The University of Florida community got its first glimpse earlier this month of a new 1,600-square-foot research space where faculty and students will study how to use technology to create effective and engaging online learning experiences.
For months, collaborating researchers from the colleges of Education, Engineering, Journalism and Communications and the College of the Arts and its Digital Worlds Institute have been exploring personalized e-learning techniques as members of the UF Online Learning Institute. Now, the researchers will have the benefit of a dedicated space in Yon Hall that will house cutting-edge technology including eye-tracking, brain monitoring equipment and virtual reality.
“We will be staffing the space and getting equipment to do research on innovative technologies for learning,” said UF College of Education professor Carole R. Beal, who arrived in August 2014 from the University of Arizona’s School of Information to head up the Online Learning Institute.
Possibilities include tailoring instruction in response to students' keystrokes, teaching through gaming, searching a semester's worth of video lectures with a single keyword, and apps to open textbooks and connect to tutoring from a smartphone.
Beal said she and her colleagues Kristy Boyer, Sriram Kalyanaraman and Angelos Barmpoutis will be able to ramp up their investigations into how to attract, hold and measure the attention of online learners so they can determine the most effective ways for educators to present information through technology.
Boyer, an associate professor in UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering who joined the team last fall, said she is enthusiastic about the new space because it affords interdisciplinary scholars the opportunity to work together in a conducive environment.
“I think it will make a huge difference in how we generate ideas and build on each other’s ideas,” Boyer said. “This is where our ‘together’ happens, which is a major component of our vision for future work.”
With enrollment in web-based courses soaring nationwide, research-based methods for how to deliver online education remains a work in progress, a situation that has prompted the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering to identify personalized learning via the internet a global challenge and a top research priority.
This sense of urgency was a motivating factor that led UF to establish the UF Online Learning Institute as the research and development arm of UF Online, a fully online baccalaureate degree program for students who are either first time in college or transfer, in state or out of state.
But the new lab will provide research opportunities for colleges and units beyond the Online Learning Institute, Beal said. The research being conducted by the UF Online Learning Institute extends beyond traditional online education to include work on health education, technology-based learning for K-12 schools and resources for students with special needs.
“People may have questions about how to promote learning with technology, and they might want to use our lab or partner with us on projects,” Beal said. “So this will be a resource for the entire campus.”
College of Education dean Glenn Good views the Online Learning Institute as a vital component of the future of technology-assisted instruction worldwide.
“If we hope to serve the state and the nation with high-quality online and hybrid course and degrees that attract large numbers of students, this effort is a tremendous opportunity for us,” Good said. “We are in a position to take a national leadership role in creating and disseminating models for top quality and effective delivery of courses and degrees online.”
The new dedicated research space will get UF researchers there that much more quickly, Good said.