Student fee funds technological upgrades across campus, USF system

How much the student technology fee accounts for per credit hour, according to numbers from 2017-18 from the USF controller’s office. The total shown includes all fees, not just the student technology fee. Graphic by Abby Rinaldi

Since 2009, USF has charged students a technology fee; a fund that has accumulated millions of dollars over the years for system wide or campus technology projects.

The fee was established by the board of trustees in accordance with the Florida Legislature, according to the Information Technology (IT) website. Florida statute 1009.24.13 allows up to 5 percent of tuition per credit hour as the technology fee.

“The revenue from this fee shall be used to enhance instructional technology resources for students and faculty,” the statute says.

Students pay slightly more per credit hour in fees than they do in base tuition, according to 2017-18 numbers from the USF controller’s office. Graphic by Abby Rinaldi

When USF established its technology fee, it chose the maximum: 5 percent. The 2017-18 undergraduate tuition rate at the Tampa campus is $105.07 per credit hour, according to the controller’s office. This means the student technology fee is $5.25 per credit hour. A student taking 15 credit hours will pay $78.75.

The student technology fee represents a small percentage of the total amount of fees USF students pay, according to data from the 2017-18 USF controller’s office. Graphic by Abby Rinaldi

Jenny Paulsen, assistant vice president of USF IT, said the fee has been used for a variety of projects both system wide and at the individual campus level. These range from putting Wi-Fi on campus to e-books in the library.

“I think all of [the projects] have been quite impactful in one way or another,” Paulsen said.

All of the projects the student technology fee has been used for in the past are posted on the USF IT website. Some of the projects listed include printer replacement in the library, BullSync, student access to Lynda.com and apps.usf.edu. The latter project is one Paulsen thinks is particularly noteworthy.

“Rather than you as a student having to go and buy these very expensive software packages yourself, the tech fee sponsored the ability for us to provide those software packages to all students through the apps.usf.edu portal,” she said.

Students on campus need varying degrees of technology for the work they do. While some students just use the printers in the library, the members of the Whitehatters computer security club require a little more. The club gathered for a meeting in the iTeach lounge in the College of Education on Sept. 29.

Alan Gay, an embedded software engineer at LGS Innovations, taught the Whitehatters members about ways of hacking into devices. He donated a device to the club to help them take power measurements – a ChipWhisperer Lite, which costs about $300.

At the end of the meeting, the students spoke with Gay and familiarized themselves with the machine. Brad Daniels, president of the Whitehatters club, said the topics and technology the club deals with tends to be advanced, and sometimes that means they need high level technology to go about their business.

“Some students have more money and a more degree of resources, better computers … but we do have students that can’t afford those resources or it’s not as easy to get and so in those cases we try to provide computing power to those that need it and that requires money,” Daniels said, “right now, most of the computer infrastructure we have was just free donations from individuals who are just friends of the club, but there’s always things that we need. There’s always things that we need more of and so we’re kind of always on the lookout for different sources of funding or resources.”

His club gets its funding from the engineering council within Student Government, which funds the club through activity and service fees. There are many resources the club uses on campus, Daniels said, such as the 3-D printing lab and computer labs for computer science students. However, there are some changes that he would like to see.

“What I would really like to see is a computing environment for students where they could create their own virtual machines because that’s really the main thing that I find students are lacking,” he said.

He said the club has considered applying for student technology fee grant, a process he needs to coordinate with faculty advisors who are more familiar with the process. As of right now, the club has never applied for technology fee money.

USF IT allocates the funding for these projects through a series of committees. Of the money students pay for the fee, 25 percent goes to funding system-wide projects, while the remaining 75 percent goes to funding projects on that student’s campus. The divisions include the three campuses, Tampa, Sarasota-Manatee, St. Petersburg and also USF Health.

Paulsen said there is a committee established for each entity with student, faculty and staff representation. These representatives are assigned the task of getting requests from their constituents.

“We leave it up to each of them on how they want to do that,” she said.

The committees are dedicated to or piggyback on other committees. The Tampa committee was formed just for the purpose of the technology fee. The system committee is actually the IT Management Committee. Health leverages the Health Technology Governance Group for its meetings.

“Some of the committees are standing committees that have other roles as well, so they meet on a regular basis anyway, and we hijack some of their meetings for the tech fee,” she said.

Each entity operates on its own cycle. These cycles all operate throughout the year and may or may not overlap. They don’t meet in excess, Paulsen said, usually meeting once near the beginning of the cycle and then once to make decisions on projects. The goal in selecting projects, she said, is to put students first and to align with the mission of the university.

“One of the things that we do encourage is investing in emerging technologies,” she said. “… The tech fee is a source of funding that’s encouraged to be used for trying out new technologies to see whether they do add value or not and if they do we can go on and … make use of that technology in the future.”

However, there are still some resources those like Daniels and the Whitehatters members would like to see. No matter how much or how advanced the technology that students at USF are using is, Daniels said he thinks it’s a good idea to have the fee fund technology projects on campus.

