Student Engagement Specialists Win Global Campus Innovation Award
Lesley Speller (left) and Alicia “Lish” Estes
The Global Campus presented its Lightbulb Award to two members of staff who are using the latest virtual reality (VR) technologies to support students and faculty at the university.
Alicia Estes and Lesley Speller, student engagement specialists with Global Campus’ Learning Technology Support Unit, received the award from Cheryl Murphy, Vice Provost for Distance Education at the U of A, at the January staff meeting.
“Reflecting on the first 150 years of the University of Arkansas is important for us to understand where we came from and where we are going,” Murphy said. “With their creativity and use of research, Lish and Lesley have shed light on the role of online education in the growth of the university and the state. By making this information accessible through a VR format, Lish and Lesley not only enrich our lives with knowledge, they also show how online learning can be used in a variety of ways to move us forward.”
Estes and Speller received the award for their work at the university’s 150th anniversary celebration which showcases and celebrates the history of distance education in Arkansas. The task involved combing through special collections and other historical documents that captured the stories of students over the years to create a tangible link to the past, scanning photos, documents and even artifacts 3D. They were able to integrate this material into a virtual 3D space called Frame VR. Estes and Speller have created an immersive museum experience that takes visitors through the history of Global Campus.
This virtual museum can be viewed at https://framevr.io/uark150. It is accessible in the form of two-dimensional images in a browser or in 3D using a virtual reality headset.
In addition to being highly skilled in a variety of development programs and frameworks, Estes and Speller manage several projects that support student learning in the VR environment. They also teach others how to use virtual reality equipment and software. They are constantly looking for new ways to reach students, faculty, and the world through the use of modern technology.
Estes began working part-time at the university with IT services in 1999, transitioning to full-time in 2002 as a research and support specialist. She joined Global Campus in 2016.
“It’s always fun to explore new technologies that can be used to tell stories and inspire people to learn,” Estes said.
Speller joined the U of A in 2002 as a part-time lab operator for GACL (General Access Computer Labs). She moved to full-time IT help desk in 2005 before becoming a research and support specialist and joined Global Campus in 2016.
“We are truly honored to receive the award,” Speller said. “We were so excited to have the chance to dig deeper into the history of distance education in Arkansas and at the University of Arkansas, and how it has shaped and changed the lives of students at the State and of the world.”
Estes and Speller are both members of the Learning Technology Support Team, reporting to Shelly Walters, Associate Director of Instructional Design and Support Services. Their duties include editing, writing and maintaining the TIPS (Teaching Innovation and Pedagogical Support) blog and social media accounts, working with faculty to find new and innovative ways to engage with students, collaboration with instructional designers and academic technologists to support instructors and the exploration of new technologies and their applications in teaching and learning.
“Lish and Lesley provide the spark teams need to create and sustain a culture of innovation,” Walters said. “Sometimes that spark is the idea or the work to make the idea a reality. Lish and Lesley also have a talent for recognizing other people’s ideas and enthusiastically supporting them to foster an environment where people are inspired to try something new.”
The Global Campus has instituted the Lightbulb Award to honor two or more staff members for outstanding innovation beyond their usual job responsibilities. This award is open to named and hourly staff who work for Global Campus.
The Global Campus supports U of A colleges and schools in the development and delivery of online, distance learning, and workforce training programs and courses. It provides instructional design services, technology services, and assistance with marketing, recruitment, and strategic academic development.
The Global Campus also supports the WE Manning Memorial Scholarship, which is open to undergraduate and graduate students studying in online degree programs.