PCC Instructor James Maloney posts a question to his Calculus class using the Su-Kam Intelligent Education System (SKIES) on his iPad. His students post their answers anonymously on electronic cards through the app. Maloney reviews his answer with the class, then reviews the cards submitted by the students as they follow along on classroom-provided iPads.

PCC has gone digital.

“When I saw the [SKIES] app, I realized it could have a huge impact on teaching,” Maloney said. “Here is a really awesome format that is flexible, where I could get input from students, give them instant feedback and also collaborate with faculty.”

Julius Su and Victor Kam, graduates of the California Institute of Technology, developed SKIES to allow teachers and students to post electronic “cards” that may contain text, pictures, drawings, audio clips, web links or videos to an easy-to-browse “class tree.”



“It really emphasizes the connections between ideas, concepts and contributions,” Su said. “All the ways things are connected together into a big structure.”

Maloney is finishing his one-year trial run with SKIES in his Calculus classes at PCC and said every experiment he’s done with it has been a success, from lectures to student-created business portfolios to campus tours at Caltech.

Through a Career Technical Education Act grant, PCC purchased 50 new iPads loaded with the SKIES learning app for use in selected courses next fall.

This summer, 10 business faculty will be attending workshops to familiarize themselves with the technology and how best to use it in their classrooms.

After speaking to Maloney’s students, Walter Lusk, a business and computer technology instructor, decided to implement the technology in his summer school classes.

“[The students] like it because they can go back and review,” Lusk said. “If they don’t understand something, they can submit a question. They don’t have to raise their hand. For people that are shy, that is helpful.”

One of Maloney’s students, Jeremy Beckman, business, liked the collaborative learning aspect of SKIES.

“I like the interaction between the instructor and the students,” he said “I feel it’s really hands on in terms of demonstrating concepts we’ve discussed in class.”

John Nguyen, computer information systems, found the sharing of students’ answers particularly helpful.

“Everyone has their different methods,” Nguyen said. “When the professor goes over it…we get insight on the different tricks that people do…It opens up new doors.”

Esther Lee, business, likes using SKIES because it saves time.

“Taking notes in general is so much easier because you can take screenshots and use the note-taking app from the iPad to integrate it, so it’s a lot easier than writing everything down,” she said.

Both Maloney and his students like the analytic features on SKIES.

“I can see what the level of student engagement is,” Maloney said. “I can see how many students are participating, making cards or answering my quizzes.”

Lee said students can rate the cards and that Maloney will award the student with the most ratings a gift certificate to Cherry on Top, thereby incentivizing engagement.

Nguyen explained that a “1” signifies I really don’t get it and a 5 means I really understand it. This helps the professor see which cards he should spend more time on.

SKIES has been in development for two years and is still in Beta-mode and must be downloaded through the SKIES website.

One limitation is that SKIES is only available for the iPad.

Beckman, who does not have a personal iPad, said he usually has a notebook where he writes down information from the lecture slides and would take screenshots with the classroom iPads of interesting information and email them to himself.

“We’d like to expand to more platforms,” Su said. “But we would need more people and more resources before we can do that. We are still improving the iPad version.”

Su said that he and Kam are not computer scientists, but chemists.

“We went on Amazon and got a book on how to program iOS and just started doing exercises,” he said. “What benefitted us most was we didn’t just sit and program all day. We went to Caltech and PCC and got [SKIES] into the hands of students and teachers so we could to get feedback constantly. And the more we did that, the better it got.”

Currently, SKIES is being used at Catech, PCC, PUSD, LAUSD and in China. Su said his co-developer Victor Kam is currently in China attempting to implement its use in his old high school.

“We figure that one thing is universal, that we want students to learn better, we want more engagement, and more participation,” Su said. “We think [SKIES] is going to be a part of a movement that affects education everywhere.”


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