Community colleges in the United States are a key part of the nation’s post-secondary educational system. Offering low-cost, transfer-ready, and occupation-oriented education, two-year colleges are able to serve students from a wide array of backgrounds and with myriad educational needs.
Often the dedication these institutions display in meeting their students’ varied learning experience needs in turn leads to academic innovation — something that the faculty and staff at Centralia College in Washington state has embraced wholeheartedly.
By deploying lecture capture and integrated educational technologies, Centralia’s instructors have internalized the ethos of the community college to expand opportunities to the widest possible group of students.
Centralia College’s educational technology staff blogs about their institution’s ongoing experience using Panopto to achieve their goals, highlighting innovative uses of campus technology in the classroom and beyond.
Students come to Centralia College for a wide range of needs from completing their GED to getting the training they need to enter or re-enter the workforce in a particular field. While about 25% of Centralia’s students are full time, many more are attending school part time. Students are frequently balancing their education with family obligations and full time employment. For these students, flexibility is key.
Before the introduction of eLearning, Centralia College had already designed their school to reduce or eliminate as many barriers to entry as possible. They did this by keeping costs low, having classes that begin at several times throughout the year, and keeping admissions open to anyone with a high school diploma or GED.
Yet as flexible as the classes were, Centralia College found there was always a subset of students that could not complete classes due to external factors like family or work. Some were dropping out during class while others had scheduling conflicts that prevented them from completing all of the required courses in a particular track. Despite a student’s desire to complete their education, many were not able to through no fault of their own.
Around the world, video is used for a variety of purposes in education from recording lectures for later review, flipping classrooms to foster more interactive learning, and even collecting assignments from students.
Identifying the need to better serve diverse student populations, Centralia College, in partnership with the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), decided to provide their instructors with the technology necessary to make course material and lectures available online. This decision represented an important investment to support non-traditional students who are not always able to attend in-person classes.
For Centralia College, it was important that course content was not only available outside off campus, but that it maintained the same or better quality than was available in the classroom. To do this, they decided to leverage their learning management system (LMS), Canvas, with Panopto, an integrated video content management system.
Using the Canvas LMS, Centralia instructors were able to organize their classes into websites complete with assignments, resources of all types and quizzes. Knowing that students’ time and outside commitments might vary throughout the course of the semester, instructors added syllabi and assignments to the LMS so students could work ahead when they had available time.
For the lectures themselves, Centralia wanted something that replicated all aspects of the in-class lecture.
Typically, lectures captured with Panopto started with audio and video of the presenter along with their PowerPoint slides. From there, depending on the subject matter and the tools of the trade, instructors were able to record any other teaching tool that they used normally in the classroom, so the online audience got the same benefits as the students in-class.
Since instructors remained responsible for providing the best teaching experience to the students in the classroom, they could afford only the smallest amount of time each course for setting up any lecture capture technology. When Panopto was made available in their classrooms, instructors at Centralia were surprised and delighted by how easy it was to use.
Dave Peterson, an Assistant Professor of Electronic and Robotics says about Panopto that “I am always surprised at how little extra work this requires… It couldn’t be much simpler, and I am very impressed with the quality.”
Teaching in a highly technical field like robotics, Professor Peterson used a wide variety of teaching tools in class. He often used Panopto to record walkthrough and tutorials for complex simulation software running on his computer, but was also able to capture step-by-step video of something as simple as working through a problem in Excel.
Not all learning tools are inherently high-tech, but Centralia College’s use of some simple technology allows even familiar classroom techniques to be reproduced faithfully for the online audience.
One such tool to help bridge the gap to high-quality captured lectures that Centralia College found was MimioCapture, an innovative system for tracking the movement of dry-erase markers on a whiteboard. The digital file that MimioCapture output created was a highly-editable and legible reproduction of handwriting and manual drawings. By using real dry-erase markers, MimioCapture did not interfere with the instructor’s teaching process or the experience of students attending in-class. Because Mimio produced a digital facsimile of the whiteboard, there were never any issues with the board being obscured by the instructor’s hand or body and it even worked on a stained board.
The ability to use familiar technology like a whiteboard and have it recorded created a powerful bridge to the experience of being in a classroom in a way that respected the students watching from home without invoking a huge learning curve for the faculty. With tools that were easy-to-use, administrators had one less barrier to face when it came to getting their instructors to adopt lecture capture.
Once a lecture was captured, the videos instructors had created with Panopto were automatically uploaded to the cloud where they could be cleaned up, revised and added to using Panopto’s web-based editing feature. If no changes were needed, it only took a few clicks for instructors to add their lectures to Centralia’s Canvas learning management system.
From there, students could watch all of the relevant videos on their computer, tablet or smartphone, from anywhere on campus or off.
For students who weren’t able to attend a lecture due to unexpected obligations, the recordings help ensure that they don’t fall behind. And when students are in class, recorded lectures offer the ability for greater classroom engagement and better comprehension.
Traditionally, when an instructor lectures, students had spent their attention and energy on converting the spoken word to notes. This approach was problematic for several reasons.
First of all, when students were writing, they did not have time to engage critically with the material they were hearing. That came later when it was time to do the assignment. If the information they need did not make it to their notes, it was not available. Lecture capture made it possible for students to re-watch a whole video or just a segment. Centralia students found that with Panopto, they were able to search across all lectures at once and jump right to the relevant segment.
With high-quality capture and the ability to search content on any device, Centralia College had found a way to replicate the classroom experience online, giving greater flexibility to non-traditional students and increasing participation.
This increase in participation was so dramatic at Centralia College that some courses experienced an unprecedented 100% participation and completion rate in multiple classes. This would have been impressive in a residential four year college with full-time students, but for part-time students in a two-year setting, this was astounding to faculty and administrators.
Using Panopto, Canvas and MimioCapture, the good news of Centralia’s more powerful and easy-to-use eLearning system spread around campus, finding use beyond the traditional scope of the college’s courses.
Because many of the obligations and challenges that students attending community college face go beyond the comprehension of course material, Centralia’s administration wanted to find ways to support students in all of the areas that contribute to their academic success. They set out to help students who were the first generation in their families to attend college and those who were low-income or had disabilities.
Using federal grant-funding available to help support students like these, Centralia’s student support services produced short courses on topics like paying for college and time management. By providing this information as videos, they were able to distribute them before students ever arrived on campus so that they would have a better idea of what to expect when they got there.
Centralia’s student support professionals also identified that one of the best sources of information and support came in the form of other students. Even after at-risk students had successfully completed school and moved on, Centralia was able to share their stories with new students through video, the next best thing to actually being there.
Through Centralia College’s innovation in eLearning, they have eliminated an important barrier to education for a diverse range of students balancing personal and professional obligations alongside their academic ones. They have taken their learnings from recreating their classrooms to support students through the multiple facets that determine their success in school.