The Rise of Student Innovation at Texas State

In 2018, Texas State announced “Innovation” as the academic theme of the Common Experience. Students, faculty and staff explored this theme by participating in conversations about new ideas and possibilities that will shape their futures, not just at Texas State but around the world.

The university offered themed exhibitions, guest speakers and interactive events such as learning about 3d printing in Alkek or coding for beginners, to showcase the different programs and tools available for use. And to get students to start thinking outside of the parameters of normal everyday situations and begin to ponder new and innovative solutions to problems.

But how is Texas State continuing to develop this theme, this year?

As the Fall semester started, different projects, spaces and organizations have been popping up all over Texas State in order to help increase student innovation. Some of these projects include the creation of videography instruction in Nutrition and wearable technology to further STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education. The biggest space being renovated on campus for students is Alkek’s first floor, where there will now be a maker and design studio, a GIS and data center, audio and video studios and an immersion studio featuring virtual and augmented reality technologies. As well as upgrading different places around campus, such as the Computer Science department with the latest technology advancements to help students hone their skills with new programs. And lastly, the introduction and revision of student organizations on campus such as the Innovation club, to begin helping solve real problems happening around campus and the San Marcos community.

Dr. Sylvia Crixell and Hannah Thornton will be diving deep into the technology world this year to begin using artificial intelligence (AI) services as a toolset to help with student creation of video-based media to develop multilanguage nutrition educational content to promote to outside groups.

They were supplied with a $5,000 Teaching and Learning Technology Innovation grant from the Technology Innovation Office to help develop new teaching methods within undergraduate courses. This grant will help with purchasing of new audio and video equipment, editing and AI programs and materials needed to improve student content quality.

In their proposal for the grant they wrote, “In the classroom, videography allows for creative and innovative approaches to project-based learning that fosters student engagement. Students are able to enter and connect with their own communities in new ways and to leverage talents that would otherwise go unnoticed by faculty. Training nutrition students to use AI-driven translation software will enable them to bridge language gaps and provide high-quality information to diverse audiences.”

The biggest project of student innovation, Alkek One, or previously known as the first-floor, $14.3 million dollar renovations is set to be finished during the spring semester of 2020. This project has been kept under wraps for about a year and its plans are finally being shown to the public in smaller groups focused on innovation before revealing it to the public.

The idea of creating this space is to get more students outside of technology based majors to start experimenting with programs and tools that they aren’t familiar with and broadening their skill sets with new information so that they can bring that knowledge into their majors and create new solutions to projects that aren’t taught in the classroom.

To empower those students to be different than the rest.

Digital Literacy Program Coordinator for Alkek One, Brittney Johnson believes that Alkek One and its educational app are going to increase student innovation on campus and help beginners in the tech field.

“You don’t have to be a coder to be able to create successfully. We can give you a lot of the tools to just get started and that’s the great thing about how we are building the app. You can have access to something that’s already created, download it and then just tweak or change one thing and start learning like that. Building off something that already exists and playing with the components of it instead of having to create it from scratch”, said Johnson. “And I think that’s what innovation means to me, sure you can start from scratch or you can take something that already exists and thinking about it in a new and innovative way.”

Erin Frazee, president of the Geek Culture Club is very excited about the upcoming opening date for Alkek One and the various tools that will be at her disposal.

“Firsthand not knowing anything, I would love to explore the technology that will be on the first floor”, said Frazee. “This will definitely help me out a ton, even just with things I kind of want to do for fun.”

Lastly, the creation of the Innovation Club in the Mass Communication department by Assistant Director of the Media Innovation Lab and Senior Lecturer, Jon Zmikly. The club received a $5,000 Teaching and Learning Technology Innovation grant from the Technology Innovation Office as well and it helped with providing most of the equipment and software used at meetings. While classes and activities offer one level of experience, this club furthers students’ interests in the digital world no matter your major or background, as well as provide relevant, real-world experience for them through solving real world problems around topics such as virtual and augmented realities, IoT, artificial intelligence, bots and various other things.

“I wanted to create an environment outside of a classroom that allows students to experiment with technology that was outside the scope of assignments and a general semester of learning. It got students outside of just their traditional mindset and it’s also hard to get brand new classes created for these new technology advancements”, said Zmikly. “If we can do it in a club setting, it’s a lot more agile and you can get different types of students involved and take on actual problems rather than ones just in the classroom.”

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