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Dr. James P. Frazee

Peek through the window of a San Diego State University (SDSU) classroom and you might see something that resembles a sports bar rather than a place of learning. But look closer and you’ll see the HDTVs lining the room display instructional videos. Waist-high tables are on wheels and there is no fixed front of the room. The space is malleable and morphs to support independent study or collaborative learning. Professors can distribute learning materials wirelessly from their handheld devices or computers. A ceiling-mounted document camera projects instructional information to all.

This is one of SDSU’s “learning research studios” — a space for active learning, visualized and built by Dr. Frazee and his Instructional Technology Services (ITS) team. Dr. Frazee is a busy man, overseeing the university’s physical and virtual learning environments, including distance and hybrid courses, Web conferencing, video streaming, lecture capture, video production and graphic design — both at the main campus and the satellite branch in rural Imperial Valley, Calif.

Reinventing and improving the teaching and learning experience through technology is Dr. Frazee’s passion. He believes the right kind of classroom space can spur a professor to transform the structure of his or her instructional design. He says, “We have a laser focus on helping faculty use technologies for teaching — to leverage what we know about how people learn and take advantage of mature and emerging technologies.”

Dr. Frazee’s team supports professors and students engaged in distance learning with Learning Glass technology, which allows faculty to work on what looks like a transparent whiteboard while facing a camera. Dr. Frazee’s team built the world’s first one-button Learning Glass studio, which is situated within an active learning classroom. The one-button studio is a place for professors to interact with students and record, as well as live-stream the session to remote learners. Students have the opportunity to come up to the board and work in small groups, among other interactive formats. In essence, it’s a real TV studio, but one that is operationally simple for faculty use.

“The idea is that a faculty member can walk in with a thumb drive, plug it in, literally press one button and record their Learning Glass session with or without a live studio audience — then press stop and walk away with the session on the thumb drive,” says Dr. Frazee. He freely shares the technical specifications for Learning Glass on the SDSU website. Today, at least half of the University of California campuses have similar setups, with others soon to follow.

In addition to his ITS responsibilities, Dr. Frazee teaches graduate-level educational technology courses for SDSU and the University of San Diego, where he earned his joint doctoral degree in educational technology. He also writes and presents frequently on topics related to technology and curriculum reform. In 2011, he was awarded the Outstanding Service Award for his role as president and conference chair of the Directors of Educational Technology/California Higher Education (DET/CHE).

Dr. Frazee stresses that to advance new technological ideas on campus, a champion is necessary. “You need someone to be a sounding board in thinking about new directions,” he says. “You also need faculty who can talk to other faculty — to inspire them about new active learning strategies and show how technologies can enable these things. But remember that, in the end, it’s not the technology that’s important. It’s not the classroom. It’s the design of the course itself. That’s really where the magic happens.”