the world.

Charles views cloud computing as a tool that is already having a major impact on the world:

“One of the most interesting things about the cloud these days is that it’s a great equalizer between the developed world and the developing world. In the past, the main applications… on the internet that’s made it attractive have been assembled and developed in the developed world because we’re the only people who have had  access to adequate data centers to house these applications. But the cloud opens that up completely and gives people in the developing world access to world-class data centers that they’ve never had before.… And that’s where we have to be involved with our international campuses to give them access to this technology, to help them understand the impact that it can have on their lives and their cultures as we go forward into the new internet age.” He also points to the way that cloud computing offers professionals in other disciplines and domains new ways to work with information—for example, the human genome and U.S. Census data is available through the Amazon Cloud.


Geigel and Schweppe
Marla Schweppe
Professor College of Imaging Arts and Science
Joe Geigel
Associate Professor Golisano College of Computing and Information Science

Soft Skills and Teamwork in Computer Graphics

(story collected in 2012)

In the "real" world, computer graphic artists and computer programmers frequently collaborate on projects, something that Marla Schweppe and Joe Geigel wanted to echo in their combined class. Their vision was to have students develop a theatrical performance where everyone—the performers, the production crew, and the audience—would all be in different physical locations and converge in a virtual space. Students from the two different disciplines work together to develop the “assets”—characters, sets, and props—that are brought to life utilizing motion capture, game, and physics engines. Through this interdisciplinary approach, design students and programming students learn how they can effectively communicate across their areas of expertise.

Marla shares,  “Students hear about the need for communication in other classes, but they don't really understand the value of it and the depth of differences in how people talk." Joe explains, “What we call Boolean, they call constructive solid geometry. Totally different terms, but they sort of mean the same thing”. This emphasis on developing ‘soft skills’ is important, because while software keeps changing, the collaboration experience and interpersonal skills transfer directly to the workplace.


Marla and Joe knew from their theatrical experience that the drive, processes, and skill sets required to have a performance ready by opening night would provide students with opportunities to learn and apply important artistic, technical, and interpersonal skills. Students would especially need to learn how to collaborate and negotiate across disciplines—critical experience that mirrors real-world requirements. Communication is key to this collaboration, and the instructors emphasize the need to be very specific when conveying ideas, particularly when communicating across disciplines.

Motion Capture

As in the industry, the software that students use is constantly evolving, but the classes work smoothly because Joe and Marla know the process and their role, which is different from other classes. They list themselves as the Artistic Director and Technical Director, which changes their roles as instructors. Joe shares, “You’re not designing lectures or giving tests-—you have to shift gears. You are now a manager.”


One critical aspect of Joe and Marla’s approach is having students work toward a solid, defined deliverable with a non-negotiable deadline. This requires all students to do their part, and, as Marla says, “there’s no place to hide.” When there is a problem, students need to negotiate to change the plan or the schedule, since there is no option of missing the deadline.
Students can think they're getting by, but "reality hits real fast." Peer evaluations are built into the grading process to make sure that the instructors get the real story, although they can usually tell when a student isn’t pulling his or her weight in the course. But more often, the evaluations are a chance for students to be recognized for their contributions. Marla share, “The peer review sheets validate students in that they can say that they worked really hard or to face that they might not have worked as hard as they could have... or to hear this from others.

Virtual characters and their real-life counterparts

Student response to the classes has been very positive. They enjoy the opportunity to work on real-world projects with specific parameters. In addition, the experience gives them a chance to develop the skills they need in a competitive industry. Joe and Marla can see the growth and change in their students during the course.  Joe shares,  "One of the most satisfying things for me was seeing one of our head programmers talking to one of the head designers about getting the piece to work. At the beginning, they were talking at each other. However, by the end of the conversation, everything was adjusted appropriately."  The comprehensive productions also mean that students might finally understand why they had to learn things from previous courses because now they have to apply that knowledge.

Characters on the virtual stage

Students feel a sense of pride from participating in a project that they care about, that they took ownership for, and one that provides them with a solid portfolio piece to show employers.
Joe states: “It works because there is a solid deliverable at the end of the courses—there was a deadline that had to be met, not just for the course.

Neil Hair
Associate Professor
E. Philip Saunders College of Business

Serving a Client in an Online Environment

(story collected in 2012)

Students in the online executive marketing EMBA program pose a range of unique challenges for Neil Hair of the Saunders College of Business. In addition to completing courses in a compressed time while working full-time in demanding jobs, they are often widely dispersed around the globe. However, they are also experienced, motivated students who are able to work independently, and are ready to work on real-life problems.  The problem for Neil was replicating experiential interaction with real-world clients for this group of experienced students in a way that was just as rigorous, engaging, and interactive as working with a real client. He accomplishes this through a combination of online meetings and a true-to-life case study client. “What makes the course unique is the use of the 'client' and the blend of technology aimed at imparting the knowledge executive students need to complete the course and their understanding of strategic marketing processes.”

Neil shares, “These are busy executives, most of them very senior, which means that they're incredibly time-starved. But they're also incredibly dedicated toward solving the problems that we present to them. So it provides a unique set of constraints…”

Marketing students in the EMBA program need to experience the back and forth collaboration that is needed to develop an effective marketing strategy. Along with working in their groups, though, they also have to gain skill in understanding and applying what they hear from their client. Neil wants to make sure that, in an online environment, students don’t miss out on the personal coaching and feedback they need to develop these skills.

He also adds, “One of the things that RIT does very well is connect on a one-to-one basis with many of our students. At the advanced stage where these students are—returning students, many of them alums—they may be used to a certain way of learning and interacting with instructors.”


At the EMBA level, students are able to make the most of experiential learning. To support that experience, Neil has designed a realistic case study client, Sal's Shoe Castle, to serve as a basis for applying the marketing theory the students learn about in weekly lectures. Neil explains, “We meet live using Adobe Connect to discuss issues facing the client and expand on the marketing problems presented. My approach makes extensive use of web cams and audio, with live captioning support where needed. Students also work in their study teams, meeting weekly in their own Adobe Connect meeting rooms. This culminates in a final presentation aimed at the client.” (Figure 1) 

Figure 1 - Click Image to Enlarge


Neil also works with a facilitator to help identify problems the groups may be facing, since they are working in such a short time period. These facilitators act as “micro-tutors” to make sure that students grasp the material and are applying themselves to the assignments.  During the final presentations, Neil acts as the client, “Sal.” In fact, during the entire course, Neil views his relationship with the class as more of an executive coach, rather than a regular instructor--a technique that connects with this group of students. He notes that “the traditional student-professor relationship is very different in this environment.”

