It’s hardly a secret that getting faculty to attend technology training sessions is often a fruitless endeavor. And yet every autumn, IT departments are flooded with calls from professors frantically trying to hook up their laptops to overhead projectors before the attention spans of their students evaporate.
Instructors at the University of Rhode Island have no such excuse.
Over the last several years, the school’s Media and Technology Services department has developed a help desk wiki that professors can access on the fly (or, preferably, ahead of time) to guide them through setting up classroom technology anywhere on campus. These aren’t general guidelines, either: There is a page for every classroom in every building on campus that details each piece of media equipment in the classroom and instructions for how to use it, including a downloadable PDF and an instructional YouTube video clip.
“As you scroll down it shows what the lock [to the room] looks like, how you get in, how you tell which Ethernet port is active, the projector screen, the projector, there’s the [Crestron Digital Media] rack that we use,” says Mary Fetherston, the Associate Director of End User Services & Student Employee Development – and the developer of the wiki. “And then [it shows] the inputs, and it shows the drawer, what’s in it, how to use the input controls, the assisted listening… and then when you come down here far enough there’s the video training clip which just jumps you to YouTube.”
Authorship is restricted to the URI IT staff and a handful of students, who also make the videos, says Fetherston.
Some people have questioned allowing students to have such control, but Fetherston, a former U.S. Naval officer, knows how much responsibility 18-year-olds can handle.
“A lot of people say you can’t let students author pages,” she says. “But it’s a matter of having the template, having them realize what’s the important thing: [Which is] the user’s experience on a page. Rather than ‘I’ve got to put this information across,’ it’s ‘How’s the user going to interact in it?’ And so that’s what’s really important. And they catch on pretty fast,” she says of her student authors.
Creating such a detailed tool has hardly been a fool’s errand: In the seven years since the wiki launched, it has gotten over 833,000 page views. Given how popular – and how useful – it has been, Fetherston is surprised she hasn’t seen other schools create similar pages.
“I’ve not seen anybody who has one that’s comparable to what we do,” she says. “So we’re really proud of the wiki.”