YPSILANTI, Mich. (WXYZ) — College is now in full swing with the fall semester underway. This year colleges are better equipped to manage safety, student expectations, and restrictions on campus. Most importantly though is returning to normalcy in the classroom.
For Eastern Michigan University, that meant investing in better technology to ensure whether students are learning from home online or in the classroom, there would be no drop-off.
A lot has changed on Eastern Michigan University's campus with nearly 2,700 students walking around. In 2021 there are sprawling new buildings and winning sports teams, but with the threat of COVID-19 still lurking modern technology is on overdrive.
Chief Information Officer Ron Woody says with COVID they had to adjust quickly.
Switching over the way teaching and learning happened and the business of the university had to transition overnight to people taking their computers home and Zoom becoming the new way to do everything.
Welcome to EMU's classroom of the future. It's called High Flex. Where college professors can teach students in their lecture halls or remotely with the same valued lesson plan.
“What we've done is we've taken our standard classroom and layered some tools on top of it to allow professors to present in person and remotely at the same time,” said Aric Kirkland, Director of Desktop and Classroom Technology at EMU.
Kirkland says EMU started with 12 rooms this summer and they plan to roll out more.
“Are a lot of universities using this or is eastern one of the first to use this technology?” asked WXYZ’s Carolyn Clifford.
“Lots of people are starting to do this I think we have one of the better solutions,” said Kirkland.
Aric says at Eastern it's quality over quantity, including an auto-tracking camera allowing a professor to walk anywhere in the classroom. Microphones on the ceiling, so gone are battery-powered mics that can fail and a camera in front that shows students who tune in remotely.
“Why will this make a difference for kids who have to take classes at home by way of Zoom?” asked Clifford.
“Flexibility, there's an in-person presence but for the people at home it's going to make them feel more connected to the classroom with the cameras that we've added,” said Kirkland. “And the chat feature is there, and their presence is noted on the gallery view.”
Aric says EMU started this design before the pandemic started and the shutdown gave them time to try out different solutions and now that fall is here, it's time to roll everything out.
“Are you calm with the start of 2021?” Clifford asked EMU President James Smith, Ph.D.
“Calm is a relative word, I guess. We're certainly anxious to have people back and excited,” said EMU President James Smith.
Eastern is taking precautions: three feet of seating space between students and six feet between the professor and students.
“How are you going to keep kids safe?” asked Clifford.
“Well, we certainly encourage, beg, plead for vaccination we also have a full inside mask requirement,” said Smith.
Everyone knows things could change week to week, but for now, with this modern technology and extra safety measures EMU says the response has been positive.
“They're used to consuming their media on demand when they want it how they want it,” said Kirkland.
The cost to put this new technology in a classroom is about $20-$25,000 depending on the size of the room and no doubt COVID or not this innovative technology is here to stay.
“People like flexibility, so if I'm in a class that's being done in a high flex format and I decide on Monday I want to be in the room, and on Wednesday, I want to be in my dorm room they will have the flexibility to do that,” said Kirkland.