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Game-changing technologies


​Mott Community College's FABLAB allows students to test manufacturing techniques using 3D printers.

Photo: MCC

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from an article in the June/July edition of the Community College Journal, the bimonthly magazine of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Few professors teaching at community colleges today expect students to learn every nuance of every technological device they’re likely to encounter throughout the course of their careers. Let’s face it: Some of these tools haven’t even been invented yet.

But what educators can do is expose students to enough of a base so that when the technology does evolve—and it will—they have the confidence and ability to adapt and continue working. For this special report, our editors picked six technological trends—mobile apps and devices; massive open online courses (MOOCs); game-based learning; 3D printers; media literacy tools such as video editing; and big data—that are poised to make a big impact on education and job training in 2013 and beyond.

Mobile apps and devices

Research group IDC estimates that tablet shipments worldwide will exceed 172 million in 2013, and community colleges are keeping pace.

John Blaylock, vice president of educational services at Northeast Community College (NCC) in Nebraska, says the college wanted to deploy tablets but chose to do it in a strategic way. In spring 2012, NCC identified 18 faculty members who were interested in using the tablets in the classroom and provided training later that fall.

“I call the early adopters ‘classroom entrepreneurs’ because they took a risk to move forward and use the technology,” Blaylock says.

According to AACC's Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation's Future, "High priority should be assigned to efforts to provide community college faculty and students with access to state-of-the-art technologies designed to foster instructional innovation and effectiveness." Follow AACC's 21st-Century Initiative.

By spring semester 2013, the professors identified which classes they’d be using the tablets in and 320 Apple iPads were ordered. Another 55 faculty members will begin training this fall, with classroom implementation in spring 2014. By fall 2014, Blaylock says the college hopes to have all 117 full-time faculty incorporate a mobile device into their instruction.

While many community colleges are experimenting with tablets, other institutions, such as Broome Community College in New York, have taken the notion of mobile a step further by teaching aspiring Web site developers how to build mobile apps.

Sandra Wright, chair of the college’s business information technology unit, says the college offered its first course on mobile app design this spring.

“Building mobile apps is a necessary skill for developers today, because just about every Web application must also be useable on a mobile device,” she says.


Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are making inroads in community colleges by way of grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which late last year awarded $550,000 to 12 colleges, including three community colleges, to test applications for the technology. MOOCs allow students, teachers, and others access to educational content, including lectures and videos, often for free, online.

Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio; Mt. San Jacinto College in California; and Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina each received funding to launch initiatives as part of the effort.

Laura Kalbaugh, dean of academic success and transition resources at Wake Tech, says the college used its $50,000 grant to develop an introductory algebra review course for high school students looking to place out of developmental math.

“Something close to 70 percent of students nationwide place into developmental courses at community colleges,” Kalbaugh says. “When students have to take developmental courses, it makes it difficult for them to complete an associate degree within two years.”

The college hopes to use its algebra MOOC, the only one of its kind in the country, to help students begin coursework sooner. Wake Tech also is developing MOOCs for introductory English and reading, and professors have discussed using the algebra MOOC as a supplement to other programs.

Game-based learning

Mesa Community College in Arizona has offered an associate degree in multimedia and game technology since spring 2010.

Burton Borlongan, interim director of the program, says professors who teach these “gamify” classes often use game metrics to mirror the very products and services students learn to create.

In a recent Python programming class, for example, Borlongan challenged students to create their own avatar. Students were awarded level upgrades based on their progress toward and beyond certain programming milestones.

“The whole idea is to find ways to engage this generation of students,” Borlongan says. “They grew up with games, so much of this comes natural to them.” While gaming comes naturally to students, it doesn’t always come naturally to professors, which is why Front Range Community College (FRCC) in Colorado developed a MOOC for professors who want to learn more about game-based learning.

3D printers

Deep in the heart of the U.S. manufacturing belt in Flint, Mich., students in the computer-aided design program at Mott Community College (MCC) work with digital design software and 3D printers to test designs and learn about additive manufacturing techniques that promise to make the U.S. manufacturing industry more competitive.

Thomas Crampton, the college’s executive dean of regional technology initiatives, says the MCC FABLAB emerged from a digital fabrication model developed at MIT. A critical component of that initiative was a 3D printer.

In additive manufacturing, designers build a digital model using traditional CAD software and send it to a 3D printer, which produces a tangible, to-scale replica of a component part. 3D printing is an additive process that builds the part one thin layer at a time until the final dimensions are achieved, explains Crampton.

“By printing out a 3D copy of the design, engineers can see if the design makes sense before spending thousands of dollars on tooling,” Crampton says. “It’s a more efficient way to work and results in much less waste.”

Media lliteracy

For James Richardson, associate professor of New Media Studies at LaGuardia Community College in New York City, the most important part of media literacy is learning how to adapt as technology evolves.

“Whatever technology students learn here at school will change in a year or two,” Richardson says. “I want to provide them with enough of a base that they can recognize trends and keep on developing new skills so they can maintain employment and their standard of living.”

Richardson’s program does just that. Six core courses include an intro course on media convergence; web development, in which students learn online coding; a video and audio production course; a session on Web scripting languages and databases; a course in building mobile apps; and a capstone course in which students learn to create their own digital portfolio.

“From there, students choose specific tracks, such as e-commerce or game design,” Richardson explains. “We also stress how to manage a digital identity. Students must understand that what they post on Facebook or Twitter can follow them into the workplace.”

Big data

Community colleges aren’t necessarily teaching big data, but many of them are employing it to make smarter spending decisions and improve the quality of education and service offered on campus.

The Lone Star College System in the Woodlands, Texas, uses the Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) interface over Oracle’s Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) engine to extract relevant information about students.

System CIO Link Alander says Lone Star initially used OBIEE to deliver pie charts on information such as student health.

“The state requires that all students pass a meningitis requirement, so the interface in OBIEE offers our executives a chart that tells them how many students have met the requirement,” Alander says.

Lone Star also plans to add this capability for human resources and finance. The hope is that the state community college system will eventually create a master database in which institutions can share relevant student information.

“The bottom line is speed of access to information so executives can make decisions,” he says. “We need to develop better data on how many students are completing a two-year program on time and the reasons why those who don’t are having difficulty."