New classrooms at UC Riverside allow students to participate remotely or in person

Courtesy of UC Riverside

A class at the University of California Riverside this fall in a RISE classroom.

In an Intro to Machine Learning computer class last fall at the University of California Riverside, several students attended in person. Others participated remotely and tuned in to the class on Zoom from home. Students even had the option to watch a recorded version of lectures on their own time instead of attending in real time.

The class was one of dozens on campus taught in what Riverside officials call RISE classrooms — or rooms for greater student engagement. The classrooms, if approved by the instructor, provide students with the flexibility to attend lectures in a manner most comfortable for them. A third of all classrooms in Riverside were upgraded with new technology, including microphones and cameras, before the fall to provide the ability to mix in-person students with remote students. The campus paid for the upgrades with federal Covid aid.

Salman Asif, a machine learning class professor, said he had some students in China who couldn’t travel to California for the fall term, so he allowed them to join the class via Zoom or download recorded versions of his lectures. see. When he gave them that opportunity, he decided to give the rest of the class the same flexibility.

On a Monday in the fall, about 25 students were on Zoom for a lecture. About the same number of students were physically in the classroom.

“When I made an exception, I asked everyone to come; they can come or they can be present on Zoom,” Asif said. “And I also put the videos online. So there are three options.”

The types of classrooms used for Asif’s class are becoming more and more popular not only at UC Riverside, but at several California universities such as California State University Long Beach, CSU Northridge, and St. Mary’s College in Contra Costa County.

The idea behind classrooms is that not all students learn most effectively in the same way, says Jennifer Brown, UC Riverside vice-provost and dean of undergraduate education. For example, student parents can prefer lessons from home. The same is true for some disabled students. And some students may like to watch recorded versions of the lesson at their convenience.

“It helps expand the possibilities for what our faculty and our instructors can do by giving them these different tools that increase the level of interaction students can have,” Brown said.

The classrooms also make it possible for students exposed to Covid-19 to continue taking classes. That’s something that can be especially helpful during the winter period, with cases increasing as the omicron variant spreads. The term began on January 3, and the campus plans to provide distance-only teaching through January 28, but plans to resume face-to-face instruction after that.

Riverside has classrooms in three sizes called A, B and C classrooms – with A being the smallest, B medium and C large lecture rooms. 26 microphones are installed in the ceilings of class A and B. Those microphones amplify the sound of the person speaking so that not only those who are physically in the classroom can hear them, but also everyone present via Zoom. The same goes if a student on Zoom asks a question or makes a point – the whole class can hear them clearly.

Some UC Riverside classrooms have large, cube-shaped, foam-padded microphones called a Catchbox that students pass around as they ask questions or otherwise participate in class.

The ceiling microphones don’t work very well in the large lecture halls, so instructors teaching classes in those rooms may want to use a Catchbox, which is a microphone dampened in a foam box so it can be tossed around. Instructors and students can throw the Catchbox across the room, depending on who is speaking.

Simultaneous participation in the lesson between students in person and those on Zoom can take some getting used to in some cases.

Ryan Morales, a bioengineering major, said that during one of his bioengineering classes held in a RISE room this fall, a guest speaker joined the class on Zoom one day. During a question-and-answer session at the end, the instructors shared question time between students in person and those on Zoom, Morales said.

“There was confusion about whose turn it was to ask a question and in what form,” he said.

The classrooms are also equipped with other technology, including cameras that allow teachers to broadcast their lectures to students on Zoom and record them for students who cannot attend class live. The cameras are mounted in the back of the classrooms and can pan around the classroom and zoom in on specific locations. The cameras, which can be controlled by the instructor can capture things like whiteboard notes and PowerPoint presentations in high definition.

Many of the classrooms also have new dual projectors that allow instructors to simultaneously share their screens with students on Zoom and project the screen into the classroom.

For Asif, the machine learning professor, getting used to all the different technology was “not a seamless transition,” but eventually he found something that works: his iPad. He writes his notes and keeps track of his lessons on the iPad and projects them onto the screen for the class and Zoom participants to see.

“I’ve found that to be easier” than using other technology, such as a computer, he said.

Professors like Asif have a lot of freedom in deciding whether to change their teaching habits when teaching in a RISE classroom. They don’t have to use the technology made available to them, nor do they have to allow remote students to participate.

In some cases, professors prefer their students to be as personal as possible, believing that student engagement and focus are better in a personal setting. Some studies have found that students who take online classes perform worse than students who take in-person classes.

Alexander Duggan, a political science major at Riverside, said he had a political science class in one of the RISE classrooms in the fall, but his professor said the Zoom access would mainly be used by students exposed to Covid-19. .

“The teacher has actually expressed a lot of frustration about using Zoom access. He emphasizes a lot that the class is personal first. That should be the rule and you should only use Zoom if you have Covid exposure or some other extenuating circumstance,” said Duggan.

Duggan added that he still prefers to attend in person and said he was “totally okay” with that rule.

Brown, the dean of undergraduate education, said she is hopeful that the staff at XCITE, Riverside’s center for teaching and learning, “can help faculty understand the power of what we’ve put in the classrooms, what the technology can do.” to do.” She also said it is “in theory” possible that students who attend a class in a RISE classroom will eventually automatically be given the option to attend in person or remotely.

However, she also acknowledged that personalized instruction is valuable and said it makes sense that some instructors would want to prioritize a traditional classroom environment.

“Where we are now on our campus is up to the instructor,” Brown said. “The great thing is there’s flexibility in doing this, but it’s up to the instructor.”

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