The University of Arizona

New, Improved Technology Makes Students' Lives Easier

By Daniel Stolte, University Communications | August 27, 2013

New technology offerings are helping students ease into the new academic year at the UA.

Students working in a computer lab at the Manuel Pacheco Integrated Learning Center.
Students working in a computer lab at the Manuel Pacheco Integrated Learning Center.

As new and returning students pour into classrooms across the University of Arizona campus, they are met with new and improved technology offerings to help make their experience at the University a success.

Such offerings include upgraded classroom equipment and gadgets available for checkout at the UA Libraries, electronic textbooks and a Web-based course navigation system.

Digital Course Planning

Among the many high-tech resources available to UA students is Smart Planner. The online tool, formerly known as Degree Tracker, helps students choose the classes they need to meet their degree requirements.

Smart Planner relies on information from a student's record in UAccess Student – such as the number of transfer credits they have, their test scores and what courses they've taken – to make suggestions to guide future course enrollment.
 
The system helps students plan their course schedule based on their individual needs and provides links to course catalogs so students can choose classes based on their descriptions. Smart Planner is accessible to students through UAccess Student and to parents who've been given permission through the UAccess Guest Center.
 
"Smart Planner helps the student and the advisers have more informed interactions," said Kathy Godwin, assistant director of curricular affairs in the UA Office of Academic Affairs.
 
The main purpose of Smart Planner is to get students and advisers on the same page with regard to details such as credit requirements and deadlines before they meet in person.
 
"The idea is not to replace the adviser. Instead, with Smart Planner, we are trying to create a system that makes the interactions with the adviser more meaningful and to make sure students are aware of all of the opportunities on campus, like resources in Career Services or opportunities in research."
 
That frees up appointment time to have more informed discussion about individual situations and students' broader academic and career plans.
 
Smart Planner updates automatically whenever changes are made to the system. The Smart Planner's forward-looking capabilities help students see where they are going and how they are going to get there.
 
According to Godwin, Smart Planner works like a checklist, with all the courses and requirements in order, and makes it easier for students to check them off online than a paper list.
 
"It won't do everything for them because it's their education and therefore their choice," she said, "but if there are certain classes they need to take, like a specific major core course, Smart Planner will indicate that. Students still have the flexibility to make their own decisions about many of their courses they ultimately select to enroll in."
 
Electronic Textbooks
 
The Office of the Chief Information Officer is sponsoring a collaborative effort to explore the use of electronic textbooks and digital learning content – "eText" – through the eContent and Courseload platforms.
 
This pilot project is a collaborative effort involving University Information Technology Services (UITS), UA Libraries, UA BookStores, the Office of Instruction and Assessment and Student Affairs.
 
eText allows students to access and download interactive textbooks and has many features students and instructors can access to make the classroom experience more interactive and engaging. 
 
An estimated 566 students and their instructors in eight courses in various departments are participating in the pilot to assess this new learning model and evaluate how it can benefit faculty and students.
 
Students can still obtain the hard copy of a textbook if they choose to, but eText offers that and many additional features such as videos, audio clips as well as problems and exercises as an exclusive online experience.
 
Switching from traditional textbooks to digital course materials is a growing trend in higher education, and advantages for students and faculty include greater interactivity, customizability and opportunities for social collaboration, according to UITS. 
 
High-Tech Classrooms
 
Over the summer, 36 classrooms on campus were outfitted with new instruction technologies and equipment, including new desktop computers, Blu-ray players, projectors and Elmo document cameras, which allow instructors to display documents or demonstrations, such as chemistry experiments, on a large screen. 
 
These upgrades are part of an ongoing collaborative effort known as the Classroom Technology Upgrade Program, which includes 81 classrooms.
 
"Technology is a critical component to students' ability to be successful here at the UA," said Michele Norin, UA chief information officer. "We are always looking for ways to provide new tools and new support for students."
 
Gadgets for Borrowing
 
Students who need to or would like to use the latest technology for school projects can find all sorts of student fee-funded gadgets and software at the UA Libraries through equipment lending.
 
"We have laptops, netbooks, iPads, iPad minis, portable projectors, cameras and camcorders available for checkout," said Travis Teetor, library operations supervisor with UA Libraries, "plus memory card readers, headphones, calculators – really anything a student might want."
 
The libraries also offer study rooms that can be reserved on short notice via the library's mobile site linked from the Arizona Mobile app.
 
"The rooms are furnished with display monitors where study groups can hook up their laptops, so everybody can see what's on the screen," Teetor said. "In some rooms, students can connect multiple laptops at the same time, for example if they want to collaborate on a presentation."
 
Special rooms also are available for Skype interviews or graduate study.
 
"Most importantly, we want to encourage students to use our 'Ask a Librarian' feature on the UA Libraries homepage," Teetor said. "Ask us anything anytime."
 
Through the Ask a Librarian chat tool, students and instructors can get a hold of library personnel during library hours.
 
"Any time a student asks us a question about an item we can't offer at this time, we make note of it to evaluate how we might be able to meet those needs."