Pi-Sui Hsu has devoted much of her career to showing K-12 educators how to get the most out of the instructional technology available.
Now the NIU College of Education’s senior faculty fellow is extending her expertise and guidance across campus to the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.
Hsu is mentoring Eric Monsu Lee, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Lee also has been coming to Gabel 212 to teach his classes virtually, using the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment’s Promethean Board and the room’s robust bandwidth to great success.
“ETRA is known as one of the pioneers on campus,” says Hsu, an associate professor who studies technology integration in science teaching and learning. “When the pandemic came, Dr. Lee approached me and asked for my advice on how he should proceed with his classes.”
Lee, who had never taught full time before last spring, was just finding his footing when COVID-19 arrived.
“After six weeks, the pandemic starts,” he says, “and all I was thinking about at the time was, ‘How do I keep this face-to-face momentum going?’ The first thing I thought about was, ‘Can I do something to mimic the face-to-face teaching?’ ”
Working with Hsu and Stephanie Richter, director of Faculty Development and Instructional Support at NIU’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, Lee already had become familiar with Blackboard.
But knowing that his math-heavy classes involve numerous derivations related to the study of statics and dynamics, he wanted a way to teach synchronously while also allowing students to watch him work through the problems.
He was using his tablet during the stay-at-home order but needed something more powerful – something that was more live and not – pun intended – static.
That’s where the 72-inch screen of the Promethean Board comes in, along with an assist from ETRA Chair Wei-Chen Hung, who provided Lee access to the interactive whiteboard that projects images from laptop or computers.
“You can talk about equations, but then we have to do examples. If you just show the examples with a sheet of paper with everything on it, they don’t learn. They don’t have that first impression,” Lee says.
“With Promethean Board, they can follow my derivation and learn it the first time when they are in class. When they go back and do homework, they are kind of familiar with the concept. Now it becomes easier for them,” he adds. “This was my original motivation of why I wanted to approach ETRA to see if there was anything I could do to mimic the face-to-face teaching.”
This spring, as Lee continues to teach his courses virtually, he is becoming more comfortable with Promethean and believes it is contributing to positive results from his students.
Promethean helps as he delivers lessons on fluid dynamics, which involve “a lot of math” including ordinary differential equations. It helps as he delivers lessons on three-dimensional aspects of material sciences, something boosted by the technology’s touchscreen feature.
“Without Promethean Board, it becomes harder for me to explain things to them. With Promethean Board, I can explain what the material structure looks like through drawing,” Lee says.
“I’m a person who likes to reach out to the students, even through the online format, because I want to know if they understand what I’m trying to convey in the class. With this Promethean Board, it really does help.
He plans to share his success story with his colleagues in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.
“In our college, we don’t have a Promethean Board, and I think it’s worth investing in such a device,” he says. “I believe there will be more online courses after the pandemic, and we also can use Promethean in hybrid mode. It’s large enough for the students in person to see what you’re writing and for the remote students to see what you’re doing.”
As Hsu watches Lee thrive with the technology, she is thrilled to bridge a gap across campus and already thinking how to spread that success through her own department, college and beyond.
She is planning research on the cognitive difference between students who watch a series of slides during online learning and the students who engage with faculty who “walk” their classes through the content via tools such as Promethean Board.
She also is using Promethean Board to meet with her graduate students, especially international scholars, as they brainstorm ideas for research projects.
Finally, she is ready to teach her own virtual classes with Promethean.
“I think it creates ‘teacher immediacy,’ the term we use in online education: When you are able to sketch or draw an outline, that helps students make sense of the concepts easier,” Hsu says. “It was Dr. Hung’s idea to bring this tool to ETRA, and we were glad that we put it to good use during COVID-19. I think it helps students build a connection, especially during the pandemic, because many students have told me they really are missing the rapport with the instructor.”