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Faculty Engagement Award recipients advance remote synchronous courses

12 March 2024

Fifteen Penn State instructors recently worked with Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) to enhance their remote synchronous and similar courses requiring the use of video by harnessing the capabilities of an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered webcam named the Insta360 Link. Its automated features minimize instructors’ time and attention directed to video production quality while also improving students’ learning experience.

Their work was part of the 2023-24 TLT Faculty Engagement Awards program. It paired instructors from eight campuses and three colleges with instructional designers to identify best practices for integrating the technology seamlessly into their teaching to play a pivotal role in enhancing remote synchronous learning experiences. By relying on the webcam’s automated technological features, such as auto-framing and auto-tracking, auto-exposure and lighting adjustment, anti-blurring/auto-focus and gesture-controlled zooming and tracking, the instructors can return their focus fully to the teaching and learning experience.

Two program participants’ use of the AI-powered webcam during the fall 2023 semester illustrate new possibilities for engaging students and delivering dynamic lessons in the virtual classroom.

Large section courses

John Haubrick, assistant teaching professor in the Eberly College of Science, used the Insta360 Link webcam technology to teach the lecture portion of his 300-plus student STAT 200: Elementary Statistics class. Lectures were held via live remote synchronous sessions while the lab portions were in person in smaller sections. The webcam allowed him to present himself, his physical documents and his statistical calculations similarly to viewing a physical whiteboard in a live lecture hall.

Haubrick pointed the camera downward to capture his writing surface using the camera’s “Desktop View” mode. This mode allows the instructor to write naturally on a horizontal surface while the camera automatically inverts the display for students to view it clearly. This view not only enhanced the learning experience but also provided a different perspective for students.

He also capitalized on features of Zoom videoconferencing software that enabled students to choose, in real-time and within lecture recordings, the choice to view his PowerPoint slideshow content that contained questions or his calculations solving the questions. To activate this function in Kaltura-based video recordings, Haubrick recorded these view options separately in Zoom webinar settings, selecting the checkbox setting “record active speaker, gallery view and shared screen separately.” By guiding students to easily switch between the Zoom view options it ensured a smooth and versatile experience for students engaging in real time and with recorded content.  

Overall, Haubrick liked the device’s capabilities, especially its desktop view, believing it offers an excellent opportunity to capture and convey educational content effectively. Moving forward, he is considering leveraging the camera for creating content in front of a standing whiteboard for videos to be used in asynchronous online classes. He views this feature as indispensable for maintaining engagement and ensuring clarity in educational materials.

Shared courses for the land-grant mission

Christina Olear, assistant teaching professor of accounting at Penn State Brandywine, taught both ACCTG 211: Financial and Managerial Accounting for Decision Making and ACCTG 405: Principles of Taxation 1 via shared Zoom-delivered synchronous courses that include students from two to 10 different campuses depending upon the semester. Through the use of the webcam and tripod, she was able to have the camera track her movements of moving around her office, use various camera modes and share crisper video quality and enhanced audio capabilities as part of class sessions.

Students were mesmerized by the camera auto-tracking Olear’s movements and thought it was “really cool.” The camera’s versatility easily allowed her to switch its modes to introduce an accounting topic via Zoom, screensharing a PowerPoint slide then switching to “whiteboard” mode. This mode prioritized the camera’s focus on the physical whiteboard behind her on an office wall where she could complete writing out the accounting concept. Additionally, Olear switched to “Desktop View” mode, where students viewed her writing the accounting problems and solutions out by hand on her desk, which freed her to be able to show her work and explain it in more detail.

The camera’s flexibility between modes all freed Olear to focus her attention on instruction of the theory and big picture content, demonstrating accounting details and tying the concept and problem-solving work together. This flow between views helped students more easily understand accounting concepts. These fluidly changing onscreen views also facilitated student engagement and interest, as it can be challenging to pay attention for two hours straight. The camera’s auto-focus feature let Olear walk around casually and discuss theory, cases and company news as a welcome “break” after completing a complicated financial problem.

Students self-reported that they enjoyed the experience and that it took a remote synchronous class to the “next level,” helping them learn material better than other remote synchronous classes. Students also appreciated Olear’s instruction experience overall, including asking students to annotate on the Zoom digital whiteboard, brainstorm via the Zoom chat feature and respond to an ice breaker question at the start of each class session.

To learn more about the TLT Faculty Engagement Awards program, please email instructional designer Amy Kuntz at