The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Seton Hill University a grant in the amount of $1,986,148 through its Title III Strengthening Institutions program. The funds will equip two new classrooms with the latest in interactive and assistive instructional technology, train all full-time faculty and appropriate staff in the use of the technology, train all full-time faculty in new outcomes-based assessment processes, and provide for a new institutional researcher at the University.

According to Carol Billman, Director of Grants and Government Support, “We were so pleased to receive this second Title III award. Our first was to upgrade the University’s main computer database system. This second award will build on our first and integrate the newest student-centered technology into our teaching and learning environment.”

Seton Hill received its current (second) Department of Education Title III award the first year the school was eligible to re-apply to the Strengthening Institutions program.

Seton Hill Instructional Designer and Instructor of Education Mary Spataro will serve as project director for Seton Hill’s current Title III funded activities. One of Spataro’s key responsibilities will be to train 60 faculty members and 12 student services staff members in the classroom use of interactive (engages students in creating their own learning activities and experiences) and assistive (enables use by students with disabilities or other specialized needs) technologies. Spataro will develop new training manuals for use in the program, and oversee the creation of two new Seton Hill classrooms equipped with the latest interactive and assistive technologies.

While all of Seton Hill’s classrooms feature modern technology, the new classrooms will be adaptable learning spaces that will facilitate the incorporation of current interactive and assistive technologies into Seton Hill’s teaching and learning environment. Designed to encourage interactive learning – between students and professors, students and their peers, and students and technology - the classrooms will eliminate the “single instructor” perspective by defining multiple “teaching points” around the room. The spaces will support wireless connectivity and will also be designed with a multitude of outlets for student-owned technology, and will feature the latest in PCs, projection equipment, cameras, televisions, computer video cams, video iPods, and reading pens (pen-shaped scanners that can read text aloud, display it on a larger screen, or provide definitions and synonyms). Software will include interactive multi-user virtual-reality environments, as well as assistive software that will, for instance, turn spoken words into type or help capture screen images for use in manuals or reports. Mobile interactive and assistive technology units will be available to enhance the technology in other Seton Hill classrooms when needed.

When class is not in session, the new classrooms will transform into collaborative learning centers, and will be available for faculty and student group projects, research, or informal gatherings. Seton Hill recognizes that at its most basic level, all learning results from interactions, with aspects of the teaching environment, with information, with other people, or through some combination of these. Interactive technology also expands Seton Hill’s learning environment by allowing students and faculty to work together as part of a globally networked virtual classroom.

Spataro will also be responsible for implementing faculty training in outcomes-based assessment. This type of assessment requires faculty members to identify the desired educational results for their courses, and then evaluate each course according to how effective it was in enabling students to achieve those results. Outcomes-based assessment encourages ongoing analysis and improvement in course content and delivery, and, Seton Hill believes, will be particularly effective when integrated with interactive and assistive technology.

The U.S. Department of Education Title III grant will also provide Seton Hill with the ability to hire a full-time Institutional Researcher. The researcher will collect and analyze data, spot trends, and do benchmarking to determine if academic strategies have been effective. The researcher will also maintain University research in a central location. Immediate access to qualified and quantified institutional data will facilitate quick and effective decision-making by administration and staff.