Syed Babar Ali School of Science and Engineering Introduces Cloud Classrooms for Interactive Online Learning
With the pandemic forcing all formal instruction to go online, the brilliant minds at the Syed Babar Ali School of Science and Engineering (SBASSE) decided to set-up a task force to come up with innovative ideas for online education and research. One important recommendation put forth was to set up cloud classrooms that would allow for a more immersive and interactive learning experience.
Equipped with a remote-controlled camera for the instructor to be able to manage the class without outside help, four cloud classrooms offer low-cost solutions dedicated to providing a high impact solution to distant learning. The technical capabilities of classrooms include roving cameras, instructor-controlled zoom, full wall projection of participants for an immersive experience, the ability to record, and displaying multiple views.
Dr. Muhammad Faryad, Assistant Professor and Chair, Department of Physics, spoke about the process of setting up these virtual classrooms. “We visited a virtual classroom setup at the Rausing Executive Development Centre at LUMS and the School of Business before setting these up. They were initially set up in July, and the first trial run was during a mathematical bootcamp for freshmen in September.”
It was the difficulty the faculty faced while recording asynchronous lectures for the online semester and the lack of engagement from students that further solidified this idea. “Last semester while recording these lectures, I found I would often lose my train of thought and had to record it in several parts. Now, in this live set-up, students are interacting frequently and there is a healthy exchange of ideas while I teach.”
Dr. Faryad also trained the classroom staff to facilitate faculty when using these cloud classrooms. He also wrote a user manual that outlines the different salient features of the classroom, particular of the hardware being used, as well as a step-by-step guide on how to use them together for a seamless teaching and learning experience.
The feedback from both faculty and students has been overwhelming. “I have received many thank you notes for the amazing and excellent set-up and it made instructors feel like they are in a classroom and teaching their students. Students too have been very happy and unanimously agreed that the cloud classroom felt more like a real classroom experience.”
Students have shared that they dislike pre-recorded lectures in which they have to do the learning themselves and there is reduced interaction with the faculty. Cloud classrooms at SBASSE allow them to interact more with their peers and teachers. “I think shy students in particular have benefitted the most from this set-up. In class they would find it difficult to ask questions but now they feel more comfortable asking questions and thus benefit more from the lecture,” added Dr. Faryad.
At present SBASSE has invested in 4 such classrooms and the plan is to utilise them for teaching even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. This capability will allow distant learners to become part of the classroom. It will also open doors for more adventurous teaching with blended virtual and in person learning beyond the walls of LUMS.