Vista technology offers students online options

Andrew Hampp

There’s only one way Kent State students can receive scores of 100 percent for participation without ever raising their hands in class.

Since Vista technology was introduced to Kent State in Fall 2004, professors have been able to enhance their class content with interactive visual aids, teleconferences with guest speakers from across the globe and message boards, where the aforementioned students can participate in class discussions without even opening their mouths.

Kent State is one of three Ohio universities currently utilizing the technology. The others are Youngstown State University and Rio Grande Community College. Kent State hosts the other two colleges as part of a two-year pilot project, which will test Vista’s reception from students and faculty.

Julie Gedeon, information technology manager in New Media, said that through the Shared Services department, other universities can employ Kent State’s tactics and share Vista with other nearby colleges.

“Instead of every school buying the technology,” Gedeon said, “if one school can do that, they can host other schools. It still costs less than doing it themselves and it’s more efficient.”

Vista exhibits notable improvements from its technological predecessor WebCT, said senior biochemistry major Nick Shaheen.

“Vista seems a lot more organized and has a lot more capabilities,” Shaheen said. “It has a lot of good teacher-based (features), whereas WebCT was more of just a check-your-grades sorta thing.”

Having had his Flashmail account flooded with e-mails during a previous WebCT class, Shaheen said he especially appreciated the organization of Vista’s message boards.

“I imagine it probably would’ve been more complicated to sign up for research projects and to check all those messages through e-mail,” he said. “(Vista) made things a lot more simple.”

Doctoral student Jun Ma said she hadn’t yet noticed any major difference between Vista and WebCT while teaching her consumer behavior class this summer, but she liked using the program just the same.

“It’s a very clear surface,” she said of Vista. “A student can use it very quickly. It’s much easier (to use), but I’m still more familiar with WebCT, so it took a little time to change to Vista.”

In addition to increased communication between professor and student, many Vista courses have utilized New Media’s special project coordinators to further enhance their course content.

Val Kelly, multimedia developer in New Media, has worked on many projects over the last two semesters. Recently, she put together an interactive role-playing module for Kent Stark professor Jackie La Placa’s American history class.

Kelly, who will be speaking at a Vista conference with La Placa in San Francisco next month, said she finds such collaborations to be creatively rewarding.

“I think it’s fun for faculty to just bounce ideas off of us,” she said. “It’s their ideas, their information. We just wanna help get it out.”

Shaheen, however, worried that virtual courses such as those enhanced with Vista may end up taking the place of collaborations such as Kelly and La Placa’s.

“I think this will be an alternative to large classes,” he said. “Universities will probably start seeing the benefit of having to employ less professors.”

Gedeon said she has heard concerns like this before, and offered comforting words to faculty members using Vista.

“We’re not replacing faculty members,” she said. “We’re augmenting what they can do. It allows faculty members to do more. We encourage more collaborative course development, but we still need faculty members to teach.”

Gedeon said she hopes more faculty will start taking advantage of the tools Vista has to offer.

“We’ve just never been good at tooting our own horns,” she said. “We always go and get ideas from other (universities), but we’ve got talent here, too.

“Our goal is to make sure people in the university community know if they’re creating something fun or interactive for their classes, we can do that.”

Contact technology reporter Andrew Hampp at [email protected].