Traditional lectures are a thing of the past in Dr. Joseph Ross’ genetics classes.
Instead of writing on a board with his back turned to students and talking for up to 80 minutes, Ross, a Fresno State biology professor, uses an iPad that projects onto a screen so he can draw equations, charts and more.
Then, he gets students involved using their own devices — tablets, laptops or smartphones. He conducts real-time polls online during class. He asks questions, has students answer through their devices (sometimes after small group discussions) and collects the responses in seconds to discuss them in class.
“I really wanted to have the students involved in doing, not just having me lecturing in front of the class, showing them screenshots of how to use online genetics analysis tools and then asking them to do it later,” Ross said. “It would be great if we could do it all together.”
Ross was one of the early adopters of Fresno State’s DISCOVERe mobile technology program in 2014, and he is one of nearly 400 faculty members now trained to teach courses using tablets and other technology.
The program, which started with 40 faculty members and 1,200 students, transforms the classroom experience to help students master digital literacy skills needed in the workforce. It increases group collaboration and reduces the cost of classroom textbooks and other materials by up to 72 percent.
This academic year, more than 12,000 Fresno State students are enrolled in DISCOVERe courses which make up about half of the classes offered on campus.
A campus loaner program provides 1,600 free iPads to students. The University purchased 400 new iPads this semester due to an increase in enrollment. Students can borrow the tablets through their entire college career as long as they are enrolled in at least one DISCOVERe course.
Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro’s vision for the program was to make technology accessible to all students so they have the tools they need to succeed and are prepared for careers that are increasingly dependent upon technology.
“DISCOVERe is among the University’s top priorities because of its clear benefits in empowering our talented and diverse students for success,” Castro said. “The pace at which our students and faculty have embraced this innovative program has surpassed our initial projections.”
Early sentiment reports from Fresno State’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness show that 94 percent of the students enrolled indicate they are moderately to extremely engaged in DISCOVERe courses. About 76 percent are somewhat more engaged in the classes compared to traditional courses that don’t use mobile technology.
In a comparison of students in a DISCOVERe class compared to a non-DISCOVERe class in the same semester, “we saw about a half a letter grade improvement among DISCOVERe students,” said Mike Pronovost, program director.
In Ross’ large 90- to 100-person advanced genetics classes, “students have become much more willing to answer questions, more engaged, more active and more willing to speak,” he said. “These are large lecture settings that I’m trying to turn into active learning classes.”
The program has about 40 guides or student employees from all majors who are trained to help students and faculty troubleshoot problems and teach them how to use the various software applications. The guides are located in the DISCOVERe hub on the first floor of the Henry Madden Library.
Over the summer, guides were trained by Apple to help faculty members develop mobile apps for their classes.
“One of our goals is not only to expand the program but we want to see how we can make it even more innovative,” Pronovost said.
Senior Armando De Alba sat through the daylong training for his third year as a DISCOVERe guide. De Alba has taken DISCOVERe courses and said they are more engaging than typical classes.
“In a regular classroom, you’re hearing a teacher read a PowerPoint for an hour or writing on the whiteboard,” De Alba said. “In DISCOVERe, you have the presentation in your hands and you’re following along and doing the activity. You learn a lot better and you pay attention a lot more.”
DISCOVERe is a unique program in the California State University system. CSU Northridge started a mobile technology program but has only offered it to specific majors such as nursing, Pronovost said. He does not know of any other CSU campus with a similar program.
“There are not a lot of campuses that have rolled out a mobile program quite to this size,” he said. “We’re definitely leading the effort across the nation.”