Both the course and Neil have received consistently high course evaluations from a group of very demanding students. The course is well known for applying rigorous techniques, using technology to enhance the learning experience.  Neil sees his effectiveness with students as a result of his ability to have one-to-one and one-to-group real-time interactions with his students (Figure 1).  He credits Academic Technology & Media Services with helping him both facilitate globally distributed students synchronously and for developing strategies to prolong the life of the work he does online.  “I'm quite proud of the fact that many of the students I work with end up falling in love with the subject and really becoming quite passionate about what we’re trying to impart within this process.”


Figure 1 - Click Image to Enlarge



Elisabetta D'Amanda
Lecturer and Italian Program Coordinator
College of Liberal Arts

Connecting Students with Language and Culture

(story collected in 2012)

Conversation with native speakers is one of the principal ways to teach and assess students’ fluency in a foreign language. But it’s not always possible to arrange native speakers to visit classes and converse with language students on different topics. That’s why Elisabetta D’Amanda thought about using the Teaching and Learning Technology (TLT) Studio as a place where her students could talk with native speakers in Italy, as well as interact with each other in synchronous and asynchronous chats to become more fluent in the language, and had an opportunity to learn more about Italian culture and society. Also, Elisabetta and Kathy Darroch, Senior Interpreter, Department of Access Services, National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at RIT looked at ways to use this technology to provide a more interactive and immersive learning environment for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the class.

As students learn to speak a language, it’s just as important for them to learn how to hear and listen to the language. Because the teacher has her own way of speaking, to achieve a conversational fluency, students need to hear a range of different accents, pronunciations, and cadences. Elisabetta saw the ease of teleconferencing through Skype as a way to give her students the opportunity to talk with several of her own friends and acquaintances in Italy
"In looking for ways to improve conversational fluency, you want to expose students to different accents, sounds, and cadences. The best teacher is only one person, one voice. But could there be other ways to expand the “world’ of speakers that students experience?"

Talking with Italy via Skype

Elisabetta used technology to enable students to engage in a number of audial, visual, and text-based activities to create a more immersive learning environment. In addition, she found that these technologies, with support from an interpreter who was fluent in both Lingua Italiana dei Segni (LIS; Italian Sign Language) and American Sign Language (ASL), provided a more supportive and interactive environment for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Elisabetta’s students use Skype to conduct conversations and interviews with different people and varying topics, such as film and media review or discussions of Italian culture and society. The students conduct online synchronous or asynchronous chat conversations on a given topic. Students can then make inferences between Italian and American culture and society, as well as any other student country of origin. Elisabetta also uses online discussions to pair more competent students with those who need more help in syntax and spelling to “scaffold” peer-to-peer learning.


Technology used in the class included:

Skype  video/audio converstaions between RIT Classroom and remote, guest  speakers
Google Talk  group-based and paired instant messaging during class
C-Print  real-time captioning
Multi-screen projection*  simultaneous display of Skype, instructor content, and other relevant resources


The technology also provided ways to better serve deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the class, so they could communicate with classmates and their guest speakers. Kathy Darroch, a Senior Interpreter in the Department of Access Services at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) worked closely with Elisabetta in the class. The integration of Lingua Italiana dei Segni (LIS—Italian Sign Language) and ASL cued signing during all audial, visual, and text-based activities "We are experiencing an increasing number of deaf students in our foreign language courses, and it is great. Some of them are also studying abroad, and they adjust well—even more so than the hearing students—if they have been prepared for an 'immersion style' of living in another culture, a cross cultural shock that is doubled for students that have two cultures to begin with, as in the case of deaf students. Being in a high tech environment has allowed them to improve their participation also interaction with all other students." More of their findings on using this method with deaf and hard-of-hearing students can be found here.


*Multi-screen projection was a component of the Teaching & Learning Technoloyg Studio between 2009-2013. For more details contact


Elisabetta finds that student interaction with native speakers of Italian provides ‘a real-world’ application of learning and improves spoken, written, and signed language skills. Students also increase their contextual understanding of language as they compare and contrast the socio-cultural differences of their country/language of origin and Italy/Italian.  Professor D'Amanda also discovered that student collaboration, particularly through text-chat, fosters a supportive learning environment where students that are more competent help correct peers’ Italian syntax and spelling. Moreover, the computer-mediated modality allows for better language learning, since students feel less self-conscious, and a relaxed environment is most conducive in Modern Languages and Cultures.

Professor D'Amanda with student

She states, "The students feel a great sense of accomplishment and it makes their focus very strongly related to real life rather than learning discreet grammar components without understanding the ultimate goal. The grammar components are informally tested without putting a strong focus on them and in reality, making that important learning component more holistic and effective."

Jow Pow
Associate Professor
Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science

A Non-traditional Pedagogy for New STEM Students

(story collected in 2012)

All Imaging Science majors must take an introductory class as freshmen. Joe Pow and the rest of the Center for Imaging Science (CIS) faculty and staff wanted to give these first-year students an experience that was more relevant, motivating, and fun than a typical course to begin their enculturation into a "community of practice" of professional scientists and engineers. Their approach was to replace the existing course with the Innovative Freshman Experience, a three-quarter sequence of courses built around a single design project. The result was a completely new form of immersive, innovative learning that combined hands-on experience with real world application.

After taking an objective look at what first-year students were experiencing during their introduction to imaging science experience (lectures, tests, homework, and labs), CIS faculty realized that it wasn't doing what they wanted it to do. Of course, they wanted students to get foundational knowledge in the discipline, but they also wanted them to get excited and motivated about their chosen field.  CIS instructors used a project-based, immersive model in which students conceive and complete a design project, learning key skills along the way. The project provides students with an authentic, relevant, and engaging experience while beginning their enculturation into a community of practice that leads them toward adopting the behaviors of professional scientists and engineers.  There are no lectures, textbooks, quizzes, tests or finals—instead, students act as the kind of integrated multidisciplinary design team with faculty and staff from CIS serving as mentors to students throughout the year.


