Innovative Teaching Center Sets Grand Opening

SOCORRO, N.M. August 26, 2011 – The newly-revamped Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning has new programs on tap and a new director in place.
Pier Gutierrez, director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, uses a SMART podium, which allows instructors to 'write' on a computer screen and have the images projected.
Gutierrez demonstrates how faculty can use the SMART Classroom technology in the CITL classroom.

Pier Gutierrez said she is planning new initiatives to engage faculty with new technology, with the ultimate goal of improving student success.

Gutierrez left her position as admission counselor in 2009 to enter a master’s program at the University of Connecticut. After earning her Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs, she returned to Socorro in June 2011 to take over the Center, or CITL.

For the first time, the Center has a physical location in Speare 113, with Gutierrez’ office next door in Speare 112. The Center will host a grand opening for faculty and other interested people at 3:30 p.m. Monday, August 29.

“This will be used as the hub of activity,” she said. “This will be used solely for faculty. We have a SMART technology system here and we’ve purchased different teaching resources that will benefit students in the long run.”

New Mexico Tech has secured two separate five-year grants from the Title V program of the U.S. Department of Education. Together, the grants are for $5.8 million and fund many improvements on campus, including numerous so-called Smart Classrooms. These facilities include interactive multimedia technologies that permit faculty to capture lecture notes, write on a SMART podium and use a variety of visual aids.

The SMART Classroom technology is already being used in the Distance Education studios and in some graduate programs. The new initiative is to bring the SMART technology to undergraduate classrooms in various academic building on campus over the next few years.

Gutierrez and Rob Hepler, manager of Distance Education Technology, are responsible for training faculty members on using and maximizing the features of the new technology. They will host workshops and seminars to familiarize instructors with the hardware and software. The Distance Education division will be responsible for supporting the new systems and the CITL will provide training programs to support the knowledge base for faculty and other instructors.

“Our primary goal is to work on classrooms that are used for gateway courses,” Gutierrez said. “Part of the reason we are targeting gateway courses is that we want to serve as many students as possible and we hope to improve student retention and success in those classes.”

Gutierrez said the theory is that high-tech classrooms allow faculty to engage students more effectively and students who are engaged are more likely to learn and succeed.

Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Peter Gerity said many factors affect student retention and success, including technology and student engagement.

“It’s natural for freshmen to use interactive electronic technology,” Gerity said. “They’re driven by technology – smart phones, iPads and other wireless devices. In order to keep up with this generation of students, the technology has to be upgraded to the cutting edge.”

Gerity said the new technology is also keeping up with the demands of the faculty, who are asking for more teaching options.

“Many of these lectures, labs and discussions are being recorded – at the request of faculty,” Gerity said. “The segments are recorded so they are available for review by students. If material is available electronically, that can only help reinforce learning.”

Dr. Lorie Liebrock, chair of the Computer Science and Engineering Department and the new Graduate Dean, has been using the SMART Classroom technology for the past year.

In addition to student retention, she hopes the new technology allows for more effective recruiting of graduate students.

“I want to see our graduate programs get larger and our distance programs will be a means of doing it,” Liebrock said. “We have excellent students from the national laboratories and industry who can’t be full-time students. These technological capabilities are essential.”

MSEC 101 AND Cramer 101 are completely outfitted with the new technology. Workman 109 will be converted to Smart Classrooms during the fall semester. Eventually, faculty in each academic department will have access to such a classroom.

“The initial two years of working with this technology has been very positive in increasing retention rates,” Gerity said. “We hope that trend will continue. Retention is a complex issue, but we hope that what we’re doing is a major contribution to improving student success.”


– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech