Interactive education via Wiis and PS3s

With the help of a Title III federal grant of almost two million dollars, Seton Hill University (SHU) created two new educational technology rooms under the name “Educational Learners in Critical Thinking through Edification” or ELITE. The “C” is silent.

By Aja Hannah,

Staff Writer

With the help of a Title III federal grant of almost two million dollars, Seton Hill University (SHU) created two new educational technology rooms under the name “Educational Learners in Critical Thinking through Edification” or ELITE. The “C” is silent.

Members of the ELITE team include Quinto Martin, interactive and assistive technology specialist, Jeanne Pazenhowski, and Mary Spataro, instructional designer. The grant, received in October, plans to be distributed over the next five years.

Title III Coordinator and Activity Director Spataro said, “The goal of ELITE is ‘retention.’ We want to help students stay in school and increase the skills of faculty and support staff with technology.”
“As good teachers, we must meet our students where they are. It is a challenge for educators who are digital immigrants to keep ahead of the students who are digital natives. Continuous retooling of our instructional tools to stay abreast of the latest technologies, strategies and processes is a necessity,” said chair of the division of education, Sondra Lettrich.

ELITE plans to help teachers do just that.

According to Spataro, this program’s classes in the InQuiry Zone will teach instructors how to better interact with students in the technological world, which in turn will involve more students in class and raise the interest level in course content.

Samira Parrilla, a freshman, said, “I believe that part of what leads students to academic failure is not lack of skills or abilities, but lack of interest and enthusiasm when taking their classes. The creation of an interactive classroom at [SHU] is a captivating idea, since is not only increasing interest in students, but giving our professors additional tools that facilitate teaching in class.”

Located before the ramp in the Technology Learning Commons (TLC), the InQuiry Zone is described as a Technology Learning Commons . It holds a SMART board (an interactive/touch screen whiteboard), built in projector and control panel, videoconferencing equipment, and TVs for further projection.

Each year, the tools in InQuiry Zone will assist in teaching 24 faculty and staff how to integrate technology into the classroom. The students in the program attend class once every other week during both semesters for two hours a day. They complete activities similar to homework undergraduates receive, and incorporate what they learned into at least two of their classes for the next year.

“It is a voluntary program. We would like to extend the program [past the five years], but we are hoping also to have ‘the once you learn it, you teach others’ effect,’” said Spataro.

Lettrich, also a student in the first program, joined for similar goals. “My goals are…to become more enmeshed in the world of interactive instruction and to find as many ‘state-of-the-art’ instructional strategies as I possibly can so that I may present these to the pre-service teachers,” she said.

The Media-Sphere, a place more for undergraduate students, provides an area where appropriate technology for gaming and recreation is housed as well as equipment for putting together presentations, projecting information on mounted screens so that students may do practice runs of their assignments.

Spataro describes the Media-Sphere as a “collaborative space.” Located in the old MU2 Choir Room, the Media-Sphere has four TVs, one 46 inch and three 65 inch LCD screens. One of the TVs will have a SMART board overlay. The room is also furnished with eight bone rattlers that come equipped with speakers, vibration, and the ability to connect to other bone rattlers for shared experience.

According to Spataro, the ELITE team is working with GameStop to buy the top 10 games for each console, and all up to date controllers for the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360.
Although the rooms specialize in different areas, their priority is education and both are open to faculty and students. Faculty may reserve time in the rooms for classes, and SMART boards can connect to display the same thing in both rooms.

“As an educational institution, we have the responsibility of creating the next professional generation; we are carrying on our shoulders a future, and if we are receiving money for improving and developing a better one, why not put in our time and effort to make it happen? It’s worth every cent and it will be worth more if every student gets involved,” said Parrilla.

“I think the benefits will definitely outweigh the cost. We need to maintain a technological edge to compete with other universities, and this is a great way to do it,” said Stephanie Isacco, a junior.

According to Spataro, safety precautions will be taken to make sure benefits continue to outweigh the cost. Due to the money and time invested, the area will be watched by three cameras; two inside and one in the hallway. “It only takes one person,” said Spataro.

Work-studies will also oversee the rooms during open hours. Students will trade their IDs for entrance and any equipment they wish to use. The ELITE staff has not yet chosen regular hours because of a lack of work-studies and desired technology. Posted outside of the Media-Sphere is a signup sheet for work-studies with hours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.