During the first course in the sequence, students receive a challenge: to design and build from scratch a fully functional imaging device for an external user. Students establish technical requirements, develop different conceptual approaches, and develop detailed plans for the next stage of the project.  As a part of the planning process they identify any required skills that are missing from the team. An external evaluation panel assesses the teams’ work through a formal Preliminary Design Review at the end of the quarter.  The student design teams return the next quarter with all of the skill sets needed. They begin "trade-off studies" that  allow them to assess the relative merits of the various conceptual approaches, develop predictive models, build and test components, define interfaces, and refine plans. Teams go through a second external evaluation at a Critical Design Review before proceeding to the final course.  At the end of the course sequence, teams demonstrate their product, along with what they have learned, at RIT's community event, ImagineRIT.


A team at work: designing, building, and demonstrating their imaging device


One of the main challenges when using this type of pedagogy is assessing student performance.   The CIS faculty believe the best approach is to use inputs from a variety of sources.  The students are assessed through classroom observations, Project Kaleidoscope rubrics, one-to-one meetings with the instructor, and peer evaluations.

CIS has recruited external sponsors to guide the  design projects. For example, an anesthesiologist from the University at Rochester approached CIS with the idea for a system that would produce a 3D model of a patient's head to assess whether the patient might experience difficulty with intubation.  Another time, CIS worked with museum conservators to come up with a device to create a new class of interactive digital images. Joe shares, "These connections with the world outside of RIT are essential to the success of this project... it makes what the students are doing relevant and real for them... They realize this is something that's important to somebody and keeps they motivated to do a good job."
insert image

Some freshmen challenged with designing a real project so early in their college career react with disbelief and skepticism that they'll be able to accomplish the task. But by end of the year, as they demonstrate a working device for their sponsors, they feel they've really accomplished something special. The experience is one that stays with them throughout their time at RIT.

Student feedback to the program has been positive:

"Not only did I learn more in this class than I did in any others, but I was always more willing to learn, to seek out help, to try and solve issues myself, to give my opinion, etc."

"This class brought me confidence in who I can be and what I can do with my knowledge. My life has been altered for the better and I look forward to all of the opportunities that lay ahead of me because of this experience. THANK YOU SO MUCH!"

Joe and the other instructors were amazed that eight of the 17 students stayed on campus during the summer to continue research on the design projects. Four of the students had the opportunity to take their design to the Boston Public Library where they spent several days actually imaging some of the library's rarest holdings.

"It was amazing to us how given this one project, students were able to find a host of other applications and were able to connect with funding agencies and other places where they got the support needed to pursue their interests...this is something that we had never seen at the freshman level was really amazing to us, and rewarding for them, and it was just more than we could have hoped for out of this particular class." - Joe Pow

Liz Lawley
School of Interactive Games & Media

A Multiplayer Classroom Approach

(story collected in 2012)

When students walk into Liz Lawley's class on the first day they are told, "Welcome to the class. You all have an F. You are now a Level 1 Avatar in the Game Design I Game, and it's up to you to figure out how you're going to 'Level up' through this quarter." Using ideas from the multiplayer classroom for teaching based on concepts pioneered by Lee Sheldon of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Liz and her colleagues, Kevin Bierre, Elouise Oyzon, and David Simkins restructured the class as a game rather than a traditional educational experience.

Working from The Multiplayer Classroom by Lee Sheldon, Liz and four faculty from the Department of Interactive Games & Media (IGMA), hoped that redesigning their class as a multiplayer game would engage students on a deeper level. They created an environment where students were formed into "guilds” and earned experience points (XP) for their work on group and individual activities; the more XP earned, the higher the grade.

In teaching how to design games, IGMA faculty wanted to apply some of the things that games do well in the context of a class, giving students a sense of progression and accomplishment. In a traditional sense, grading is very much about how the instructor is going to deduct points. In a course as a game, ” players” accrue points by demonstrating skills and knowledge. There’s another difference: in traditional classes, there is typically a single path to a good grade. In multiplayer games, there is more than one path to the end goal, and more than one set of skills that students can develop and use to become an accomplished player.

Liz designed an alternative grading system with 12 levels and a total of possible 2000 points. Individual assignments were no longer graded; students simply received points for completing them. She wanted students to look at the big picture: not that they had a 75 average, but the level they had achieved and what they needed to do to reach the next level. Students realized that there are a lot of ways to learn the material and demonstrate competence. The only place students saw a grade in the more traditional sense was their in their overall accumulation of experience points for the quarter, viewable in myCourses.


The concept of multiplayer gaming as a teaching tool can address many learning styles. Students get more choices for assignments and activities, so they have many ways to demonstrate what they know. For example, if a course hinges on how well one does on an exam, and students don't test well, there are not many options for them to succeed. Using principles of game mechanics, students have a variety of opportunities to earn points and can select the kinds of activities that work best for them, including solo and guild activities designed around Quests, Crafting, and Guild vs. Guild "battles."

A big part of multiplayer gaming is the need to collaborate, and kids learn that important lesson early on as gamers—that is, "if everybody has the same skills as me we're probably not going to be successful at solving complex problems."  And, literature on multiplayer games and the kind of learning that takes place in them shows that it requires a wide range of skills within a group of players to accomplish a complex task.

When tasks are framed for students in a context they can understand, such as, "You need a magician, and a crafter, a guild leader and a tank…" it makes sense to them. If you label those roles in ways that resonate for them from their games experience, they can say "Oh yeah, I get that a guild leader has these roles and that a crafter is someone who has to make things that are useful to the rest of the groups." Then students can think about the role they'd be best at playing. This is something important in group projects in an academic game development project, a software development project, or any kind of complex project-oriented task that requires people with a set of varied skills.

Because it is a fairly new concept, the four faculty working on this experimental course across five sections weren't sure if it would work--and one of their biggest challenges was coming up with engaging game concepts that didn't feel as if they were just relabeling traditional activities with new names, without changing the level of student engagement. In teaching game design, the importance of choosing mechanics and engaging players on both an intellectual and emotional levels is key. And, as Liz shared, "It's a real challenge to do that well—creating clear and engaging narrative for this course as a game experience." Students are very enthusiastic about this approach. They loved the idea that they could re-cast the process of going through class as progression through a game.

