As the College of Engineering’s new centralized home for online and professional education, Nexus hosted a two-part open house last month at its online recording studio and classroom space in the Chrysler Center. The event, held on October 16th and 21st, drew interest from across the College, including faculty and researchers keen on teaching online. For Shubha Kashyap, PhD — Nexus’ Director of Online Learning and Innovation — the open house represented a key step toward a larger goal.

“Nexus is a new unit, founded directly from Dean [Alec] Gallimore’s ME 2020 Strategic vision for more accessible pathways to a Michigan Engineering education,” Kashyap said. “As a new unit, it is important for Nexus to build connection points, awareness, and commitment with our colleagues.”

The open house also offered an important introduction to Nexus’ learning technologies, support services, and staff, which includes the Chrysler Center-based Design and Innovation Group. Led by Kashyap, this team of Learning Designers, Productional Specialists, Program Development Specialists, and e-Learning Coordinators are dedicated to supporting faculty in the development and delivery of online courses — from concepting to instructional design to technology support. 

“Partnering with a professional learning designer allows faculty to explore new technology tools to enhance their teaching pedagogy and course delivery for an online audience,” Kashyap said.

Of particular interest to faculty and staff was Nexus’ online recording studio and lightboard, a dynamic instructional tool designed to reduce the barrier between the faculty and the learner. Built from scratch, the lightboard is a transparent chalkboard through which instructors are filmed lecturing in Nexus’ studio. The glass screen enables faculty to write notes, annotate charts and graphs, and illustrate key points without interrupting facetime with the learners — making both the teaching and learning experience more engaging. 

Online Learning

There to demonstrate the technology were several faculty members who have already been working with Nexus to deliver online courses. U-M Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) director Jim Sayer, PhD; Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Steve Skerlos, PhD; and Pat Hammett, PhD — who also serves a leadership role for Nexus — each took time to speak with attendees about collaborating with the new unit.

“Faculty and staff appreciated the opportunity to try the lightboard, and began exploring ways they could apply the technology to enhance their courses and create immersive experiences,” Kashyap said. “It could be the difference between seeing a slide with a formula fully displayed on a screen, compared to a faculty member writing it out and watching them explain their thought process and steps.”

Nexus’ two reconfigurable classrooms, designed to enhance both the face-to-face and online learning experience, were also on display. Chrysler Center Room 165 and 151 both feature group learning stations equipped with ceiling microphones and television screens; a platform that enables instructors to control what’s displayed on those screens; and a control room where Nexus staff manipulates a series of cameras to create high-quality lecture recordings. These features open a world of possibilities for faculty interested in developing innovative learning models like flipped classrooms. 

For those hoping to collaborate with Nexus, the open house was a welcome introduction to the unit’s many support services. In addition to learning design and production, the new unit offers online readiness and market feasibility research, project planning and management, and learning support services crucial to the development and delivery of online courses. Ultimately, Nexus’ goal is to make the process as seamless as possible for College faculty.

“Online learning allows us to expand the reach of education, while bringing the skills and expertise of our world-class faculty to our learners where they are,” Kashyap said. “Geography and time are obstacles and barriers we can overcome