Calvin joins local schools for live-stream learning


Three spring classes are using Google technologies to engage with other remote classrooms at Alma and Albion Colleges. Photo by Jessica Zylstra.

This spring, three classes are offered to Calvin students via remote live stream, including professor of sociology, Roman Williams’ course, “Visual Sociology.” The courses are taught via Google-supplied technology.

Williams says that the experience with his new course “can [be called] a success, fingers crossed though, we have a couple weeks left in the semester.”

The Michigan Colleges Alliance arranged for this live stream course to take place, along with two others. While Calvin teaches “Visual Sociology,” Alma offers “Media Theory and Culture,” while Albion offers “Earth, Art and the Environment.”

The courses are taught via Chromebox and Google Hangouts technology, with Calvin students meeting on the first floor of the library and the other two institutions meeting in their respective classrooms. The rooms utilize two television screens, one for each remote class and a wide-angle camera to capture the room. In addition, each room has one Jamboard, Google’s interactive whiteboard.

These rooms were furnished and designed in part by Steelcase, the Grand Rapids-based furniture company. Steelcase has worked with the initiative to help arrange the classroom furniture, color and designs.

According to Taylor Hartson, a senior sociology major, the logistics of offering the course to three institutions has created a few obstacles. Hartson noted that the semesters don’t line up and, as a consequence, the course starts a month into Albion and Alma’s semesters and ends a month before Calvin’s semester ends. In order to make up for the time, the class meets once a week for four hours, rather than the normal three hour night class.

Hartson has been pleased with her overall experiences in the class thus far, although she suspects it would have been a different experience if the professor was not physically present during the lectures.

For Calvin students in the other two courses, interaction with the professor is only through webcam during class time and via email.  Mattie Koppendrayer, a 2015 art history graduate working in the Registrar’s office, is a student in the “Earth, Art, and the Environment” course, taught through Albion College, one of the remote courses offered to Calvin students.

Koppendrayer noted how the experience is a “fantastic opportunity to learn from faculty who do not teach at Calvin.”

While overall Koppendrayer was pleased with this experimental course, she did note that this type of course would improve learning if the course was designed from the start to implement the technology, rather than the course being adapted to fit the use of the technology.

Looking to the future of courses like this, Koppendrayer said, “It could allow for courses to be taught in several countries, potentially.”