Rob Garrick
Associate Professor
College of Applied Science and Technology

Technology Rich Interactive Learning Environment

(story collected in 2012)

Rob Garrick from RIT's College of Applied Science and Technology wanted to explore a better way to engage his students in active problem solving and make himself available to them when they needed it most. This led him to think about adopting a new teaching approach that would allow more personal attention while students worked on solving problems, and would enhance instructor-student and student-student interaction. Rob's solution was to design and foster a learning environment that would provide the right balance between lecture delivery, student group work, homework, and technology-facilitated interaction.

Rob looked at integrating technology with his pedagogical approach to create a holistic teaching and learning environment in his class. He believes that it is important to understand the appropriate uses of technology in the classroom, and how technology can enhance learning. With this view in mind, Rob implemented Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) as his teaching methodology. TPACK (Figure 1) helped him create the right balance to engage students in his Pneumatics and Hydraulics class. In addition to implementing the TPACK methodology, Rob implemented a “flipped" (or "inverted") classroom approach, recorded video lectures, and tablet computers. In the flipped classroom, students view recorded lectures outside of class, and spend classroom time working in groups on problem sets and practical applications of concepts, with Rob available to assist as needed. In the video lectures, Rob explains and works through concepts and complex equations to prepare students for the work they’ll do in the face-to-face class sessions.

Figure 1. TPACK [Illustration]. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Rob implemented problem-based learning and an active, student-centered approach using multi-projection screens, tablet computers, and collaborative software in RIT’s Teaching & Learning Technology (TLT) Studio. Students access the 10-minute, pre-recorded lectures (Sample 1) that Rob creates using Adobe Captivate, and delivers via the Content Tool in myCourses.  Before recording, Rob maps his lecture material into modules to ensure he addresses weekly learning objectives, and that the learning objectives match the practical application that will take place in the face-to-face sessions. To create his video lectures, Rob uses Teaching & Learning Services’ self-serve Studio G. PowerPoint lecture materials are imported into MS OneNote, allowing him to make digital annotations; he then uses Adobe Captivate to record his voice and the annotations throughout the video. Students can replay the lectures as many times as they wish.

Sample 1- Click Image to Play
The lecture files are provided to students in different video formats so students can access them from many different devices—cell phones, laptops, iPads, tablet PCs, or desktop computers. As an incentive for watching the pre-recorded lectures and preparing for in-class activities, students are quizzed and graded on the lecture material at the beginning of each class. During class, students work collaboratively on the more complex problems, giving them ample time to research, discuss, and suggest solutions. Students also use this time to ask questions so they resolve issues as they occur. This way, Rob gets to see first-hand how students approach problems and arrive at solutions, and has opportunities to gauge how, and to what extent, individual students might be struggling with certain concepts.

For this approach to work, Rob had to prepare his students by explaining the flipped classroom concept so they would realize the need to view the lectures outside of class, and understand the benefits of hands-on activity during class.  Each quarter, Rob uses student feedback and his own experiences to improve the classes, and students have responded favorably. They come prepared for class activity, seem to grasp the material more readily, and data shows a drop in D, W, F rates. With a more interactive learning environment, Rob feels he has been able to establish a better rapport with his students, helping them discover multiple ways to solve problems and work effectively in teams.

Students working on problems during class

This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. EEC-1137106.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Roberta Klein
Lecturer E. Saunders College of Business

Leveraging Student Knowledge When Teaching

(story collected in 2012)

Roberta Klein, a lecturer for RIT’s E. Saunders College of Business, has found that teaching with a blended approach allows her to utilize instructional strategies from both classroom-based and online formats that are the most effective for her class. For example, in her Basic Taxation course, Roberta creates online homework study groups using the myCourses Discussion tool. Through study group activity, students struggling with assigned problems can help one another learn the material. She has found that this process along with other online discussion assignments have helped her students prepare better for in-class instruction and explore topics in more depth throughout the week.

In Basic Taxation, students research and examine the conceptual framework of the federal tax system and apply these concepts in a number of in-class and online activities. These activities include mathematical problem sets, a financial planning assignment, and individual and team-based projects.

For the Basic Taxation blended course, Roberta forms online homework study groups for each of the assigned homework problem sets. To get her students meaningfully engaged with the course content, Roberta feels that a good way to do this is to let students explain concepts to one another. Using the Discussions and Groups tools in myCourses, she splits the students up into two to three groups. All students are required to complete the problem sets. At the time they post their solutions they also notify Roberta, via the Dropbox Comments area, of the particular problems that they had difficulty solving. Students who completed those problems successfully are then asked to lead an online discussion group with a step-by-step account of how they arrived at the solution.  This gives students the opporutnity to resolve homework difficulties prior to the next in-class session.

At the start of her class, Roberta makes sure she explains why she uses a blended format for her course. She has discovered several advantages to this format over a traditional or fully online format. She finds that she can carry out her course activities that are best done face-to-face, such as demonstration of problem-solving procedures and lecture, during in-class time. In turn, she can facilitate her course activities that are best suited online such as in-depth-discussion of theoretical topics and discussion and resolution of homework difficulties.

In her syllabus, Roberta provides the following advantages for using the blended course format:

“One advantage of using this format is that our discussions of the theoretical framework of taxation will not be limited to the time we spend together in class each week. By having these discussions online rather than in class, students are able to give more thought to their contribution to the discussions and I discovered many years ago that online discussions tend to generate participation by more students in a class than in-class discussions.

A second advantage of using a blended format is that students are able to discuss the weekly homework assignments in their online discussion groups during the week, rather than waiting until they come to class to see how they did on it. Most of the questions that students have on their homework assignments will be resolved online before the class meets; we can better utilize the time we spend together in class each week.

The third advantage of a blended format is that it allows students to practice their “tutoring skills” as they explain certain homework solutions to others in their online homework team.”

