Innovative teaching projects at Oswego

OSWEGO — A new SUNY grant will support one Oswego professor’s attempt to create a replicable model for his alternate reality education gaming experience, and another to better help future teachers work visual and digital tools into their lessons.

Ulises Mejias of SUNY Oswego’s communication studies department received a $20,000 SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grant to produce a version of his educational alternate reality game program that could be replicated at other SUNY campuses. Mejias and Oswego curriculum and instruction professor Harrison Yang, who received a $10,000 grant for a project on visual learning, earned funds under this first-time program encouraging educational innovations that can benefit schools throughout the 64-campus SUNY system.

Ulises Mejias of the communication studies department received a top-tier $20,000 award under the Innovative Instruction Technology Grant from the SUNY Provost’s Office, while Harrison Yang of curriculum and instruction successfully secured a $10,000 grant. The grants intend to spur pioneering institutions to create academic offerings that can become templates for similar programs at other SUNY colleges.

Mejias will use the grant to support “ Alternate Reality Simulations as Learning Tools.” It extends and expands his work in using alternate reality games (ARGs) employing a topical issue in a participatory social media and communication exercise. While previous editions have looked at topics such as race relations and education funding, the fifth edition will tackle hydrofracking — the controversial fuel-extracting practice with potential environmental risks.

“Working games into the classroom is great and seems fun, but it’s a lot of work” that could easily reach hundreds of hours of development, Mejias said. “My thinking was to actually create a social media template for other alternate-reality scenarios that anyone can play through their own schools and run it anywhere they want.”

Last year’s ARG, on Islamophobia, had about 150 participants, but the grant to support a more robust programming and software environment plus additional promotion has Mejias hoping for higher numbers. The grant also could help him convene an expert panel on hydrofracking as an educational companion to the simulation.

Mejias would love to see a cooperative environment where an ARG could be played SUNY-wide, providing a chance for students from all of its 64 institutions to learn while establishing an online community around their interests.

The project already has built bridges on the Oswego campus, where Mejias has worked with colleagues across the academic spectrum.

“This could be a model for interdisciplinary majors coming together for a seminar to address a real-life problem and imagine solutions to it,” he said. “This grant can allow more people to get excited about this project.”

Visual learning

Yang’s project, “Using Visual Communication Tools to Enhance Teaching and Learning,” explores how teachers can better plug into the “visually oriented, technologically savvy” nature of today’s learners, he said.

His project will focus on knowledge visualization, a technique that “aims to further transfer insights, experiences, attitudes, values, expectations, perspectives, opinions and predictions by using various complementary visualizations,” Yang said. “As a result, using visualization tools in teaching and learning has become one of the most exciting, dynamic and yet challenging fields that we have been facing.”

The challenge comes with the rapid development of a wide range of tools available for educational use against a backdrop where many teachers may lack the information, skills and guidance required, Yang noted. Since teacher-training programs need to better prepare instructors for the increasingly digital road ahead, Yang’s project aims “to design, implement, evaluate and disseminate an innovative and replicable training model of integrating visual communication tools in education to teacher candidates.”

The project would involve small task teams of teacher-training candidates in various stages of their studies that would design projects for younger students, then track and tweak projects incrementally if necessary. The teams would use the SUNY Learning Network to share ideas, methods, products and progress.

The project is significant because it represents the first time the college’s curriculum and instruction master’s in education program has used “a training model of integrating visual communication tools,” Yang said. “The project will lead to this unique and replicable pedagogical model ready for replication in education programs at other SUNY campuses.”