Students in Mary Killilea’s class Where the City Meets the Sea settled into their seats as they watched students in Abu Dhabi and London also sit down at their desks on large, high definition screens. In a routine Wednesday morning session of Killilea’s course on coastal areas, she greeted professors John Burt in Abu Dhabi and Andy Brown in London, and the lecture began.
This semester is the first time that students at three different campuses could take part in a joint class. The environmental studies course in CAS initially launched in spring 2012, joining students in New York and Abu Dhabi. The course added a location in London this semester and announced the addition of Shanghai as the fourth city for spring 2014.
“I’ve always heard that NYU is a global network university, but I finally understand the extent to which it actually is,” CAS sophomore Evan Powell said. “For our final group presentations, in which our groups are made up of students from each campus, we asked Mary if we could be in the same group, and she was thrilled to hear that we’ve connected across campuses.”
Peter Schilling, associate vice president for global technology services, was asked to help prototype ways to teach undergraduate science courses at global study away sites.
Schilling, Killilea and Burt collected publicly available environmental, census and other data and organized it into a software system that students would be able to use to input their own data out on the field.
The tablet devices automatically record the location with a GPS device and place a timestamp in Greenwich Mean Time. It also asks students to input meta-data, such as water temperature to help ensure data accuracy.
CAS sophomore Cindy Pi said studying globally enhances the students’ understanding of coastal cities.
“We recently had a lab where all three campuses measured formaldehyde levels and indoor air quality of their campuses’ buildings,” Pi said. “We got to compare air qualities across the world and were not just confined to studying New York.”
Despite the reliance on technology, Pi said they rarely experience problems with communication across sites.
The technology highlights the intersection of instruction and research.
“In the past students were more the receivers of instruction, and what we’re trying to do is make folks realize that combining the two can be powerful,” Schilling said.
Google has recently taken an interest in the initiative and is offering tools and on-call assistance to GTS.
Other departments within NYU, are now requesting to participate in the data collection as well.
“We’re building a living archive,” Burt said. “If you look at a place like Abu Dhabi or Shanghai, the sheer scale and speed of development is phenomenal … The course is global in nature. We’re looking at issues that affect cities anywhere on earth.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 22 print edition. Julie DeVito is foreign correspondent editor. Email her at [email protected]