Tom Traub
Adjunct Professor
E. Saunders College of Business

Establishing A Visual Connection Online

(story collected in 2012)

Tom Traub, an adjunct professor for RIT’s E. Saunders College of Business, wanted to establish the same kind of connection and dynamic with his online students as he does with students in his face-to-face classes. To address his remote Operations and Supply Chain Management students in a more personable way and focus attention on the key concepts and topics covered weekly, Tom created chapter videos using iMovie. In addition to the readings, individual and team-based projects, and online discussions, Tom wanted to explore the use of a visual medium to further engage his students and augment these other learning activities. In these self-produced “video vignettes”, Tom is also able to relate real-world business scenarios and current publications in a creative and engaging way.

In the Operations and Supply Chain Management course, Tom Traub sets out to help students develop their critical thinking skills and decision-making abilities related to business. Students engage in several individual and team-based discussions and projects in which they apply strategic, conceptual, and technical knowledge to a wide range of relevant topics including leadership in operations management, risk management, and business improvement.  Tom provides content through a number of resources including a required text, trade publications, journals, case studies, and instructor-developed materials.

For Operations and Supply Chain Management, one of the resources Tom creates and delivers to students are weekly chapter videos (see Video Lecture Clipsm below) that are no more than 5-10 minutes in length.  Each one corresponds to the chapters they cover through the required text. In these videos, Tom reinforces the key concepts the students are learning for the week through their reading, discussion posts, and individual and team assignments. For each segment, Tom ties in his own stories from industry, current trends, and publications to help make the content come alive and convey what the students are learning in the class is really happening out in the business world.

Video Lecture Clips: A compliation which demonstrates two types of vignettes (1:21)

To create these mini-lectures, Tom uses the iMovie software that he has available on his Mac laptop.   From his home office, he sets up a very informal environment so that in each video recording, he comes across as personable and as close to being in the same room with students as possible.  Similar to what he does in his face-to-face class, Tom wears his Karategi in one of his video segments to introduce students to Six Sigma, quality measures, and the need for discipline in the business world.  In other segments, he holds up the relevant publications as they relate to the concepts being covered in the online activities for the week.  Tom intentionally does not edit these videos. His intent is to have them come across as spontaneous and “human” in his online course, similar to how it feels in the classroom.


In the beginning stages of creating the chapter videos with iMovie, Tom discovered that there was a learning curve involved. He shares, “It wasn’t easy in the beginning. The tool could well consume a lot of time if you are not trained in iMovies. I had my problems starting with them but when I got rolling, I made an number of them.” There was also some amount of ‘post-production’ work that needed to happen as well. As Tom completed each segment, he sent them to TLS Media Services to be captioned and published onto a secure, RIT media server so that students could access them easily.

As part of his process, Tom also sought student feedback on how useful the chapter videos were and what improvements they might suggest. In week 5 of his online course, the discussion assignment entitled, “Critical Constructive Evaluations of Chapter Videos”, required students to post their comments and suggestions:

“The mini lectures help me realize what is most important in each chapter and what I should pay more attention to…I like the examples and I’d like to see more of those…I like watching the chapter videos before I read the book chapters to kind of get an idea of what’s coming…I do feel these have helped me get a better understanding of the material.”
“This has been my first ever quarter/semester having an online class…the videos help me transition giving me a taste of the traditional lecture…it was time saving to be able to refer to the videos for key concepts, get an idea where to place greater emphasis when going through the chapters. It would be nice to have videos pertaining to the concepts we will write about in papers.”

“The videos provide additional insight into key topics and areas deemed important by the professor…would like to see more coverage of key topics and how they relate to current, real world business conditions, what worked or did not work and why or why not.  One disadvantage of the online format is lack of direct interaction with the professor, so it can be challenging to get a feel for the professor’s style and expectations. Videos help bridge that gap.”

Tom Connor
Visiting Scholar
College of Imaging Arts and Science

Learning from Industry Professionals

(story collected in 2012)

As both a visiting scholar for RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences and Vice President of Creative Marketing for Disney, Tom Connor wanted to provide his undergraduate Film and Animation students the opportunity to learn directly from the unique and diverse experiences of professionals in the entertainment industry. Through in-class lectures and screenings, iChat interviews, and online discussions, students in Hollywood Perspectives: Navigating a Career in Entertainment have had the opportunity to interact with independent filmmakers, producers, writers, animators, composers, and movie executives. With Tom and his featured speakers physically located in California and his students attending class, here, at the RIT campus, Tom’s approach uniquely brings together customized online and classroom-based instruction.


In his Hollywood Perspectives: Navigating a Career in Entertainment course, Tom aims to expose his students to a variety of roles, career paths, and strategies as they consider a profession in the entertainment industry.  The learning outcomes that Tom sets for this course are for students to be able to identify and understand the roles and responsibilities of various positions in the industry; discern the professional characteristics and work ethics that help people succeed in the entertainment industry; and set and pursue realistic goals for their careers. To accomplish these goals, Tom uses a variety of activities and tools for the in-class and online components including myCourses Content and Discussion tools, iChat interviews, and a Personal Career Assignment. 

Tom explains, “As a former student at RIT, one of my favorite aspects of the college was its career focus. Now that I have enjoyed success in my own career in Hollywood, I thought it would be beneficial to RIT Film and Animation students if I could bring them a first-hand perspective from entertainment industry experts on the experience of working in Hollywood.

Using the myCourses Discussion tool (Figure 1) as a “central hub” of online communications and course materials, Tom holds weekly discussions and posts content so that students can prepare for their interviews with the industry professionals. Through online discussion, students explore and analyze various aspects of the speakers’ work and prepare their questions and comments for the live interviews.


Figure 1 - Click Image to Enlarge

Tom customizes the look and feel of his online course to keep students creatively engaged in the class activities. He explains, “Given that this course was designed for media-savvy film and animation students, I felt it was essential to design an online experience in myCourses that would be engaging not only from a content and discussion standpoint, but also from a visual and design standpoint as well.” For example, on his course homepage in myCourses (Figure 2), Tom created a To Do widget and a Twitter Feed widget. Through the To Do widget, Tom could clarify what was due each week with links to the assignments in a visually convenient and creative way. The Twitter Feed widget was a unique approach that allowed Tom to give students a sense of what working at a movie studio was like through several tweets each day.


