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Teaching (and Learning) Through Technology

DELTA Grants program empowers faculty to revolutionize classroom and online instruction.

Image of hand holding phone over textbook
A graphic design theory textbook comes to life, thanks to a DELTA Grants project that uses augmented reality.

Deb Littlejohn admits it can be difficult to keep college students – especially more than 100 of them – interested in particular courses. That’s why the graphic design professor turned to DELTA for help shaking the stigma that all theory courses are, well, boring.

She won a DELTA Grant last year that will bring her graphic design theory course textbook to life and, she hopes, engage her students in an entirely new way.

“We’re using augmented reality to enhance the course material,” Littlejohn says. “The textbook is only a few years old, but a book goes out of date as soon as it’s published.”

She’s using her grant – aptly titled “If This Is Theory, Why Isn’t It Boring?” – to develop an immersive learning tool that will serve as a walking, talking study guide.

“Because a lot of what we’re discussing in class is visual, these images in the textbook can serve as triggers for the augmented reality experiences,” she says. “So students will use their mobile devices to activate the content [by pointing their phone cameras at certain images], and they’ll get this little figure that serves as a ‘guide on the side’ walking around on the pages helping them focus on certain theoretical concepts. It’s really cool.”

There also will be a magnifying glass feature that enlarges small images to show detail, as well as quizzes, pop-up videos and other interactive content. 

Littlejohn’s course is a general education requirement, so nearly half the students enrolled are not design majors. She says in addition to better engaging her students, she hopes this new instructional approach also will help non-majors better understand terminology and concepts they may not be familiar with.

With DELTA Grants, you don’t just get financial support. You get your own team to collaborate with, develop technologies and find solutions.

This is her second DELTA Grants experience, and she says that the success of her first go-round (which led to the development of the first online DELTA course offered by the College of Design) inspired her to apply for another. Her new course will be offered in the fall.

“The really nice thing about the grants is that DELTA forms a team for you to work on your project,” she says. “They manage the time frame, the weekly meetings, the deliverables and things like that. They also help with the technology development and explore possibilities for AR platforms. For my course, they’re developing an app. It’s amazing.”

The DELTA Grants program offers several different types of grant opportunities, and all faculty are eligible to apply. DELTA encourages projects that serve the needs of a significant number of students and align with department and college goals. Teaching an online or distance education course is not a requirement.

In fact, a number of faculty have employed DELTA Grants to improve existing in-classroom courses, especially those with hundreds of students.

“We offer the grants program as a way to empower faculty,” says Daniel Davis, associate director of instructional design and development at DELTA. “It can be cumbersome to really engage students when you have 300 in a large lecture hall. So we work with faculty to help them think it through.”

The approach varies from course to course, Davis says. In one example, the DELTA team might work with an instructor to “flip” a course so that lectures and other content live online to better prepare students for the classroom and allow faculty to better engage with them.

Or they’ll create content that’s accessible through the students’ mobile devices, cleverly employing a familiar technology to increase classroom engagement.

Maria Gallardo-Williams and a student during filming of a video in an organic chemistry lab.
Maria Gallardo-Williams of the Department of Chemistry works with a student during filming of a video for her DELTA Grants project.

“We have a wide variety of grants, the majority of which are course-based, but we also have grants for faculty fellows, who join us in helping other faculty,” Davis says. “No matter what grant we award, it’s always tailored to the specific needs of the faculty and students.”

There are six types of DELTA Grants, from “rapid design course grants” that enable faculty to quickly produce quality online and distance education courses to “blended learning grants” that combine the best of face-to-face and online learning practices.

“It all starts with an instructional challenge,” says Cathi Dunnagan, DELTA lead instructional designer. “So it could be something like a foundational course that needs to be redesigned, or a faculty member who is teaching an online class for the first time and needs to get it developed quickly. In the end, we want them to have the best instructional design.”

Interested in learning more or applying for a DELTA Grant? Here are some key resources and upcoming opportunities:

“With DELTA Grants, you don’t just get financial support,” Littlejohn says. “You get your own team to collaborate with, develop technologies and find solutions. It’s a really wonderful partnership.”

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