“Even somebody who’s not using technology heavily, I think the cost of some of these resources should be subsidized for the students that need it,” Daniel said. “It’s like taxes. There are people who use more public resources than other but everyone still pays their fair share of taxes because we’ve decided as a society that people who need food stamps or something should be able to get them … I think it’s kind of the same for the tech fee. Even if you don’t actually use resources that are funded by the tech fee, I still think it’s fair that everyone contribute.”

There are always more requests than what can be funded, Paulsen said, but she thinks the committee has done a good job.

“I think that the great part about it is we have delivered some great solutions for students in the space of technology, so it’s really been very valuable,” she said.

While Paulsen said the technology fund brings functional and newer technologies to USF, the beneficiaries of the fund are ultimately decided by the committee.

 

CLARIFICATION:

In this story, Jenny Paulsen, assistant vice president of USF IT, said that the technology fee committee meetings sometimes hijack other committee meetings. After publication, Paulsen said she did not mean hijack in a negative sense. Instead, she meant it as “use.” The meetings of the technology fee committees do not disrupt other committees at USF.

3-D printing’s consumer market slowly grows

From pizza to prosthetics, new cars to human hearts, the feats of 3-D printing have made headlines for years.

But in a dimly lit room, amid the constant low hum of these printers at work, a much humbler mission is underway. Printers are fulfilling a print request for a small blue duck.

This duck, small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, took just over 30 minutes to print in the 3-D printing lab at the USF Advanced Visualization Center (AVC). Once the duck was complete, the printer started playing a short song. The screen displayed a message that read “We love printing things!”

The invention of 3-D printing goes back to the 1980s, but only in the past decade has it moved into the realm of the everyday consumer, said Howard Kaplan, senior technologist and visualization specialist for the AVC.

“It’s a humongous industry,” Kaplan said. “I don’t think it’s just engineering at all. I think it spans a much wider variety I think in fact than (virtual reality) does. I think (virtual reality) would like to say in its marketing that it caters to a wide variety of people, but the utility of it is really not there yet.”

Objects are printed in melted plastic, built up layer by layer using a 3-D computer model as a guide. The plastics the AVC uses are ABS and PLA, which is what Kaplan said most consumer-level 3-D printing is done with. Prints can take hours depending on their size. Longer prints that the AVC receives are done overnight.

The printers that line the shelves of the AVC come in various shapes, sizes and price points. However, outside of the walls of USF, consumer-level 3-D printers can be found everywhere from Walmart to Amazon to Office Depot. The popular crafting site Etsy has users offering not only 3-D printing services but selling 3-D printed goods, ranging from jewelry to miniature crossbows.

On Amazon, the prices for 3-D printers range from a little more than $200 to upward of $20,000. For those students who don’t want to pay for a printer of their own, Kaplan said they can use the AVC’s 3-D printing lab. Prints aren’t free, but they’re cheaper than buying a printer and supplies.

Students take advantage of the printing lab for a variety of projects. Kaplan highlighted the fact that many students, from engineering to the arts, use the center for their research or for prototyping and sculpture making. However, not every task sent to the AVC’s printers is an academic one.

Caleb Hall, a USF senior business major studying restaurants, used the AVC’s services to print a cover for one of his knives. The cover, printed in black plastic, was designed to go over the edge of the knife to protect it in a bag. While Hall said it lost its grip after just a few weeks, he still has it. He looks at the growth of the consumer market for 3-D printers optimistically.

“There’s so much potential for growth that by the time they get super advanced and can reliably print organic matter it’ll be so easy to buy simple printers in the consumer market and there’ll be files to print nearly anything you want,” Hall said.

Caleb Hall, a USF senior majoring in business, 3-D printed a cover for one of his kitchen knives.  Photos courtesy of Caleb Hall

What makes 3-D printing so appealing is that it brings factory-grade technology to the average consumer, Hall said. It has the same appeal as normal home printers.

“Sure you could go to the library or a Kinko’s to get something printed on this hulking machine back before we were born, but then the technology got small and affordable,” he said. “Now, instead of needing access to a factory with an injection molder, if I want to make something like a desk ornament or a silly rubber band gun I can just 3-D print it.”

Kaplan holds a different view. Even though the market grows, Kaplan said, the technology at the consumer level hasn’t made very significant leaps in terms of the level of technology that goes into them.

“I think the consumer level printing isn’t changing much or hasn’t changed much, other than the fact that more and more printers are hitting market every month,” he said. “But the printers don’t seem to be that different in terms of their quality or ability so it’s kind of that just saturation of the market.”

Aside from that, there are a few factors holding 3-D printing back. While Hall expressed interest in purchasing a personal 3-D printer, he said he feels the devices are too expensive to be everyday household items yet. There is also an issue of software, as in order to 3-D print something, one must first have a 3-D model. That modeling technology, Hall said, is still out of reach for the everyday user.

