New Technology Boosts Hands-On Learning

Leica 3D laser scanner used for crime scene reconstruction

New Technology Boosts Hands-On Learning

| By: Britten, Casey

The following article, “New Technology Boosts Hands-On Learning,” was published on Wednesday, August 12 by freelance journalist Wylie Wong for EdTech magazine:

New Technology Boosts Hands-On Learning

Higher education responds to calls to provide more real-world training and experience with high-tech tools that also boost campuses’ cool factor.

By Wylie Wong
Wylie Wong is a freelance journalist who specializes in business, technology and sports. He is a regular contributor to the CDW family of technology magazines.

About 1,500 career-seeking, entry-level students use Fox Valley Technical College’s Public Safety Training Center in Appleton, Wis., a 78-acre facility that includes a firing range, fitness room, classrooms and computer labs.

Local, state and federal agencies, including the FBI, also regularly rent the site for training exercises.

The site’s mock “River City” includes one- and two-story furnished homes, a bank, motel, gas station and convenience store, as well as a bar fully stocked with empty cases of beer, pool tables, video poker machines and dartboards.


“The goal is to make it a realistic environment, so we don’t have to tell them to pretend they are in a gas station or a bank,” says Jeremy Hansen, associate dean of public safety and the facility’s director. “We can replicate anything, from an armed robbery and hostage situation to a grandmother falling down the stairs in a home.”

Medical students at A.T. Still University of Health Sciences learn human anatomy as other future doctors have for centuries: by dissecting cadavers. But today’s university leaders have the advantage of supplementing students’ hands-on experience with state-of-the-art tools, including 3D technology.

As students examine their cadavers, they can use computers at their tables to view and compare 2D MRI and CT scans — cross-sectional imaging that they will use to diagnose their future patients. Software allows students to turn these diagnostic tools into 3D images, allowing them to better understand just what they’re looking at.

“When we first ask students to look at a cross section from a CT scan, it’s difficult for them to visualize the 3D anatomy,” says Dr. Jay Crutchfield, anatomy chairman at ATSU’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Mesa, Ariz. “By converting the cross section into 3D, they can relate better to what they are learning from their cadavers.”

Many specialized higher ed programs are now shifting to more hands-on, experience-based learning environments, deploying the latest technologies to assist the effort. Doing so provides students with the real-world experiences they need for their careers, but it also can enhance an institution’s reputation and help to attract more students to its programs.

ATSU’s two osteopathic medicine programs, on the Mesa campus and in Kirksville, Mo., provide students with electronic medical records and human patient simulators to practice on, along with the computers and 3D software tools available within their anatomy labs.

Back at Fox Valley, technology tools include everything from computer labs and digital learning materials to body cameras and simulation technology for practicing use of force.

“We brought a lot of disciplines together to cross train, and it’s important to provide a cutting-edge experience,” says Aaron Tomlinson, Fox Valley’s dean of public safety. “We can replicate situations and break down training in a controlled way.”

ATSU first introduced technology in their anatomy labs five years ago, and this past summer both campuses upgraded to faster, more powerful computers to meet the increasing demands of a half dozen graphics-­intensive applications, says Bryan Krusniak, ATSU’s assistant vice president of information technology and services.

The university’s two osteopathic programs operate their anatomy coursework with the same philosophy, but they deploy technology slightly differently.

Real and Virtual

At the ATSU Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Missouri, the anatomy lab features 65 cadaver stations, each with a new Lenovo ThinkCentre M93p computer and 24-inch LED monitor near the head or foot of the cadaver.

The Arizona campus is more tech-heavy because of space constraints. Arizona’s lab has room for only eight cadaver stations. So two years ago, the institution built a virtual anatomy lab featuring 56 desktop computers, a Panasonic 3D projector and a 175-inch 3D projector screen. With 3D glasses and a video game controller, students can view and dissect parts of the anatomy on the large screen.

Alternatively, students can do dissections on their desktop computers, but without the 3D glasses, Crutchfield says.

Big Decisions

This spring, Crutchfield tested multiple PCs before choosing a new Lenovo ThinkCentre M73 and new 27-inch ViewSonic touch-screen monitors for the virtual lab. He also paired the new computers with existing 60-inch LED monitors on Ergotron computer stands at the cadaver lab.

“We put PCs side by side, cranked them up and ran two or three software programs at the same time,” he says. “We focused on how they would work under real-life use and how the processors and video cards would handle it.”

The 3D anatomy software doesn’t replace the dissection of real cadavers, but it augments student learning, Crutchfield says.

