New visualization technology at UH Hilo allows students to easily interpret and share complex data

UH Hilo classes using new CyberCANOE technology are transformed into collaborative teams skillfully processing and sharing complicated data.

By Mikayla Toninato.

A new visual technology installed at several locations at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo allows students to collaborate in real time on complicated projects. CyberCANOE—acronym for Collaborative, Analytics, Navigation and Observation Environment—installed in a classroom at the UH Hilo Mookini Library was built with the intention of multipurpose usage. This installation allows for collaboration between many people—work done on each person’s individual computer is projected onto large communal screens observed and manipulated by all. However, these individuals do not need to be in the same room, or even on the same campus.

Bob Pelayo
Bob Pelayo

Bob Pelayo, associate professor of mathematics at UH Hilo, discusses how CyberCANOE was originally intended to assist researchers with data visualization work. “We need the ability to display our complicated data and share this easily with people. That’s one of the things that the CyberCANOE can help us do.”

When data sets appear to be too large and complicated, the CyberCANOE allows for a team of students, faculty or researchers to collectively sort through this. “We really think that data science should be collaborative,” Pelayo explains.

The ability to present complicated data in a simple way requires a designed presentation. This is one area where CyberCANOE is able to help.

According to Pelayo, “We should have a strong focus on presenting our data in the best possible way. Sometimes that’s a clever map, a 3-dimensional model, something like that, and that’s really something that the CyberCANOE allows us to do very easily.” Through collaboration amongst multiple team members these presentations can be produced much more swiftly and efficiently.

Pelayo discusses how another role the CyberCANOE holds is the collaboration of research between UH Hilo and UH Mānoa, “Because there are so many islands we want to collaborate as much as possible, but it’s hard. This allows us to be able to talk to our friends and colleagues on the Mānoa campus.”

Through the CyberCANOE different campuses have the capability of video chatting as they collaborate on projects. The past frustration of attempting to share complicated data sets through screen grabs and emails is no longer an issue to be faced by researchers. This way when sharing work the other party can immediately manipulate one’s work themselves.

In the classroom

In addition to assisting in research throughout campuses, CyberCANOE can also assist in the classroom.

Bank of computers connected to large screen at head of class.
Data visualization classroom in the library at UH Hilo.

Pelayo recalls a specific example of when he used CyberCANOE to assist with a class— a course offered for Summer Bridge students. “A bridge course is meant to take [new incoming] students who haven’t taken math and computer science and give them those skills over the summer so they can more quickly progress.”

Half of Pelayo’s class was taking pre-calculus, while the other half was ready to take the calculus course. However, the difficultly lies in that all of these students occupy the same classroom. “I have to teach two courses at the same time to a set of students and I actually use the CyberCANOE to be able to do this,” explains Pelayo.

In this specific class, Pelayo uses a flipped classroom model in which student’s complete chapter readings at home and then come in to class to complete homework problems. Through the CyberCANOE, students can share their work on the screen. Pelayo recalls, “Students will be working on problems and if they get stuck on one, they simply flash it up on the board and the class can then collaborate about how to complete it.”

This set up allows Pelayo the ability to switch back and forth between classes while monitoring the discussion through what is being shown on the CyberCANOE screen. Without the use of CyberCANOE this would not be possible.

The nursing program will use the technology as well with a computer program from Second Life. Students will engage in an educational game in which they are avatars interacting with other computer-generated avatars. The students need to go around to various players in the game to diagnose them as patients and decide next steps they require.

Pelayo explains how students are able to show their virtual world on the screen to allow for the assistance of classmates. “They use the CyberCANOE to make comments on the side while that one student is engaging with the avatar.”

Democracy in the classroom

What Pelayo finds to be one of the most beneficial factors of CyberCANOE is the democracy this brings to the classroom.

“The instructor is just as able to put stuff up on the screen as one of the students is,” he explains. “I think that’s a very equalizing thing because it means that the comments and the contributions from the students are just as valuable as the teacher.”

Students at computers looking ta a large screen at the head of the class.
CyberCANOE classroom in the UH Hilo library.

The goal of placing CyberCANOE in these classrooms is that it will increase the engagement of students and allow for them to receive help when it is needed. Pelayo says, “We really don’t want to be lecturing too much. We want the students to be able to collaboratively work on problems and be able to solve these problems as a group to make sure that nobody is left behind.”

Using this method of teaching allows Pelayo the ability to more closely track where students are at with the lessons. In a regular styled classroom, Pelayo explains that he usually cannot gauge the level of understanding until he sees their quizzes and tests, “which at that point is a little too late.”

This new classroom also allows for students of different levels of strength to help each other as well. “Stronger students are able to help the students that are not quite at the position they are to be able to catch up.” Pelayo observes, “This is valuable for the stronger student as well because now they need to articulate this and it really solidifies their understanding.”

Pelayo also finds that in a CyberCANOE classroom, the technology allows not only for more collaboration but for the formation of relationships as well. He says that by working together on problems, he gets to know students well, building a more cohesive classroom dynamic. “I still advise a lot of them just because in all the close contact that we had I got to learn more about them as people, it’s not just grading another test.”

Future expansion

The future of CyberCANOE holds countless possibilities. Pelayo would like to see more departments utilizing the capabilities of this new technology. “I’d like to see this in a wider variety of fields. I’ve been holding a lot of training for faculty members to make this equipment available to them.”

With the recent success seen using CyberCANOE, this educational tool is sure to only increase in usage amongst students and researchers. With this extra assistance in the classroom, this is sure to take UH Hilo to the next level.

More stories about CyberCANOE at other locations at UH Hilo


Mikayla Toninato, a junior completing a semester at UH Hilo through the National Student Exchange program, is a writer for UH Hilo Stories. She is majoring in journalism with minors in graphic design and digital media studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

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