Figure 2 - Click Image to Enlarge

 In order to create an online environment in myCourses that he felt would address his instructional needs and the expectations of his students, Tom dedicated a significant amount of time in advance to customizing his myCourses homepage and Discussions area.  However, once established, he can repurpose his layouts for future course offerings and make edits or adjustments as needed.

Live iChat interviews with professionals from industry: Students gather together in one RIT classroom while Tom and the guest speaker join them remotely via the web using iChat (Figure 3). To help facilitate the technical needs of this unique set up, Tom makes special arrangements with the Film and Animation department so that an assistant is present with students in the class and can take care of the technical set up and make sure the iChat sessions run smoothly. Before the live sessions via iChat, Tom also confirms with the guest speakers that have the right equipment to participate in the synchronous multi-chat environment and are comfortable using it. Prior to the interviews, Tom and his technical contact through his department conduct live webcam tests to sort out any technical issues that might arise.  Tom also needs to coordinate scheduling for each location, factoring in the time zone differences between the RIT campus and his and the guest speakers’ locations.


Figure 3 - Click Image to Enlarge


Personal Career Assignment: In a final paper, Tom has students evaluate how learning from their interviews with the guest speakers has influenced their own goals and interests in working in the entertainment industry. This Personal Career Insight Assignment correlates with a Week 1 discussion activity for which students explore the same ideas and thoughts about their careers prior to any interviews at all. Tom and his students use these “pre” and “post” activities to assess how the course experience has changed their perceptions and ideas about a career in film and animation.

Tom’s reflections on his approach to teaching:

“The blended course structure seemed to work really well for both students and the speakers. Gathering together in a physical classroom space for a webcam interview was a novel experience for many students. Interestingly, the inherent informality of the webcam made the students feel more connected with the speakers and the depth of the live discussions was good.”

“Although some students were somewhat shy in the live class environment, all of the students were extroverts when online – and their participation grew as the course progressed. I think the combination of in-class and online discussion modalities was better than either modality on its own as it related to student engagement in the course.”

“The online discussions were very active in this course. Discussing career aspirations is a touchstone issue for students, generating lots of opinion. Discussing the work ethic and common traits of successful individuals as experienced in the live interviews in many cases transformed career misconceptions and helped students redefine their own definitions of “success.”

Student Comments on the Hollywood Perspectives course:

“From the moment I entered into this course, I have learned more than I ever expected to from any one class. While I’m not totally confident in my future in this industry (and really, who can be, considering how much it changes and flows over short periods of time?) I am really confident that I have learned the major skills that I need to enter and be successful in the business.”

“This class was so insightful to what the entertainment industry is truly like. I’m so happy that I have had this experience and enjoyed every speaker fully. I really learned a lot about the business and feel somewhat more prepared to enter the workforce. It’s scary, but I think if we think of it as an adventure we’ll have all the more ambition to succeed.”

“This class has also made me both more nervous and more confident about going out into the real world. I feel like I’m more confused now than I was before, but I almost think that it’s a good thing. Its like, all of these new options, ideas, and possible pathways have been revealed to me and now I just have to figure out how to use the information that I’ve received and apply it to my own life.”

Vicki Robinson
Associate Professor
National Technical Institute for the Deaf

Teaching Physics in an Immersive 3-D Environment

(story collected in 2012)

In teaching three introductory-level physics courses at NTID, Vicki Robinson had a problem: her students didn’t connect their lab work with the concepts they needed to understand. They weren’t using their lab observations to help them complete homework and tests. In fact, when questions about labs showed up on tests, students were surprised—that was the distance of the divide between lab activities and learning. Vicki wondered if a virtual lab that students could work in as they did their homework could provide an interactive, relevant, and highly visual "bridge" to connect lab experiences and homework assignments.

Deaf students' use of visual-spatial schematic relationships is an essential component for success in solving math problems.  However, Deaf students considerably lag hearing students in this skill. Labs provided opportunities to observe these relationships to support their understanding of basic concepts in physics, but students weren’t applying these to homework and tests, which they saw as the “real” class work.

To help students make this connection, Vicki set up a lab in Second Life, one of many virtual world platforms that are available to educators. On her “land,” she created a “science center” where students could carry out experiments as they were completing homework assignments, going back and forth to gather data in the lab and answer questions based on their observations. She was able to develop activities for topics such as one-dimensional constant motion, acceleration in a straight line, vector addition and resolution, free fall, graphing, volume displacement, specific gravity, density, buoyancy, translational statics, density and some associated concepts such as area and volume.

A virtual physics "science center" in which students carry out experiments and visualize concepts

Vicki explains, “I have an activity where students push a button and a glass object appears on a scale. It tells you the mass. You touch that object, and it flies up over a tank of water, and drops in. The level of the water rises and tells you how much the volume has changed. Students use that to work on their understanding of volume displacement and density.” Because students make observations in the virtual lab and immediately apply them to homework, they can make the connection to the larger concepts they are learning. Vicki can also interact with students in Second Life, helping them out or asking additional questions to reinforce the lesson.  Virtual worlds work very well for illustrating basic concepts and, as Vicki says, in the virtual labs, “you can see it, you can touch it, you can make it happen,” which leads to greater understanding.

For homework assignments, Vicki combines Second Life with WebAssign, an online homework and grading system. Students receive assignments in WebAssign that direct them to an area of Second Life where they can complete an activity that gives them the data they need to complete the assignment. This process mimics the learning they experienced in the “real” lab, and reinforces the message that lab work applies directly to an understanding of basic physics concepts. This model is well-integrated in all of Vicki’s classes.

Working on physics problems in the virtual lab

Setting up her lab in Second Life posed some challenges for both Vicki and her students. For herself, Vicki first had to spend time learning how to get around in the virtual world before she could begin teaching her students there. She found that it took a real commitment and a steep learning curve to organize her virtual lab and get it to act the way she wanted it to.  While she had never scripted before, she found help at RIT, from books, from her husband (a computer programmer), and from people who “live” in the virtual environment who are willing and happy to help. The students’ challenges were similar, in that they also had to have time to learn how to function in Second Life. At first, Vicki overestimated students’ familiarity with virtual environments, and she needed to build in time at the beginning of the course to provide extra guidance and teach students how to navigate and get in and out of the world. Students also wanted to know how to customize their avatars—their virtual personas—by changing their clothes or making their hair look different.

