Beyond the Brick and Mortar: Creating Virtual Study Centers with Open Technology Tools

Concurrent Session 6

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Brief Abstract

This presentation will feature effective practices for the design and implementation of a fully-online, DIY virtual study center, as well as curated applications of free and open source emerging technology solutions specifically suited to this design format.


Angela Gunder serves as Director of Instructional Design and Curriculum Development for the Office of Digital Learning at The University of Arizona. Angela came into instructional design rather circuitously, helming large-scale site designs as webmaster for The City College of New York, the honors college at ASU, and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA).  Her over fifteen year career as a designer for higher education informs her instructional design practice, where she leverages her expertise in usability, visual communication, programming, and standards-based online learning. Angela holds a B.S. in Computer Science and Fine Art from Fordham University, and a M.Ed. in Education Technology from Arizona State University.  Prior to her position at UA, she was a member of NOVA’s instructional design team, supporting over 23,000 students in 550 unique courses.   Angela is an Associate Editor for the Teacher Education Board of MERLOT, and a Quality Matters certified peer reviewer and online facilitator.  Her research interests include technology for second language acquisition, open educational resources, and emerging technology to promote digital literacy. A voracious culinary nerd, Angela spends her free time composing, cooking and photographing original recipes for her food blog.
Asst. Director for instructional design in support of the University of Arizona's fully online campus. Oversees the general education academy and UA Online's instructional design team. Currently pursuing an Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation. Areas of research interest include instructor presence and its impact of a sense of community and student success in online learning.
Dr. King de Ramirez is an Assistant Professor of Spanish and online education coordinator at the University of Arizona. Her current position entails online curriculum development for the department of Spanish & Portuguese as well as providing virtual pedagogy training for faculty and graduate students. Dr. King de Ramirez has published several articles on Spanish for the professions, online FL education, and service learning.

Extended Abstract

Increasing the contact hours with students can be a formidable challenge for online, blended and face-to-face instructors alike, particularly in disciplines that require iteration, practice and feedback to move students into proficiency and mastery. Learning labs and study centers have traditionally filled the role of offering the space and tools to engage students in meaningful practice in low-stakes, informal environments that support persistence and practice. They serve as hubs of learning, and can help to establish cohorts of students as collaborators and mentors to each other as they work beyond the traditional contact hours with their instructor. Building on the successes and unique opportunities afforded by these spaces, how might we create a similar structure in the fully-online environment? And as we continue to open learning spaces for exploration and unlimited access, how can we dissolve the divides between students and deeper engagement with the learning content?

This presentation will feature effective practices for the design and implementation of a fully-online virtual study center, as well as curated applications of emerging technology solutions specifically suited to this design format. The presenters will share the unique benefits of a digital, portable DIY lab that both increases access to salient content, and supports constructivism in the form of collaboration and personalized, student-centered learning. Using a bevy of free and open tools, the presenters will show methods for designing custom study centers at little to no cost that can be customized to any discipline.

Participants in this session will:

  • Explore the benefits and unique opportunities afforded by a customizable, DIY online study center, to include adaptive learning, gameful learning, and the collection of analytics to support personalized feedback and assistance
  • Identify emerging technology applications with the malleability and strength to be used within custom frameworks for discipline-specific study centers
  • Examine specific examples created by the presenters for use in the world languages classroom to increase access to communication tools with personalized feedback

Learning design principles will be discussed in relation to the creation of digital study spaces, to include the design of computer-assisted study tools in conjunction with Open Educational Resources (OER), “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) and “Bring Your Own Nothing” (BYON) initiatives, Mobile Learning, and the creation of fully-online Integrated Performance Assessments (IPA). The impact of the 21st Century Framework, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and adaptive courseware will be discussed.

This hands-on, working session will engage participants by having them identify challenges that their students face with persistence and engagement, outline potential solutions to increasing access to study tools, and design a prototype for a virtual study center that they can build and deploy. In establishing this foundation of design strategies and technological tools to support the creation of a virtual study center, educators will be able to address the challenges of creating an impactful learning experience for students while expanding the reach of the classroom.