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Building The Digital Arc

BHCC Dives into Latest Wave of Technology for Higher Ed

BHCC Dives into Latest Wave of Technology for Higher Ed

When it comes to breaking down the digital divide between faculty and students, BHCC Provost and Vice President, Academic and Student Affairs, James F. Canniff, Ed.D., sees infinite possibilities for deeper learning in the classroom and making student support services more effective. 


In January 2017, Canniff was selected by the Association of Chief Academic Officers (ACAO) to participate in a fellowship exploring how technology can increase student retention and persistence to graduation among undergraduate students, especially those who are first-generation, low-income or students of color.

Funded by a $1M grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the ACAO Digital Fellowship program brought together more than 30 provosts and chief academic officers from institutions—public and private, two-year and four-year—across the United States for an ongoing series of site visits and workshops on digital tools and initiatives. They explored best practices for infusing the latest technology into digital learning.

“One thing that distinguishes the program from others is that we aren’t only talking about online learning,” said Canniff. “The conversations taking place are about scalable change and what takes place in the traditional classroom when digital tools are made available.”


The conversations taking place are about scalable change and what takes place in the traditional classroom when digital tools are made available.

-James F. Canniff, Ed.D., BHCC Provost And Vice President Academic And Student Affairs

Putting The Gears in Motion

The ACAO Digital Fellowship helped BHCC develop a renewed and purposeful planning process for digital strategies. Canniff discovered through the experience that for faculty to be engaged in digital learning initiatives, the College needed a dedicated learning center for them to experience the possibilities of the latest digital tools.

This fall Canniff worked with the College’s Director of Academic Innovation Danielle Leek, Ph.D., to launch the Innovation Lab, a space where experimentation and collaboration are front and center. “Innovation requires staying on top of trends,” said Leek. The lab provides a place where faculty can test-drive digital tools ranging from adaptive learning technologies to gaming software that supports student learning to mobile-friendly classroom materials.

Divided into two spaces, the Innovation Lab boasts a design lab as well as dedicated space for small group workshops. Outfitted with furniture and equipment that helps put the theories that support innovation into practice, the design lab encourages collaborative brainstorming. Users are invited to work together at media tables that can connect to multiple devices as they learn a new technology or think about ways to use or build a new resource for students.



Today, all learning is digital in one way or another. BHCC integrates distance education and online learning into its overall approach to teaching. For many years, BHCC has offered a wide range of online and hybrid courses so students have the opportunity to take classes in modes that best suit their learning styles and their lives. In recent years, BHCC has received national recognition as a leader in the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. Supported by a grant from the national education reform network Achieving the Dream, BHCC faculty developed OER courses that have saved BHCC students more than $1M in textbook costs by using open-access teaching materials that include e-books, articles, videos and faculty-designed course tools. With open access, materials reside in the public domain and are released under a copyright license for free use so students don’t need to purchase high-cost textbooks.


Equipped with media tables and collaborative work stations the theories that support innovation are put into practice at the Innovation Lab.

While the lab is meant to be a resource to faculty, students and staff to explore ways to innovate their approaches to learning, Canniff recognized that for the lab to be successful, he needed to provide expert counsel to work with faculty. Ceit De Vitto joined BHCC in early 2018 to oversee the college’s rapidly growing Open Education Resources (OER) initiative and in October the College hired its first instructional designer, Janelle Heideman, to work one-on-one with faculty to identify and recommend digital tools that meet the learning objectives of their courses.

“It’s one thing to teach English II,” said Canniff. “Faculty doesn’t necessarily need to use technology in their course, but I want them to ask themselves ‘How will things change if I do use technology?’”

Since opening, the Innovation Lab has launched a professional development program that offers a morning wake-up series and an afternoon coffee hour for faculty to drop in and learn about individual tools or approaches to digital learning. At these sessions they might get an introduction to Moodle, the Learning Management System (LMS) used at the College, learn how to use an online grade book, or test new applications to use in the classroom such as mobile phone applications for tutoring or online notetaking.



Innovation requires staying on top of trends.

-Dr. Leek

Anatomy and physiology professor WIlliam Hoover demonstrates the capabilities of the Connect courseware.

Strengthening Connections

A key element of the fellowship was funding for BHCC faculty members to explore Connect, a digital courseware from educational publisher McGraw-Hill, to document its strengths and challenges as a resource for faculty-student engagement, and share these findings with other colleges and universities. The interdisciplinary pilot involved four BHCC professors: Joshua Abel, Criminal Justice and Public Safety; Susan Atlas, Paralegal and Legal Studies; Natacha Cesar-Davis, Psychology; and Tendai Nyakurimwa, Business.

At the recommendation of BHCC Anatomy and Physiology Professor William Hoover, Canniff chose to pilot Connect for its ability to seamlessly integrate with Moodle and other technologies that are currently being used on campus. It was also a digital learning tool that could span many disciplines and academic programs.

In addition to his role in the College’s Science department, Hoover is a digital author and advisor to publishers interested in building digital learning resources for anatomy and physiology. The fellowship funding also enabled Canniff to hire Hoover to lead trainings for the faculty members piloting the courseware.

Hoover compares Connect to a “flipped classroom” experience, where instruction and learning take place outside of the classroom and activities that may have traditionally been homework assignments are completed during class time. Reading assignments and assessments are offered through the courseware, but unlike a flipped classroom, faculty members are able to review the most frequently missed questions and learning outcomes that indicate what material is most challenging before students come to class.

“As a professor, I can really focus and target the information that my students struggled with,” he said. “That made the students feel comfortable because they didn’t feel they were the only ones who struggled. It provides a much more meaningful learning environment.”



As a professor, I can focus and target the information my students struggled with.

-William Hoover, M.D., Professor of Anatomy and Physiology

An Upward Trajectory for Digital

The ACAO Digital Fellowship program has allowed Canniff to go beyond its objectives to develop a holistic view of the potential digital technology has for the College at many levels, from Early College programs to student services.

 “We’re at the foundational stage of this,” he said. “But we’re looking at the infusion of digital technology in the broadest of contexts.”  

In 2019, Canniff would like the College to conduct a technology audit on BHCC student services and explore digital technologies for integrated student support and success coaching, including how to use technology to influence students and connect with them in a better way.

He’d also like BHCC to explore how technology could be used for BHCC’s Early College programs. “We’re looking at a smoother transition from secondary to post-secondary,” he said. “We want students to be better informed and to understand the technology they’re using as they walk into BHCC.  

BHCC faculty share their experiences testing Connect courseware.

It’s made me more effective as a professor because I am more engaged in how my students are succeeding.

-Tendai Nyakurimwa, Business

The reports that are generated allow me to understand the objectives my students may have struggled with in each chapter.

-Joshua Abel, Criminal Justice and Public Safety

Students go beyond what they’ve read and really delve into the bigger ideas in student-led discussion forums.

-Natacha Cesar-Davis, Psychology