A Peek at Smart Classroom

by Angel Lu and Crusher Wong (OCIO)
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Being a young university with vitality, City University of Hong Kong has always been ambitious and courageous to explore cutting-edge technologies which may benefit teaching and learning on campus. In order to search for and promote suitable technologies in classroom, the Smart Classroom Working Group, which is composed of members from various academic departments and central offices, responds to the calls for more effective solutions for teaching and learning. In this article, let us explore some interesting classroom technologies together.
 
Aims of the Working Group
 
The purposes of the Smart Classroom Working Group are to identify suitable classroom technologies, in hardware or software, and provide necessary support to pilot those technologies. All these technologies will focus on facilitating teaching and learning activities to enhance student engagement through active learning. Throughout the whole pilot scheme, central offices will provide equipment and support while teaching staff may apply for additional budget from the Teaching Development Grants (TDGs) or the Teaching Start-Up Grants (TSGs) [1]. Once the technologies are proven effective, efficient and applicable, the Group will make recommendations to senior management for campus-wide deployments.
 
Examples of Smart Classroom
 
Catchbox [2] may look like a funny toy but it brings far more than fun in the classroom. It is the first throwable microphone which can be thrown everywhere inside a venue to engage participants in verbal communication. Because of its flexibility and portable nature, Catchbox can enhance students’ concentration inside the class by providing opportunities for them to lead with their own solutions to the problems using this throwable microphone on hand. Two versions of Catchbox are now supporting three courses to improve student participation.
 
Polling has been an effective assessment tool in classrooms as it provides a bilateral communication between teachers and students. It is not uncommon that the instructor would like to ask for opinions from learners in the classroom. The traditional way to seek for individual inputs from all students is time-consuming and ineffective. Fortunately, there are many existing solutions online, e.g. Canvas Polls [3], Poll Everywhere [4] and Kahoot! [5], which transform smartphones into polling devices. All these online polling platforms not only allow a mass group of students to respond immediately, but also enable instructors to gather potentially valuable data from the class during lessons. To learn more about using online polling to support peer instruction [6], please watch Professor Eric Mazur’s YouTube video at https://youtu.be/FUY049rIjdM .
 
Wireless Screen Sharing has been made popular by technologies such as Apple Airplay [7], Google Cast [8] and Miracast [9], in which the screen on the gadget is mirrored to a bigger screen for sharing. In a typical classroom setting, instructors can project the teaching materials on their computers to share with the students. In an active learning environment, students can take the lead and contribute to the learning activities via mirroring contents from their mobile devices onto the big screen wirelessly in the classroom. Hence, ideas can be instantly shared among students even though some of them are sitting at the back of the classroom. Such sharing activity can be further enhanced by incorporating Catchbox – the throwable microphone.
 
Virtual Reality (VR) is another promising technology in the educational field. The virtual environment in VR offers an immersive experience to learners who may interact with characters or manipulate objects in the scene. By wearing a headset, learners may explore places and events all over the world without leaving the classroom. It can be an alternative solution to distant field trips or hazardous experiments. A more affordable VR solution has been adopted with 360° 4k camera and Google Cardboard [10] where students can easily transform their smartphones into VR headsets. To get a first-hand immersive learning experience, check out the CityU’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on "Virtual Hong Kong: New World, Old Traditions [11]" developed by Professor Horace Ip, Vice-President (Student Affairs) and Chair Professor of Computer Science, and the team. VR Mobile app and 360 videos on YouTube are widely applied to enrich the teaching and learning process in the MOOC. In particular, the Cage Home scene (https://youtu.be/iQBF3vX3dOQ) is the next best thing to a personal visit in order to experience the poor living conditions inside metal cage cubicles.
 
Attendance taking has always been a pain for course instructors because of the lack of a perfect solution to balance between authenticity and management of the records. The old-school paper circulation may not be reliable and it poses serious problems in data management. Canvas attendance (Roll Call) requires too much manual inputs from teachers in large-class applications. It is obvious that more robust attendance taking methods are desired. Student cards scanning can be an effective alternative to current solutions. Thanks to Dr. Yanto Chandra from the Department of Public Policy and his student Mr. Szeto Cheuk Ting for sharing their project findings: a barcode reading computer with an Excel spreadsheet can archive and analyze attendance records in a user friendly and efficient manner. Building upon their research findings, 15 portable smart card readers have been purchased to support the attendance taking pilot with 16 teacher users. The RFID scanning technology used on CityU student cards and the smart card readers provide not only higher efficiency but also more accurate results.
 
Calls for Your Participation
 
Besides offering a Cook’s tour to the recent investigation of classroom technologies in CityU, this article intends to show the University’s continuous attempt to source any feasible solutions which may aid teaching and learning on campus. Please contact the e-Learning Team directly (elearn@cityu.edu.hk or 3442-6727) if you are interested in joining the pilots mentioned above.  The Smart Classroom Working Group always welcomes your suggestions or innovative ideas.
 
References
  1. The Office of Education Development and Gateway Education manages both the Teaching Development Grants and the Teaching Start-Up Grants. For more information and important dates, please visit http://www.cityu.edu.hk/edge/grant/
  2. A webpage at http://getcatchbox.com/what-is-catchbox/ provides basic information of Catchbox. The YouTube video at https://youtu.be/apjN3xThfY8 gives you an overview in three minutes.
  3. Canvas Poll is a mobile app, available on iOS (http://apple.co/2wIqiOK) and Android (http://bit.ly/2xQAfbI) devices, allowing online polling for students in a Canvas course.
  4. Poll Everywhere (https://www.polleverywhere.com/) is an online polling system providing free service to individual users.
  5. Kahoot! (https://kahoot.com/) focuses on game-based learning and its business model is not obvious.
  6. Peer Instruction is an interactive teaching method invented by Professor Eric Mazur at Harvard University in the 1990s. After learning a concept, a question is posed for students to apply the concept. Students committed to individual answers and the responses are presented. Then a short discussion allows students to share their thinking with their peers. Finally, the same question is posed again to check if more students can get the correct answer. Research has shown that peer instruction can improve learning if certain conditions are satisfied during the implementation. For details, please see
  7. Apple Airplay (http://apple.co/2eH66Ty) is a proprietary protocol developed by Apple Inc to stream contents or mirror iOS device to other AirPlay enabled devices.
  8. Google Cast (http://bit.ly/2gMMhi1) is a proprietary protocol developed by Google to stream multimedia contents to compatible screens. Since the hardware sold by Google is branded Chromecast, one may see the term “Chromecast built-in” on consumer devices.
  9. Miracast (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracast) is a standard developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance to wirelessly connecting a device (notebook computer, tablet or smartphone) to a display (TV or projector).
  10. Google Cardboard (https://vr.google.com/cardboard/) is an inexpensive viewer to provide VR experience with a smartphone.
  11. Virtual Hong Kong: New World, Old Traditions is one of the three CityU MOOCs running on FutureLearn. Please visit https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/virtual-hong-kong to check the availability.