Student Engagement Specialists Win 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 in virtual reality (VR) technology to support the students and faculty of the university.

Alicia Estes and Lesley Speller, student engagement specialists in the Learning Technology Support unit of Global Campus, received the award from Cheryl Murphy, vice provost for distance education at the U of A, at the January staff meeting.

“Reflecting on the first 150 years of the University of Arkansas is important for us to understand where we came from and where we are going,” Murphy said. With their creativity and use of research, Lish and Lesley shone a spotlight on online education’s role 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 diverse ways to move us forward.”

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 The task required combing through special collections and other historical documents that captured the stories of students throughout the years to create a tangible connection to the past, scanning photos, documents and even 3D artifacts.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

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

Estes began working part time at the university with IT Services in 1999, transitioning to full time 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 get people excited about learning,” Estes said.

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

“We are really honored to receive the award,” Speller said. “We were so excited to get a chance to delve more deeply into the history of the distance education in Arkansas and the University of Arkansas, and how it shaped and changed the lives of students around the state and the world.”

Both Estes and Speller are members of the Learning Technology Support team, under the supervision of Shelly Walters, associate director of Instructional Design and Support Services. Their duties include editing, writing and maintaining the TIPS (Teaching Innovation and Pedagogical Support) blog and social media accounts, working with faculty to find new and innovative ways to engage with students, working with instructional designers and academic technologists to support instructors, and exploring new technologies and their applications in teaching and learning.

“Lish and Lesley provide the spark that teams need to create and maintain a culture of innovation,” Walters said. “Sometimes, that spark is the idea or the work to make the idea a reality. Lish and Lesley also have the talent of recognizing the ideas of others and enthusiastically supporting them to foster an environment where people are inspired to try something new.”

The Global Campus instituted the Lightbulb Award to honor two or more staff members for outstanding innovation above and beyond their routine job responsibilities. This award is open to appointed and hourly staff who work for Global Campus.

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

The Global Campus also supports the WE Manning Memorial Scholarship, which is open to undergraduate and graduate students studying in online degree programs.

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