Specialists in student engagement win the Global Campus Innovation Award

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Lesley Speller (left) and Alicia “Lish” Estes

The Global Campus presented its Lightbulb Award to two staff members who use the latest virtual reality (VR) technology to support the university‘s students and faculty.

Alicia Estes and Lesley Speller, specialists in student engagement in the Learning Technology Support Unit of the Global Campus, received the award from Cheryl Murphy, Vice President of Distance Learning at U of A, at the January staff meeting.

“Reflecting on the University of Arkansas’ first 150 years is important for us to understand where we came from and where we are going,” Murphy said. “Through their creativity and use of research, Lish and Lesley have spotlighted the role of online education in the growth of both 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 help us advance.”

Estes and Speller received the award for their work in celebration of the university’s 150th anniversary, which showcases and celebrates the history of distance learning in Arkansas. The task required sifting through special collections and other historical documents that have captured students’ stories over the years to create a tangible connection to the past by scanning photos, documents and even 3D artifacts. They were able to bring this footage into a 3D virtual space called Frame VR. Estes and Speller have created an immersive museum experience that allows visitors to move through the history of the Global Campus.

This virtual museum can be viewed at https://framevr.io/uark150. It is accessible as two-dimensional images in a browser or as 3D with a virtual reality headset.

In addition to being highly skilled in a variety of programs and development frameworks, Estes and Speller manage several projects that support student learning in the VR environment. They also teach others how to use VR equipment and software. They never stop looking for new ways to reach students, faculty and the world through the use of modern technology.

Estes began working part-time in IT Services at university in 1999 and transitioned to a full-time position 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,” said Estes.

Speller joined U of A in 2002 as a part-time lab operator for GACL (General Access Computer Labs). She joined the IT helpdesk full-time in 2005 before moving to research and support specialist and joining Global Campus in 2016.

“We are very honored to receive the award,” said Speller. “We were so excited to have the opportunity to delve deeper into the history of distance learning in Arkansas and the University of Arkansas and how it has shaped and transformed the lives of students across the state and around the world.”

Both Estes and Speller are members of the Learning Technology Support team led by Shelly Walters, Associate Director of Instructional Design and Support Services. Her responsibilities include editing, writing and maintaining the TIPS (Teaching Innovation and Pedagogical Support) blogs and social media accounts, collaborate with faculty to find new and innovative ways to engage with students, collaborate with instructional designers and academic technologists to support faculty, and explore 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,” said Walters. “Sometimes that spark is the idea or the work to make the idea a reality. Lish and Lesley also have a talent for recognizing the ideas of others and enthusiastically supporting them, creating an environment that inspires people to try something new.”

The Global Campus created the Lightbulb Award to honor two or more employees for outstanding innovations that go beyond their routine duties. This award is open to permanent and hourly employees working for Global Campus.

the Global Campus supports U of A colleges and schools in the development and delivery of online, distance and staff education programs and courses. It provides instructional design services, technology services, and support with marketing, recruitment, and strategic academic development.

The Global Campus also supports them WE Manning Memorial Scholarshipwhich is open to undergraduate and graduate students studying in online degree programs.

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