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WSU announces winner of Oaks Academic Technology Award

Closeup of Rebecca Cooney.
Rebecca Cooney

PULLMAN, Wash. – Rebecca Cooney, a clinical assistant professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, is the winner of the 2019 Oaks Academic Technology Award. The annual award is sponsored by Academic Outreach & Innovation (AOI).

The Oaks award, named in honor of visionary innovator Dr. Muriel Oaks, WSU Dean Emeritus, recognizes a faculty member’s innovative application of an existing technology to transform teaching and learning in their classroom.

“We are very happy to recognize faculty members who are embracing innovative tech tools as a way to enhance student engagement,” said Rebecca Van de Vord, assistant vice president of AOI. “In this day and age, it’s important to meet students where they are when it comes to the use of technology. They are getting increasingly more tech‑savvy, and harnessing that interest to improve the learning experience can be a very effective strategy.”

Cooney is being awarded in recognition of her innovative and transformative use of Google Drive to increase learning capacity. She will receive $3000 in faculty development funds and a trophy in recognition of her achievement.

In fall of 2018, Cooney integrated the use of Google Drive in the curriculum for her Media Strategies and Techniques for Public Relations course, COMSTRAT 383. As part of the course, students took part in a Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) project in partnership with Whitman County Public Health (WCPH). Using Google Drive as a real‑time collaboration and content production tool, students created promotional campaigns and developed branding, messaging, and social media outreach strategy for WCPH. WCPH then used the COMSTRAT 383 students’ work for their real‑world health and wellbeing promotional efforts.

Cooney selected Google Drive as the students’ primary working platform using several criteria, including cost, flexibility, universal access and application’s utility as both a collaborative tool and for content production.

“Google Drive is free, works universally across multiple devices and platforms, and is very user friendly and accessible for file sharing, collaboration and content creation. It was just the perfect choice for our purposes,” said Cooney. “The tool is also very transparent, allowing students to view and edit their peers’ work remotely in real time. It creates a very open working environment that incentivizes them to collaborate more effectively.”

According to Cooney, she’s seen striking results when it comes to the effectiveness of innovative technology on student learning outcomes.

“Innovative tools like Google Drive can go a long way in helping students learn and gain real‑world experience,” said Cooney. “It promotes collaboration, bolsters student confidence and motivates them to work with their peers. I highly recommend that educators consider taking advantage of free tools like this.”

WSU faculty members can nominate themselves or their colleagues for the Oaks award. The winner of the award is selected by a committee of members from each WSU campus, the provost’s office, the faculty senate and AOI.

“I thought this application was exceptional. The technology was innovative, perfectly aligned with course goals, readily available, and a skill that students can use in their future professions,” said Janet Peters, a member of the award committee and clinical assistant professor of psychology at WSU’s Tri‑Cities Campus. “I was impressed with how intentional the use of technology was and the way that students used it to facilitate a service learning project. This project seems very deserving of the Oaks award.”

Oaks served as a pioneer and visionary for WSU from 1979 to 2010. Best known for her work in distance education, she saw the growing variety of learning technologies as an opportunity to support the land grant mission, increase access to WSU programs, and improve the quality of the student experience.  Under her leadership, WSU was one of the first universities in the country to deliver video‑based distance education courses. Committed to making quality education available globally, she also oversaw the transition to fully online program offerings, many of which are still delivered today.

“I’m truly honored to be recognized for this award,” said Cooney. “I believe that embracing innovations like this will make teaching and learning more effective going into the future, and that’s something worth celebrating.”

Cooney will be presented with the Oaks award trophy at the ASWSU‑Global graduation reception on the Pullman campus May 3.

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