Biology Professor Leverages Technology to Engage and Teach Students




​​A large television screen on the back wall of Fresno State biology professor Dr. Joseph Ross’ office acts as a digital whiteboard ready for a genetics lesson when students visit during office hours. 

Using an iPad, Dr. Ross draws diagrams of cellular processes that appear on the big screen to help students understand the week’s lesson. He records the tutorial and posts it on YouTube so that other students can watch and learn. 

Ross also records his class lectures, makes practice exam videos and uses lightboard technology, a glass “chalkboard” pumped with light that allows instructors to face the camera, to create videos for his students. 

“I wanted to be able to create specific videos about things that we were going to talk about in class,” Ross said. “That’s how this started. Then, I just realized more and more things you can do with videos.” 

He can track viewership through YouTube analytics, and use timestamps to understand what students are most interested in or need help with. 

Ross has long advocated for the use of technology in classrooms. He was an early adopter of Fresno State’s DISCOVERe mobile technology program in 2014, and he is one of the nearly 400 faculty members trained to teach courses using tablets, laptops and smartphones. 

During the 2018-19 academic year, more than 12,000 Fresno State students enrolled in DISCOVERe courses that make up about half of the classes offered on campus. A campus loaner program provides 1,600 free iPads for students to borrow throughout their college careers as long as they are enrolled in at least one DISCOVERe course. 

​Ross started creating videos to give his students something more engaging than a traditional textbook to read before attending class. 

One of his first techniques, that he still uses, is a mobile PowerPoint display application projected on a big screen to his class. He uses his finger to write on his iPad and it shows up on top of the presentation for all to see. The application records his voice and the action on the tablet, which he later posts to YouTube. 

“I’ve always wanted to ‘flip’ my classroom,” said Ross, who has been teaching for six years. “It’s this blended learning approach of how to get students to access content first outside of class, then in class in a way that is active and engaging.” 

Senior biology major Arturo Aguilar has taken several DISCOVERe courses, but none like Ross’. “In a lot of the DISCOVERe classes, you use your tablets to take notes, but the way Dr. Ross does it, he uses tablets and computers to interact in the classroom,” Aguilar said. 

“I wish there were more teachers who teach like that because it makes everything easier,” he said.​​