Students can rotate, pan and tilt the virtual anatomy and zoom in on different parts of the body to see close-ups of organs, such as the brain, says Peter Kondrashov, chairman of the anatomy department at the Missouri campus, which also provides 3D software to its students. Everything is color-coded, allowing students to more easily identify parts.

“Some areas on a cadaver are not easy to dissect or understand, so it’s always helpful to have additional software to help students better understand some concepts,” Kondrashov says.

And unlike a cadaver, which can be dissected only once, the software allows students to study the anatomy an unlimited number of times. The IT department works ­collaboratively with the anatomy lab staff to ensure the lab computers run smoothly and applications are updated or patched, Krusniak says.

“As educators, they know the software that best provides a learning and teaching edge. From a technical standpoint, our job in IT is to make sure everything works, that it integrates with the network, that students are authenticated and that data is backed up,” Krusniak says.

Hot Lab

During exercises at the Fox Valley Public Safety Training Center, multiple agencies can respond to an array of scenes. Law enforcement can secure an area and paramedics can treat patients, while a forensic unit takes fingerprints and analyzes blood spatter.

The college has integrated technology throughout the center, including Wi-Fi and sets of 32 desktop computers in two classrooms and sets of 22 desktops in two computer labs in the main building, says Brent Schuettpelz, help desk and desktop support manager.

Students use the computers and Wi-Fi daily to take exams, write police or fire incident reports and access course materials on the college’s learning management system, Tomlinson says.

“We push all the manuals and curriculum online, so the computers and Internet access are an integral part of what we do,” he says.

The training center was built on property leased from Outagamie County Regional Airport, about seven miles from the college’s main campus. The college laid fiber to the training center’s site and installed one HP DL350 server, several Cisco Catalyst 2960-XR and 2960X switches and 22 Cisco Aironet 2600 Series 802.11n APs at the main building, Schuettpelz says.

The IT team installed the Wi-Fi network themselves, but a CDW engineer performed a site survey to determine the proper placement of APs, says CDW mobility solution architect Martin Jerome.

The college standardized on HP EliteBook 800s, which are mini form-factor PCs, to maximize use of space in two classrooms, and purchased special desks that hide the computers underneath.

Hybrid Solutions

Out West, to increase student access to required introductory science classes, the California State University (CSU) system is blending traditional experiments with virtual labs.

Students still do hands-on experiments, they’re just doing them on their computers, says Cal State Los Angeles biology professor Robert Desharnais, director of the university’s Virtual Courseware project.

The effort is part of a systemwide initiative to redesign courses and take advantage of technology to reduce bottlenecks in class enrollment caused by years of budget cuts.

During a pilot last year at Cal State L.A., Desharnais compared traditional lab classes, full online courses and hybrid classes (in which students learn online and conduct virtual labs, but meet in class once every two weeks).

He discovered that students not only got better grades in hybrid courses, but the hybrid approach allowed the university to double the number of general education science courses it offered without needing extra faculty or classrooms, which saved money, he says.

Today, more than half of the 23 CSU campuses have begun using virtual labs in their science classes, says Gerry Hanley, CSU’s assistant vice chancellor for academic technology services.

CSU’s Virtual Labs initiative provides science professors with three categories of virtual experiments: animated or online simulations; video simulations; and physical labs, managed by robotics, that students can control remotely via the web, he says.

The university system has curated a large variety of virtual labs through commercial software providers, open educational resources and software developed by its own professors, Hanley says.

Nonscience majors who need to take an intro class in order to graduate can learn more from virtual labs than a traditional lab where they follow step-by-step instructions, Desharnais says. Virtual labs help students to design their own experiments, form their own hypotheses, collect data and report results. “It allows a student to be a scientist instead of following a cookbook procedure in a lab,” Hanley says.

Hands-On When It Counts

Fox Valley Technical College’s public safety students not only get hands-on training from live tactical training exercises, they can learn virtually as well.

The college has purchased an interactive use-of-force simulator, which provides floor-to-ceiling video of different scenarios on one projector screen, allowing students to practice whether to use a gun, Taser, pepper spray or baton, says Aaron Tomlinson, the college’s dean of public safety.

Instructors record the students on video, so they can review the footage with them and discuss their performance afterward, he says.

The college also purchased two other simulators: an interactive, touch-screen cadaver table, where students can dissect a virtual life-sized human cadaver, and a driving simulator that lets students ­practice driving patrol cars, fire trucks and ambulances in inclement weather.