UTEP’s Academic Technologies Earns International Recognition
DANIEL PEREZ | June 12, 2015 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
Members of UTEP's Academic Technologies team recently received the prestigious Center of Excellence Award from the New Media Consortium at a conference near Washington, D.C. The international consortium promotes the integration of technology in teaching and learning.
An international group of educational technology experts recognized The University of Texas at El Paso's Academic Technologies for its body of work during the group's annual summer conference this week near Washington, D.C.
The New Media Consortium (NMC) presented its 2015 Center of Excellence Award to a UTEP contingent led by William Robertson, Ph.D., associate professor of science and technology education and former associate provost for Academic Technologies (AT), June 10 in the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center.
The selection of work done by AT's Creative Studios includes its efforts with unmanned aerial vehicles (also known as UAVs or drones), virtual worlds, gaming and online courses that enhance education in science, engineering and the liberal arts. The award was extra special to Robertson because the selection was peer-led, meaning there was no application process.
"This is like winning a Pulitzer (Prize)," Robertson said referring to the prestigious award that honors excellence in U.S. journalism, literature and musical compositions. "It validates our trajectory. It shows the world that we're doing something incredible. This sets the stage for the kind of work we need to do in the future."
The Austin, Texas-based New Media Consortium is a worldwide collection of approximately 250 academic institutions, museums and research organizations that encourages the creative use of technology to support academics. The 22-year-old nonprofit presents these awards to institutions that exhibit a special record of achievement in the integration of technology with teaching and learning.
Samantha Becker, the consortium's senior communications director, said UTEP shares the same spirit of innovation displayed by past winners, and that the number and quality of accomplishments that AT has produced since its inception two years ago has been staggering.
Becker said the New Media Consortium noted UTEP's inspired efforts to use technology to enhance student access to high-quality education, especially when they accommodated nontraditional students. Consortium members also praised AT for involving students in the interdisciplinary development of various technologies because the connection of disparate disciplines helps prepare students for the 21st century workforce.
"It's that forward-thinking mindset that makes UTEP a leader," Becker said. "It's not just about the right now. It's about the possibilities of tomorrow. UTEP just gets it."
AT is involved in a broad range of campus activities to include web design, video, 3-D technology, graphic design and software development. In one case, AT helped geophysics graduate students add cameras to drones so they could map terrain in inhospitable areas such as the sides of cliffs or in the mouths of volcanoes.
"I am truly impressed with what (the student) has done and the benefits of this program," said Laura Serpa, Ph.D., professor and chair of geological sciences. She wants to see more AT collaborations. "I think (AT) is doing a fantastic job of revitalizing and improving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education."
Sergio Guerrero, who earned his bachelor's in electrical engineering in May 2015, and Jesus Pacheco, senior mechanical engineering major, said they were grateful to have been able to broaden their knowledge by working with AT this past year. Both are AT applications programmers who enhanced drone technology using 3-D printers. Their work also went to show drone production could be less expensive.
Guerrero used 3-D printing to design and produce wheels for a drone to enhance its capabilities on land. Pacheco leaves next week on an academic trip to Ensenada, Mexico, to use a drone to record video that could help farmers save energy by using renewable technology.
"We're grateful to Academic Technologies for giving us these opportunities to explore and expand our knowledge beyond what we could do in the classroom," Guerrero said.
Pacheco added, "It's not always learn, learn, learn. It's about putting what you know into practice. We're seeing results and being rewarded. I wish all students could have the same experience."
Steve Riter, Ph.D., vice president for information resources and planning at UTEP, said this recent honor recognizes UTEP's 15-year journey to use technology to improve teaching and learning.
"Now we have a system with an impact," said Riter, who oversees AT. "What we do goes beyond cute gimmicks. The technology we create helps our students get the most out of their education."
The University has been a member of the New Media Consortium for about four years and has kept track of international trends in education technology.
AT often finds its work ahead of the curve, said Steven Varela, associate director of AT's Creative Studios.
"This is a huge win for us," said Varela, who admitted that the news from the consortium generated plenty of high-fives in the AT offices on the third floor of the Undergraduate Learning Center. "It was very humbling. We knew we accomplished something."
Members of the AT creative studios behind this NMC distinction were Varela, associate director of AT; Mitsumasa Overstreet, art director and graphic designer; instructional technologists Swapnali Colaco, Oscar Delgado, Janet Hill and Alejandro Miramontes; Adrian Meza, multimedia specialist; Cyndi Castro, learning management system administrator; and Jessica Duran, administrative assistant and production manager.
Click here to see the AT video created for the June 10 award ceremony: https://youtu.be/Vt2bE7p1NLk