Student reactions to the Second Life assignments were mixed at first. Some students suspected that the teacher might be “talking down” to them, or that the virtual labs were a game. But they soon recognized how they were using the virtual labs to collect data, make graphs, and solve problems in a very real way. Vicki also saw an increase in engagement by students and attitude questionnaires distributed at the end of each quarter show that a majority of students are enthusiastic about the possibilities offered to them in Second Life. The highly visual aspect of the assignments is also something that her deaf students respond to and use in their learning.

Over the four years of building her lab, she continues to add and modify activities so they work better for her students.  She says, “Something might look perfectly clear to me, but that doesn’t mean that it’s clear to my students.” Now she feels most things are working the way she wants them. The collection is not finished though; she feels that it probably will never be "finished."


The virtual campus

She’s looking forward to semester conversion because it will provide an opportunity for her to add new activities to support new topics, something that is fun for her. “This is very creative work,” she says, “That’s why I like it. Teaching should be creative. Teaching should be something that ignites your passion, and helps you really connect with your students. Not just to teach them, but to connect with them on a human level, and this does that for me.

Babbitt and Lobos
Callie Babbitt
Assistant Professor Golisano Institute for Sustainability
Alex Lobos
Associate Professor College of Imaging Arts & Sciences

Transdisciplinary Sustainable Product Design

(story collected in 2012)

While teaching their respective courses, Callie Babbitt from the Golisano Institute of Sustainability (GIS) and Alex Lobos of the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences (CIAS) had both experienced the knowledge gap between the technology specialists who develop sustainable design tools and the product designers who implement these tools. This gap in knowledge becomes very prominent in the field of product design, where engineers collaborate with industrial design professionals, each skilled in their own respective areas, but not aware of the tools and practices of the other. Callie and Alex recognized the need for an integrated, holistic approach to product design that would bring together the skills of both professions to create sustainable designs, so they set out to model this in the classroom by creating an interdisciplinary curriculum, implemented in a studio course for senior-level Industrial Design and graduate-level Sustainability students. 

By collaborating on this interdisciplinary model, Alex and Callie have also been able to secure some corporate support from companies such as Autodesk® and AT&T®. Their students have also presented at various conferences by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), and the E-Waste Symposium, and have won several international design competitions.

Alex and Callie felt that traditional university-level training in their fields often concentrates within disciplines without providing the holistic knowledge required in the real world. Their idea is to build an integrated knowledge base for developing sustainable designs. They aimed to bridge this gap between the skills and experiences of students from these two disciplines and help them understand the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of sustainability and product design, while teaching them how to communicate in trans-disciplinary teams. Alex and Callie also realized that their design students needed more exposure to quantitative measures so they could evaluate the impact of their decisions on a broader scale. Working with the engineering students, the design students saw their product designs subjected to the methods and tools of quantitative analysis. Conversely, engineering students had to create solutions that applied the tools and requirements of good design.

Callie with a student team

In their transdisciplinary product design studio course, Callie and Alex created a comprehensive learning environment for both engineering and design students. The course combines instructions and collaboration through instructor-to-student and peer-to-peer mediated interactions. Students work in cross-functional teams to identify a sustainable product problem and create a sustainable design solution for it. This peer-to-peer mediated collaboration provides a rapid immersion for students in each other's discipline. In the process, they learn the tools and practices for each discipline from one another with the instructors available to reinforce and scaffold learning. At the end of the quarter, students present their 3D design solutions in three-minute videos that communicate the product to an outside audience, highlighting the design innovation and sustainability concepts. In this way, students also gain experience marketing their sustainable design solutions.

Student Design Project - 2nd Place Winner at the International E-waste Design Competition, 2011


The course has been well-received by students from both disciplines; course evaluations showed a 42 percent improvement in understanding the dimensions of sustainability and a marked improvement in incorporating sustainability concepts in their projects. Alex and Callie also observed that their problem-based, team approach often motivated students to assume roles in their teams naturally. For example, graduate students often acted as mentors to the un.dergraduates, resulting in increased synergy among the team, so students were comfortable contributing to the project based on their individual skill sets.

Conducting a transdisciplinary course has not been without challenges. Students come to the class with different backgrounds in vocabulary, tools, and techniques particular to their field. Getting them to collaborate from the same frame of reference often takes some time and adjustments. But with incremental adjustments, Alex and Callie have successfully offered this course for two quarters, and are excited that the new Golisano Institute of Sustainability building will include a dedicated Sustainable Product Innovation lab to help them further develop their transdisciplinary approach.


Geigel and Lakin
Joe Geigel
Associate Professor College of Liberal Arts
Susan Lakin
Associate Professor College of Liberal Arts

The Intersection of Art, Music, and Technology

(story collected in 2012)

Susan Lakin, College of Imaging Arts and Sciences (CIAS), and Joe Geigel, Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences (GCCIS), found a way to combine students from their respective colleges into one class, where students could work collaboratively on an interdisciplinary project that would combine art, music, and technology to produce interactive music videos. This cross-college collaboration involved student artists, student technologists, faculty, and musicians from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY--all working together toward a common deliverable.

A critical learning goal for Susan and Joe was to teach students from both disciplines how to communicate with each other, since as art students and technology students, "they really do speak different languages," according to Joe. Communicating and working toward a common goal is a learning experience that models real world situations that students will face after they leave RIT. Students in the arts traditionally work on individual projects, but with the interdisciplinary approach, they have to collaborate with programmers and musicians to create a common vision, develop the concept, and bring the project to completion.

Susan and Joe designed companion courses that they taught simultaneously in their respective departments, creating a collaborative learning experience for CIAS and GCCIS students. Students created both artistic and technical elements that were used in interactive music videos and live interactive performances.  Susan and Joe also recruited musicians from the Rochester community to work with their students to produce the videos and performances, creating an authentic learning experience. 

