Students in professor Christine Robinson’s ENC 1102 course sit in a dimly lit computer lab with 25 iMacs and two large screen projectors—a classroom setting that is expanded with a virtual reality experience that transports them to Ernest Hemingway’s colorful Key West house and Edgar Allan Poe’s somber temporary home in Richmond, Virginia.
“To summarize it in one word, I would say engagement,” Robinson said. “I like to add whatever tech I can to the class [because] my students are certainly entertained and engaged. Students who are engaged just learn better.”
The lively technology enthusiast currently teaches two blended ENC 1102 classes at Kendall Campus and a Virtual College ENC 1101 course.
Last fall, Robinson bought 30 iBlue cardboard headsets online for about $1.50 each, which were used in her ENC 1101 blended class for an essay assignment that requires students to chronicle an emerging technology of their choice. As an example, Robinson brought her “brick” Motorola cell phone to class to discuss the evolution of cell phones and the future of 3D technology.
In the ENC 1102 course, students compare author Ernest Hemingway’s novels such as The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms to some of writer Edgar Allen Poe’s famous pieces by exploring how they are radically different in style. To further grasp the contrast between the two authors, they take a walking tour of their houses through the VR headsets.
Robinson likes to enhance her lessons with virtual reality because of its visual and hands-on nature. This growing technology is used in other subjects, such as in biology for dissecting bodies, according to her. She foresees web VR, currently available in Chrome 56, will become more prevalent as it allows for a three dimensional experience directly on websites.
Robinson has always exhibited an interest in technology. She and English professor Cary Ser were the only ones, that she knew of, to use Commodore Amiga computers in the 1980’s, which were among the earliest personal computers. She taught herself basic computing skills, such as working with word processors and spreadsheets.
Originally from New York, she moved to Miami at the age of two. After her teachers in secretarial school convinced her mother of her potential, she enrolled in Miami Dade College as this was the only higher education institution her parents could afford.
Robinson graduated with a general associate’s in arts degree from North Campus in 1968 and continued her studies at Florida Atlantic University, where she obtained a bachelor’s in English education in 1970. Two years later, she earned her master’s in English from the University of Miami. In 1975, she received an education specialist Ed. S. degree and an Ed. D. in higher education in 1976, both from FAU.
In 1975, Robinson started working at the College as a grant writer and became an English professor at Kendall Campus three years later.
“[Robinson] is an overachiever,” said Michael Vensel, the chairperson of the English and Communications Department at Kendall Campus. “She works tirelessly on creating lessons while keeping her students’ best interest in mind. She has great ideas and is not afraid to try new things in her classroom.”
According to Robinson, her modern approach to education appeals to her students. Apart from using their smartphones for the VR experience, they also download their books from the Google Play mobile app and access their assignments through the Blackboard app on their phones.
When deadlines near, Robinson sends students video reminders through Blackboard with a Voki avatar she created of herself. She also introduced them to augmented reality by hiding figures of cats, easter eggs, and sandwiches in their paper handouts that can be seen with the Aurasma app.
She estimates her student drop rate to be around two students per class and her return rate from ENC 1101 to ENC 1102 to be around 60 percent.
An anonymous review about Robinson found on RateMyProfessors.com reads: “She is a great teacher and I’m taking her for ENC 1102. If you are considering not taking the class because it’s a blended course, don’t worry, it’s awesome!”
Her usual schedule is four blended classes and four Virtual College classes, but this semester she is dedicating time to imparting information about virtual reality at the Center for Institutional and Organizational Learning, the training arm for the College, in which faculty and administrators learn how to navigate the College’s online system.
She compiled a list of YouTube videos she recommends to watch with the cardboard headset and shared it in the workshop. Any YouTube video can be watched with a cardboard headset on a smartphone with the latest version of YouTube installed by clicking on the More Options icon in the upper right corner of the video and selecting “View in Cardboard.” Robinson encourages the use of cardboard virtual reality headsets in the classroom because of its low cost and potential in any discipline.
“Given the fact that our students are infused with technology, I believe it is a great way to teach them about new advances in education and to learn to appreciate literature that much more,” said Marisol Varela, an English professor at Kendall Campus. “Dr. Robinson has taught me several things about technology. Every time I have an issue or question, I always go to her first.”
An avid reader, Robinson conducts her personal tech research via a technology thread on Google News. She prefers Google products and services because they are either free or low priced, and she says the company’s intent is to make education democratic so that anyone anywhere can have access to knowledge.
The original Google Cardboard headset costs $15. However, since Google released the cardboard headset model, other brands are selling it at much lower prices. Robinson purchased her class’ headsets on eBay and assembled them herself. Although it took her quite some time to assemble all of them, she says it’s not that difficult, especially with the countless YouTube tutorials explaining the process.
“People are surprised because I’m not a young male, and for people of my age and female it’s unusual to be that enthralled with tech,” Robinson said. “I think if I were to re-do my education, I might do a STEM of some kind, certainly in this job market.”
Robinson is the tech-savvy one at home now that her son is in Seattle working as a software engineer for Yelp. She helps her husband, a law professor at UM, cast from a smartphone to the TV using Google Chromecast.
In her spare time, Robinson enjoys jewelry making and visual arts. She makes jewelry using watercolor paper, construction paper and wires. Her picturesque office is decorated with multiple art pieces, including wall hangings and a painting of a woman created by herself. She was initially an interior design major, but she says she has never regretted the switch to education.
As far as plans for the future, Robinson wants to continue implementing virtual reality in her classes and kindling students’ interest for technology.
“As people understand that they can see a very decent selection of VR everything with a little cardboard headset, I think there will be more and more of that,” Robinson said. “Use technology tools to the extent that they can make your life not only more comfortable and efficient but also so you can have fun.”