Google powers classroom collaboration

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Educators at Calvin College, Albion College and Alma College are looking forward to an experiment this spring. Through the Michigan Colleges Alliance and using technology donated by Google, one professor at each school will teach a course to around fifteen students, five local and ten remote.

Courses will include “Earth, Art, and the Environment,” offered through Albion, “Media Theory and Culture” through Alma and “Visual Sociology” taught by Calvin’s Roman Williams of the sociology department.

Professors will be flown to Mountain View, Calif. to receive training at the Googleplex in early December. The exact technology that will be used is somewhat unsolidified, but current plans include use of a Google video conferencing system similar to Google Hangouts.

Williams said he is excited about experimenting with the new format, but is somewhat underwhelmed with the technology currently slated for his use. He’s hopeful, though that he will have use of a Jamboard, Google’s 55-inch digital whiteboard that would allow real-time viewing and collaboration.

Provost Cheryl Brandsen said that the details of this arrangement have been difficult to work out with each school’s varying break times and credit systems.

Both Williams and Brandsen see this semester as having significant potential for future endeavors.

Williams said that this could a step toward such classroom technology becoming like “wallpaper,” something students would find standard.

Brandsen said that, as part of the visioning process currently underway, she and others are asking about how to improve students’ educational experience and include those unable to come to Grand Rapids.

“Our intention is really missional,” she said. “Going forward, is this a technology that we can leverage to offer classes in other parts of the world, synchronous or asynchronous, and if so, how?”

Brandsen also sees this technology as potentially useful for faculty development among reformed schools around the world in the near future.

“We’re thinking about how do we continue to develop our faculty as teachers and as scholars in a way that is integrated with a reformed Christian vision,” she said, adding, “I personally would be horrified if it took 10 years. I don’t think we need to wait that long.”

Students interested in enrolling in these courses should contact registrar Tom Steenwyk at [email protected]