Bringing in local musicians contributes to the student learning experience because project teams have an actual client that has to approve their work. The instructors feel that including an outside collaborator enhances the class. Joe feels that working with the musicians adds an interesting dynamic to the whole project because the programmers don't live in the world of the musician, so it is unique to have the perspective they bring to the project. And, Susan felt that the experience was valuable for students because when they are working on a multimedia piece, they are usually taking existing music and applying it--in this case, they experience what it is like to work with the people who actually compose and perform the music, adding more depth to the project.

While being required to compromise their ideas on integrated teams can be challenging, Susan feels that this approach "opens up the potential for creativity and it really expands what they're able to do as individuals by working with musicians, computer science students. It really expands their knowledge." Computer science students gain practical experience programming a real deliverable with a very tough deadline, and they learn to collaborate and adapt based on the artist’s and the musician's needs, since there's a lot of give and take during development.


The course is built around a unique deliverable. Instead of being a passive viewer of a music video on YouTube or MTV, student groups create web-based videos that the viewer can interact with and have a direct impact on the outcome. Viewers can make changes to the music or the imagery so each time they watch the video, it is a different experience. The live performance took the interaction a step further—the audience watching the musician perform live can text their feelings and emotions during the performance; they choose what imagery will be projected next based upon the texts received. The musician, the audience, and the technologists are all interacting during the performance for a collaborative experience.

Nostalgia Project, online (YouTube, 9:49)

Susan and Joe integrated skill-based exercises throughout their courses to help the students' build a knowledge base of what they needed to know in their respective fields. They structured the course with staged goals, deliverables, and deadlines, just like a project in the real world. Having a timeline where students meet interim goals lets each group see the progress at different points. At the beginning stage, they don't really understand what each other's roles are and how the project is going to develop. At strategic points, it important for students to present their progress to the class and receive "work-in-progress" critiques from students from both colleges.

Students have been extremely enthusiastic about this project. They found value in seeing an entire production from start to finish, which they hadn't experienced before:

It was an awesome experience to be in the music video course to work with the local music band and learn how to produce a music video. I'm deaf and I worked with a team full of hearing students and we worked great together! No matter if you are deaf/hard-of-hearing, or hearing, everyone can join the music video course!

The music video course was a great opportunity to meet and collaborate with students from different majors, and made me realize the strengths of working with a diverse production team.

This class for me was something different than anything else that I've ever taken. It was a whole lot of stress and a whole lot of talent coming together to create something awesome.

The instructors are as enthusiastic about the outcomes as the students.

"This has been a lot of fun. Since I've been at RIT I've worked towards bridging arts and technology, especially now with video games, films—there is an art aspect to it—and if it is going to be done correctly, you have technology aspect. We're giving students the opportunity to experience this before they go out into the industry, something that RIT is very unique in having that capability and one of its strengths." -Joe Geigel

"A unique aspect of RIT is being able to connect with the Rochester community and what we have here, such as the Eastman School of Music. Having students engaged in the projects such as this them to open up and engage in the community as well.” - Susan Lakin


Mandell and Martin
Hinda Mandell
Assistant Professor College of Liberal Arts
Kelly Martin
Assistant Professor College of Liberal Arts

Online Photo Sharing and Classroom Engagement

(story collected in 2012)

Students in Journalism and Communications have to get comfortable generating content quickly on a regular basis, something that they can only develop with practice.  While Hinda Mandell and Kelly Martin, faculty in the College of Liberal Arts, were looking for an opportunity to bring their classes together, they came up with the idea of having their combined students contribute to a single photo blog titled, "The Best Thing I've Seen All Day". This collaborative assignment would give students practice finding and writing about “news,” with an expectation for them to produce on schedule. 

By having their respective classes contribute, Hinda and Kelly were also able to achieve an overarching goal of developing a sense of community and space beyond the immediate physical borders of a classroom. In addition to accomplishing their learning objectives, the participation numbers have been a supportive indicator that activities like “Best Thing” tap into the current cultural trend of people driven and interested in connecting instantly through social media and photo sharing. It also supports students' growing expectations for instant feedback as part of their learning experience.

In teaching Journalism, Hinda says that she wants her students to begin to develop a “newsy eye”: to be able to find things that can be interesting and amusing for others. In addition, they need to develop the ability to write a few sentences of clear copy on a regular basis. Along with Kelly, they set up a joint activity in the form of a photo blog that students from both classes contributed to, with photos and text, every week. They came up with the theme, “The Best Thing I’ve Seen All Day,” which enabled students to create a visual snapshot of what it means to be an RIT student. The theme also gave students an open-ended, low stakes opportunity to find and share images that connected with them.


"The Best Thing I've Seen All Day" blog


Hinda and Kelly selected as the platform for their combined assignment, because it was easy for them to set up and easy for students to post photos and comments. But the rollout still required some handholding from the instructors.  Kelly shares, “People assume that students at RIT are very technology-savvy, but there’s a wide range of skills.”  Hinda and Kelly recommend to faculty who include this kind of activity in a course to build in extra time during the first two weeks to help students get comfortable with the technology. They must also be sure that they are clear in their expectations of exactly what they want students to post.

Another thing students learn is what making something “public” means, although the knowledge that two classes share the blog raises this awareness. As instructors,  Hinda and Kelly retain the ability to take images or text down that could be offensive, although they haven’t had to do that yet. By requiring students to post and comment weekly, the instructors are also able to emphasize—and enforce—the importance of meeting deadlines.


Photo by student, Michael Roppolo


Although the classes didn’t meet in the same room, they liked the sense of community that developed from the joint blogging experience. It also enabled Hinda and Kelly to see how students interacted, and students appreciated that they could add their contributions to their personal portfolios.

By designing a grouped class, the students saw what they were doing as larger than just the classroom, so students tended to monitor themselves. Their post-class survey showed that students appreciated that comments remained appropriate and didn’t get “out of hand,” as they can with Facebook or other more open online environments.

Because the activity was fairly easy to implement, Kelly has begun to use it in other classes, such as Public Speaking and Digital Design, sometimes using the same “Best Thing I’ve Seen” theme, and other times to have students illustrate design properties like texture or modulation.

Hinda shares, “It’s important that all classes explore technology and how technology can be used in the classroom. And just because it’s technology, that doesn’t mean it has to be very complex and technical.


Photo by student, Dakota Nobles


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