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The future forward higher ed classroom

How technology—and students—will change the nature of education
University Business, January 2018

Editor's Note: University Business welcomes the insights and opinions of educators and administrators on all topics. If you would like to contribute a guest column, please contact Tim Goral at tgoral@promediagrp.com.

When listening to Gary Kayye talk, it’s hard not to feel his enthusiasm for new technologies and how they will impact the next generation of learners.

Kayye teaches in the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism, but he has also worked in the AV industry for more than 25 years, and is the president and CEO of rAVe [Publications], a publishing and digital strategy and communications company.

With that background, Kayye has seen what works and what doesn’t in education technology, and has a keen sense of how the digital lifestyle of today’s college students will lead to an evolution in the way teaching and learning takes place in the coming years.

Kayye will once again deliver the Welcome Address at this year’s UBTech conference at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas in June.

Last year you introduced the UBTech audience to the idea of the digital canvas. Now you are putting that into practice.

We’ve built a classroom at The University of North Carolina that is definitely going to be a very future-forward thinking and operating classroom. It will begin being used in January, with the new semester. It will allow for more fluid collaboration than a typical classroom, because everything is movable and mobile—everything is also always connected.

Therefore, regardless of where you’re sitting and how you move and configure the furniture—and how you work in groups or as large teams or small teams or as a class as a whole—there’s always connectivity and interactive display technology right in front of you.

You have the ability to touch things, move things, collaborate within the group, outside the group, you can connect with tools like Zoom or Skype or whatever you decide you want to use. Then all of it is packaged with collaboration, all the time. It’s very much like how classrooms will more likely be.

You talk about how this will disrupt linear teaching. What do you mean?

Teaching is traditionally linear—slide one to slide two to slide three and so on, but that’s not how millennials learn. Older people teach that way because that’s how they were taught, but the world doesn’t work that way anymore.

If a student asks a question halfway through the lesson, a linear teacher will say, “We’ll address questions at the end.” A nonlinear teacher will address those questions then and there.

When millennials and younger students have a question, they immediately ask the question, and they expect it to be answered at that moment because a lot of things we teach build on other things that they must understand.

If you are going to teach A, B, C and D today, and they don’t understand A, you can’t teach B, and so on. You need to allow for questions; you need to “check in” constantly. This learning environment is nonlinear in the sense that the content is always available at all times.

In our new classroom, if students ask a question, you don’t have to minimize the PowerPoint presentation and open up a browser to Google it, or launch YouTube to show a video. Everything’s visible on the screen at the same time. If it won’t fit on the screen, you can turn to the back or side of the classroom where two projectors show everything on the wall.

And if that’s not enough room, we’ll put it on one of the many monitors that are hanging up around the wall, and we’ll keep it up there so we can refer to it at any moment in time.  

How did coming up in the AV industry influence your classroom design?

Having that experience, I now see what works on the AV side and what doesn’t work on the AV side. To be perfectly frank, if I were to have had this idea 10 years ago or even five years ago, I don’t think it could have been done because the technology hadn’t caught up with that type of a learning environment.

Now it has, and a lot of that has been driven by portable technology.

Ten years ago, the Google device was on their laptop, which was in their backpack, so they’d wait and pull out the laptop when they stopped somewhere and then they would Google it. Now, if a student needs some information, they search it quickly, because the Google device is in their hand. All we’re doing is what they’re used to all the time.

You can’t say to the students, “In your real world you can do everything, but when you come in here, you have no access to technology.” There are star professors who do that, even around my campus. The students tell me often that they’ll walk into a classroom and the professor has them turn off phones and laptops and listen to a lecture.

We have to, as a higher education facility, have “their technology”—what they’re used to—available to them at all times. You can’t say, “Put your real world on hold for 50 minutes while I teach you something.” That’s not realistic. You have to make the technology available, and then allow it to flow with the discussion.

So teaching has to evolve along with the technology?

Yes. I think this will be a hard concept for instructors who have been teaching 20 or 30 years to do, because it means that they’re going to have to learn a new way of teaching. In reality, they’re teaching a new type of student. The smartphone is only 10 years old.

The average age for a student to have a smartphone is probably in the early age of middle school, which means that during their middle school and high school years, they’ve had that answer right in front of them all the time.

That’s the new generation of students coming into college starting next year and the year after, so you’re going to have to be able to cater to them, and so you’re going to have to change the way you teach.

Can your classroom evolve as the students do?

Yes. If a professor wants to teach in it the “old-fashioned” way, they can simply start the system and just put up a PowerPoint slide. On the other hand, if someone wants to have all the content available all the time, then all you do is turn everything else on.

Everything we’re using meets industry standards, so if a company were to come out with a new version of a camera, we would just put the new camera in. We don’t have to change the switcher. We don’t have to upgrade the signal processing, we don’t have to upgrade the projector or anything like that.

Of course, with technology I’d never say that you’re finished, because there’s always something better that comes along that maybe has a different type of connectivity, but we’ve focused on standardizing the connectivity with what has been adopted today.

Not everyone has your AV background. How can they keep up with the rapidly changing technology?

It’s a combination of things. Part of it is staying up to date by going to trade shows and seeing all the technology on display in one place. If you’re not going to a show like UBTech, then you’re missing out.

If you say, “I’m going to go every other year,” conceptually that’s an interesting idea, and I think that made sense for trade shows in the 1990s or in the early 2000s. But today, if you are catering to a generation of technologists or people who are using technology, I think it’s short-sighted to think that you can get everything by going to a show every two years.

Another part of it is reading the right resources to help you understand what’s changing in the industry, because everything is changing so quickly. It may be following the right people on social media who are forward-thinking. It may mean following the companies that are staying on the leading edge of the technology.

I wouldn’t rely on a single source at any moment in time, because technology is a constantly moving target. 


Tim Goral is senior editor of UB.

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