Kaplan echoes this point. The transition from high-tech to household has been slowed by the 3-D modeling knowledge users need to make objects to print. Kaplan said there are models out there on the internet for people to download and print. Hall got his model for the knife cover from a professional chef subreddit. But eventually, Kaplan said, people will want to make models of their own, and that’s where they’ll hit a wall.

But beyond this, Kaplan said, users need to have a goal for their printing. If consumers don’t know how to make things to print or what they want to print in the first place, buying the printer is just a waste of money.

“If you’re new to the technology and you just go out and buy something without doing enough research or talking to people, then you’re going to get in trouble down the road,” he said.

Advanced technology takes education research into the future

USF professor Sanghoon Park partnered with the USF Advanced Visualization Center to 3-D print cubes to interact with an educational app for his research. Photo by Abby Rinaldi

At first glance, USF assistant professor of instructional technology Sanghoon Park’s five 3-D printed cubes with their angular designs on each side and vivid, contrasting colors may seem simple. But pair them with a tablet app, and these cubes take a new form.

Each cube is dedicated to a different renewable energy resource: solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal and biomass. Each side corresponds to a different type of content: text, images, videos and 3-D models. Open the app, take a cube and point one side of it at the tablet and the app opens different types of content for the user to explore. Guiding users through the content is an animated bee.

The app and cubes are the work of Park and the USF Advanced Visualization Center (AVC). The full project, called ARPA, is a combination of augmented reality (AR) and a pedagogical agent (PA). The bee is the pedagogical agent.

As advanced technologies emerge, academics and researchers attempt to integrate them into the field of education, Park said. One such tool is AR, which he feels surpasses multimedia teaching tools such as informational websites. AR, he said, offers new ways of exploring educational content that couldn’t be done before, such as exploring a blood cell, or in his case, exploring renewable energy resources.

“They can actually make impossible things possible,” he said.

However, Park felt the tools on the market for AR were missing something.

“The limitation was that none of them actually considered using the pedagogical agent in augmented reality environments, which was to me problematic because AR, augmented reality, by definition is an enhanced digital component on top of the real physical object,” he said.

Park’s research focused on putting the learner into the educational environment through AR, but with the addition of the pedagogical agent to guide users through the layers of content, the responsibility of deciphering the 3-D models and other aspects of the content does not fall solely on the learner.

“We help them,” Park said. “We provide more information and guidance or supporting information to learners so when they look at the 3-D model and augmented reality 3-D models and the pedagogical agent, they can actually understand what the 3-D model is about, which will help them to make a connection with the 3-D model and the learned knowledge and skills that they acquired from the classroom already.”

The cubes respond to an app where a pedagogical agent, in this case an animated bee, guides the user through the content. Photo courtesy of Sanghoon Park

To bring his idea of an educational AR experience to life, Park sought help from the AVC. Park said they went through many trials trying to get the cubes to work with the app and to select which AR tools to use. The cubes needed simpler designs with more angles printed in higher contrasting colors so the app could read them better. The AVC also guided Park through the development of the app, which was done in the Unity engine.

Howard Kaplan, senior technologist and visualization specialist for the AVC, said that while there were challenges, the resulting investigation is what research is all about.

“You get to answer technology questions for development of future applications like this, as well as, again, your direct question of does it improve student learning,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan said the integration of technology into academic research in any and all subject areas can enhance it, especially in fields where the technology isn’t normally present. On the other hand, he warns researchers that using advanced technology just for the sake of using it won’t get them far.

“It’s not only just I want to develop an app, it’s how do I develop an app that will allow me to change the app, to make it grow according to how my research grows and my research findings,” Kaplan said. “So there’s a whole back-end development process that has to be accounted for in terms of how I do that.”

Park plans to take ARPA into the classroom to research its effects on student learning at Turner/Bartels K-8 School in Hillsborough County, where his son attends. He plans to continue improving the cubes and expanding the content that they can deliver by adding downloadable content for the cubes. He said ARPA doesn’t have to be used only to teach science concepts but can be adapted to mathematics and language learning as well. This, however, is far in the future.

“We have to achieve those things one by one, step-by-step,” he said.

As Park sees it, there is a promising future for advanced and emerging technologies in education and education research, but it will be important to keep the students and teachers in mind during this process.

Advanced technologies in education research aren’t just for enhancing the student experience, as Park discovered last summer when he served as a visiting scholar at Chonnam National University in South Korea. While there, he was involved with research on creating a virtual environment for teachers to train in. Pre-service teachers interacted with virtual students, each with distinct personalities, in a variety of situations as practice for classroom management.

“(Advanced technologies) are changing the landscape of the education in the classroom and online as well,” Park said. “However, we have to always think about the learners at the center and how we are going to support teachers as well. So those are the two important factors that will ensure the successful integration of emerging technology in education.”

The USF Advanced Visualization Center offers technical expertise to students, faculty and staff at USF so they can use advanced technologies in their research and projects. The center also features a lecture hall, pictured above. Photo by Abby Rinaldi