Putting educational infrastructure to alternative use: IE Business School’s WoW Room
Last Friday I invited Victoriano Izquierdo, a friend of many years and founder of Graphext, to attend a session of my Corporate Communication Management Program at IE Business School held in our WoW Room, a virtual classroom consisting of a 45 square meter videowall made up of 48 monitors arranged in a U shape. But this session would put the WoW room to a very different use to the one it was designed for.
IE Business School WoW Room was launched in October 2016 to take online teaching to a new level. Designed to bridge the gap between face-to-face and online teaching, it provides a classroom experience to IE students anywhere in the world with a Chrome browser and a reasonable internet connection, allowing the teacher to teach under normal classroom conditions: filmed by a camera that captures our every movement, we can move freely in the space at the same time as we see our students’ faces in close up, creating a deeper classroom dynamic. At the same time, rather than just throwing a question out there, we can also carry out surveys and vote in real time, while simultaneously evaluating students’ level of engagement and responding to them individually, thus keeping them on their toes and creating a lively environment. And all this without the need for any camera operators (the camera is motorized and automatic, and follows the professors movement) or specialized staff: teachers arrive, upload their presentations, links, surveys and materials, and then deliver their class. A demonstration of the WoW room, about which I wrote at the time, can be seen here:
As said, teachers are usually alone in the WoW Room; in fact the presence of other people can confuse the camera, while students are at home or wherever they choose to connect from. I have delivered several classes in the WoW Room and can say that the experience, once you get used to it, is comparable to that of a normal classroom: direct, lively interaction with students, and with a few perks that can even improve it. Given the technology involved, it’s surprisingly accesible and easy to use by anyone.
The huge videowall is divided into three sections, each with its own browser and tabs. If you load a video in 360º on a screen that size, the experience is highly immersive, and by dividing it into three panels, you can use one for a presentation carried out in the Chrome browser, leaving two other walls of the U to see whatever you want on a floor-to-ceiling screen that is several meters high and wide. Obviously, to appreciate this, students need to be present in the classroom: even though this was not in the original design, the WoW Room can easily accommodate up to two rows of chairs, meaning around 25 students can attend sessions.
The classroom was not designed with this in mind, but it occurred to Victoriano and myself that network analytics graphics, those dense clouds of points used to analyze connections, would work well in this format. So I invited Victoriano to demonstrate the kind of analytics he can perform using his Graphext and Contexto.io programs with a group of Corporate Communication students. This allowed him to search for influencers in social contexts, where, using a few obvious examples, a head of communications can learn more about the structure of the community discussing its products and those of the competition, its levels of centrality and relevance, their influences, or the type of links they share. Extracting data from networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or web sites provides a picture of nodes that help analyze a community very clearly, with details such as the representation of unilateral or reciprocal connections, anomalies, evolution of followers, similarities and proximities. For someone analyzing the structure of a community, this approach can provide many invaluable insights: obviously the better you understand the tool and what you’re looking at, the greater the benefit. That said, on a normal monitor, there are zoom levels or drill downs that can be tricky to use, or where you lose the global perspective. Seeing these graphs in such a huge monitor has obvious advantages that justify the use of the WoW Room, offering students visibility and a level of understanding of what’s being analyzed way beyond what a normal classroom situation would offer.
To get an idea of the type of graphics I’m talking about, here’s a simple representation of some of the many accounts associated with IE Business School and their relationships, that allows us to analyze aspects such as shared themes, etc. The graph is interesting in terms of visualizing a community, but its real use is about representing reciprocities, communication, domains and the most commonly shared links, popularity over time, etc. For a head of communication, the use is clear, but it could also be applied to many other kinds of analytics.
Content analysis is another area that comes to mind: an image of the contents of my page illustrates my areas of interest, how they are grouped around the topic of each of my entries, how they are shared, what levels of interest and discussion they provoke in my readers both on and off the page, etc. This is something I may well write about soon in more detail. Once again, this kind of information is much easier to understand when seen on a large monitor.
What other uses could we put the WoW room to? Obviously, there are limits: principally the limited number of people it can accommodate. But another fundamental concept is the kind of content it makes sense to focus on through this kind of infrastructure. There is nothing like inviting a multidisciplinary community of teachers to think about creating new educational experiences in the context of an ongoing redesign of teaching methods. The writing is on the wall…
(En español, aquí)