ACC uses video conferencing system for long-distance students

News Photo by Jordan Spence Alpena Community College instructor, Lois Darga, teaches an accounting class using the advanced video conferencing system, Wednesday in Alpena. The system transmits her class to students at the Huron Shores ACC campus and to other local high schools.

ALPENA — New technology used at Alpena Community College makes it so students don’t have to be in the classroom to learn.

The college now uses the video conferencing system MX 700 to transmit some classes to the high school and Huron Shores campus students.

“We wanted to expand the offerings at the HUSH (Huron Shores) campus, and because of the distance with the area high schools it’s difficult for those students to come to our campus for classes. This helps us offer classes directly in the high schools,” said ACC Director of Learning Technology Sarah Burt.

Each semester varies with how many classes use the system, this semester eight took part she said, they used it since about spring of 2017.

“The system, MX 700, allows our instructors teach a class to students in front of them as well as video is transmitted to the outlying class. There is instructor tracking on it, so as the instructor walks across the room the cameras automatically pick up the motion. You can share computer screens and audio visual materials directly. The way the students in front of you see it is exactly the way the students in the distant location see it. The clarity of the picture and sound is amazing it is as if you’re sitting right in class with the instructor,” she said.

Accounting instructor Lois Darga and business management and marketing instructor Matt Bedard have used the system for some of their classes.

“Before we adopted video conferencing its predecessor was interactive television we had several instructors using that platform over the years. I started teaching under that technology. It was fragmented; we had challenges with it. The quality of that technology; screens were breaking down, the students were fuzzy and weren’t clear. It had it’s challenges so we adopted the video conferencing. That was a night and day improvement the quality of visual transfer, sound transfer there was no comparison,” Bedard said.

Darga and himself wanted to adopt the new technology early he said.

“Because she and I took over that old platform earlier. So I was the initial in the fall and she was in the spring. We’ve been feeding off each other on ways to improve, best practices, lessons learned and we have been collaborating since day one to make this better,” Bedard said.

Darga said the clarity is very crisp and the students on the other campus look as though they’re in the classroom.

“We can zoom in and out and put it on speaker tracking so it tracks what students are saying,” she said.

Bedard said this kind of system is better for students in that it provides additional accessibility in a course they might have not been able to take.

“Our students in southern Oscoda and Tawas who might not make it up here; it gives them a live instructor and the ability to engage. With online delivery it has an independent autonomous approach for the student,” he said.

The value for the instructors they are able to gauge how students are doing through nonverbal communication.

“If they understand a concept or a theory you can see through the body language they get it. If not, you can reach back to a student and say ‘It looks like you’re not understanding this, do you get? Do you understand it? How can I help you? How can I restate this concept or theory?’ The value I get in a face-to-face setting is replicated here in a video platform,” Bedard said.

Bedard said while the technology works for certain classes it doesn’t always translate well for all.

Burt said they do receive some mixed reviews from students. She said the system distracts some of them. Bedard noted in the first few weeks of class it does take time for some students to get used to it. He said they can shy away from the cameras.

“It’s also additional work on the instructors because we have to deliver content in two different medium platforms. In a traditional lecture we can give our handouts to our students who are immediately in front of us, we can walk around and look at the worksheets and the in class work they’re doing. We have to find an additional medium to replicate that aspect of it. (We) send tests, worksheets or facilitate paraprofessionals that help us with that,” he said.

Burt noted next year the system will expand the kinds of classes. She said the ACC LPN nursing program will use it for students on the HUSH campus.

Bedard predicts they’ll see more and more teachers adopt the new technology.

“There’s a little bit more work, but the rewards are worth it I think for what we can provide. I think it’s moving us in the right direction as a college,” Bedard said.

Jordan Spence can be reached via email at jspence@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687.