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Focus on: Empower Educators, Transform Learning

It’s early morning, and campus is still quiet. A handful of students walk up Old Main Hill, last night’s sleep still hovering just under their eyes as they make their way to their first class of the day. The last student of the bunch catches the drifting door handle as another student darts inside. He pauses to look over his shoulder at the stretch of mountain peaks lining Utah State’s Logan campus. Might as well be a postcard, he thinks to himself, grinning toward the horizon. Then he turns into the doorway, stepping inside to begin his freshman year at USU.


Utah State University (USU) is the largest public residential campus in the state of Utah. The land-grant university offers courses at approximately 30 different centers and regional campuses across the state. USU serves a total of 27,679 undergraduate and graduate students, with 10,075 of them attending USU from a center location. Their commitment to innovative technology ensures USU’s courses are accessible in 28 of Utah’s 29 counties. As a result, USU is recognized as the statewide leader in broadcasting classes with internet video conferencing, transmitting more than 325 courses per week. Finding a digital communication solution for a highly-virtual university communityAlthough video conferencing allowed USU educators to teach and communicate across distance, the platform didn’t have the flexibility of in-person classroom instruction. The traditional teaching styles that most professors and lecturers were accustomed to didn’t translate well to their digital broadcasting platform, impacting overall student engagement. For educators who prefer to write examples on a dry erase board or annotate materials as they taught, their instructions were often too difficult to read or not visible at all for students accessing the course via video.

USU educators needed a solution that wouldn’t require professors and lecturers to alter their teaching style, while ensuring every note, annotation, and diagram is legible for all USU students. Ideally, USU would also implement the same digital solution in their 300-400-person lecture courses to increase visibility and engagement for students sitting in the back of large lecture halls.

Throughout the digital transformation process, USU emphasized using innovation to empower professors, ultimately allowing them to deliver consistently engaging classroom experiences to every student regardless of location. As such, USU needed a solution that was easily adaptable, with straightforward technology that could be used by educators with a range of technical expertise.

As Donald “Shane” Thomas, Director of Classroom Technology and Media Production, put simply, “Unless you can give educators some technology that makes sense to them, and works for them, they’re not going to use it.” Empowering instructors with Surface Studio’s cutting edge capabilities USU’s forward-thinking Classroom Technology team chose Microsoft’s Surface Studio devices to take their video broadcasting to the next level. Once the devices were implemented, faculty members reported experiencing additional flexibility and versatility during teaching, all the while broadcasting their courses easily to USU’s multiple locations. Touchscreen capability makes the device especially easy to use regardless of technology experience, and the reliable technology ensures all annotations are clear and easy for students to read while viewing broadcasts. Instructors can also tilt the device’s screen to ensure comfort while annotating, easily adjusting the device for varying heights, and use while standing, sitting, or interacting with the screen from any angle.

“We’ve given educators a piece of technology that allows them to annotate well,” explains Shane. “Surface Studio is the vehicle, and now we’re also giving them the pathway with the OneNote integration within our learning management system, allowing them to distribute their annotations and other content seamlessly to their students.”

Surface Studio’s integration with both OneNote and Utah State’s current learning management system (LMS) transforms education experiences for the entire USU community. Faculty can load teaching materials into OneNote from their office, and later pull up those same materials on the Surface Studio. Students can then access those same teaching materials from USU’s LMS platform and view real-time annotations, enhancing engagement, comprehension, and more.

“A student can actually bring up their LMS and almost in real-time see the teacher’s annotations. So not only are the annotations being projected up on the classroom screen, but if they have a device, they can see it right there in the device, and that also helps students who are visually impaired,” says Shane.


The University implemented 48 devices on their main Logan campus, and another 5 devices across their other USU campuses. In addition, they’ve implemented another eight devices at their Salt Lake City location, and several more devices at their Brigham City and USU Eastern campuses. Designing an effective, individualized strategy to drive a successful adoptionTo prepare for the implementation, Shane and his team developed an adoption strategy that addressed educators’ specific needs and individual comfort levels. Shane’s team regularly emailed all faculty members before each academic semester with any changes or updates made in the classrooms, and they used this same strategy to introduce the Surface Studio devices. They supplemented the email campaign with instructional videos and helpful documents, in addition to offering faculty trainings one-on-one or by department. Shane’s team also offered to meet faculty members in their office or classroom to go over the technology and devices in person. This hands-on approach allowed educators to interact with the solution ahead of time and ask questions before the semester began.

Utah State is currently focusing the Surface Studio devices on larger venue courses, and prioritizing faculty members who use the annotation and writing features regularly, such as mathematics, architecture, statistics, and art classes. The solution has already transformed USU’s uniquely spread-out university community, enabling them to maintain student experiences across locations, educators, and venues.

Exploring more digital solutions to enhance learning in the futureEven with Surface Studio devices on USU’s campus, the university is still looking toward the future, keeping an eye out for innovation opportunities to further advance classroom experiences. According to Shane, all future technology updates will be planned around the Surface Studio integration to ensure consistency across classrooms and standardized learning and teaching experiences. “Anytime we need to update the technology in a new classroom, the Surface Studio is the centerpiece,” Shane says. “We are going to design our classroom technology around the Surface Studios.”

Utah State is also currently in the process of planning an Office 365 adoption. Although the solution hasn’t been fully implemented yet, according to Shane, USU faculty members and students are already excited and eager to explore the features and capabilities they’ll be able to leverage in the future.

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