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Wallenberg Hall: Opening the Door to New Technologies

Wallenberg Hall, the Stanford University teaching and research facility that is home to some of the most advanced technology available to educators today, is a vibrant center for innovation and experimentation. But the high performance classrooms where professors offer courses from oceanography and Shakespeare to biomedical informatics and engineering aren’t just about offering Stanford students the best technologies. They are a part of a thriving community of researchers and scholars dedicated to finding out what technology can do for education, and which technological tools and advances will most benefit students and teachers everywhere.Two years ago, the sandstone building at the front of the university’s main quad was completely renovated, leaving only its original exterior. Funded jointly by the university, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, and the Marcus and Marianne Wallenberg Foundation, Wallenberg Hall is now a four-story combination of research and teaching space that is pushing the limits of technology in the classroom.

From its exterior, Wallenberg Hall matches the other buildings on Stanford’s main quad. Walk inside, though, and light floods the two-story open lobby that leads into the Peter Wallenberg Learning Theater. Created for larger gatherings, the Theater has three giant retractable screens, each with its own computer, yet all operated by a single wireless mouse. Presentations can simultaneously include video, audio, Web pages and even video conferences. Flexible, lightweight furnishings allow the space to be reconfigured in seconds from a lecture hall to small discussion groups around rolling tables. Portable “huddleboards,” small stacking white boards, encourage collaborative group work. The windows on the second floor allow students to listen in to classes from above, while the sliding doors into the Theater double as transparent white boards that are often covered with notes, ideas, and outlines arising from class discussion.

Left to right: The front of Wallenberg Hall on Stanford University's Main Quad; student's exiting the Peter Wallenberg Learning Theater; and an open space of Wallenberg Hall's fourth floor--devoted to research and collaboration.

On a typical day, the class agenda might appear on one screen in the Learning Theater, a slide listing key points for the session is displayed on an opposing screen, and in the center, a video clip plays. No flipping lights on and off, no starting and stopping a VCR, no hard-to-read overheads. Rather than presenting an obstacle to be overcome in the midst of a lecture or discussion, the seamless multimedia technology makes good teaching better.

Across the hall from the Learning Theater, smaller “loaded” classrooms provide instructors with myriad technological tools to enhance teaching and learning. At the front of the room, two computer-driven Webster digital white boards offer live access to the Internet and the ability to make notations and write on displayed pages with a specialized “pen” that acts as an eraser, highlighter, and note maker all in one. Students can also send their own work—notes, Web pages, or PowerPoint slides—to the Webster boards via their laptops. The Webster system captures everything so that it can be posted to the class Web site for easy access later.

“These classrooms were designed so that instructors and students could make their thinking visible,” says Roy Pea, professor of education and co-director of SCIL. “Technology makes possible entirely new representational forms and facilitates the development of new activity systems that can use these forms in entirely new ways.”

On the top floor of Wallenberg Hall an expansive research center houses graduate students, visiting scholars, and researchers whose projects span such areas as new video technology for training teachers to medical model simulations to international collaborations between researchers at Stanford and their counterparts in Sweden, South Africa, Germany, and Switzerland.

A recent experimental performance provided a prime example of international networking in the form of an improvisational jam session of jazz musicians in Sweden and at Stanford. Over an Internet2 connection that spanned 5,400 miles, the musicians performed to audiences who could see one another on floor-to-ceiling video screens. Stanford communications professor Christine Samuelson, the principal investigator on the project, described the performance as “erasing space and time barriers.” The global experiment could have ramifications for future collaborative teaching between two distant locations.

SCIL’s multi-disciplinary teams of researchers continue to evaluate and analyze technologies and their impact on education with the goal of improving knowledge exchange from professor to student, colleague to colleague, and among international affiliates.

A Short History of Wallenberg Hall

The building that is home to Wallenberg Hall was completed in 1900 and was first known simply as Building 160. A massive sandstone structure of 55,000 square feet and four floors, it has served as a library, law school, and political science department over its 100-year life span.

In 1999, Building 160 was selected to showcase Stanford University’s commitment to furthering advances in the field of education. The university redeveloped the interior with $9.5 million in grants from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation and the Marcus and Marianne Wallenberg Foundation of Sweden. The Wallenberg Hall gift is the largest such grant ever made by these foundations, and the first made outside of Sweden.

Today the transformation of Building 160 is complete, unifying the past and the future by keeping the original 19th century exterior, but re-inventing the interior into a 21st Century infrastructure designed to support the technologies of today and tomorrow. From the soaring Peter Wallenberg Learning Theater and technology-enhanced classrooms on the first floor to the prototyping research incubator on the fourth floor, Wallenberg Hall is a working laboratory where the learning tools of the future are being forged.

The vision for Wallenberg Hall as expressed by the founders was to establish a facility that would enable the sharing of experience and knowledge in the use of modern technology in education. Wallenberg Hall provides the facilities for Stanford faculty and researchers to experiment with the use of technology in real courses. At the same time, by working with promising international partners the building’s occupants have the opportunity to experiment with and develop innovative approaches that can be used world-wide.

“We are already seeing promising results that indicate we are on the right track,” says Stig Hagström, professor emeritus of Materials Science and Engineering and co-director of SCIL. “We must remember that in our enthusiasm, we may sometimes overestimate the short-term effects of the ongoing educational revolution, but we may also grossly underestimate the long-term impact of this revolution.”

“The building is an evolving laboratory,” says Sam Steinhardt, executive director of the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning (SCIL), the building’s main occupant. “Every day, teachers, researchers, and students are experiencing what it is like to work and learn in a setting where the technology is seamless, and where wireless connectivity and our other tools enhance collaboration and interactivity.”

Each Wallenberg Hall classroom offers a platform for a new level of teaching, at the same time serving as a laboratory for testing and analyzing the value and potential of new technology. Some of the tools will prove invaluable, SCIL researchers believe, while other tools may not be worth their expense. Such information could prove useful to everyone, from an academic department deciding whether to invest a small amount of money in several tablet PCs for the classroom, to a university redesigning or creating a new multimedia auditorium, to a college seeking funding to reinvent its learning spaces.

“The teaching and research happening here in Wallenberg Hall could be of enormous value to our colleagues at all levels of education regardless of their geography,” says Steinhardt. “Wallenberg Hall represents the university’s commitment to explore new ways of enhancing learning and education through targeted investments in technology.”

Research and Teaching at Wallenberg


The broad range of multidisciplinary projects includes:

  • High-Performance Learning Spaces: A multidisciplinary team of researchers is examining two years’ worth of audio and video records of Wallenberg classes, related interviews, activity surveys, and focus group data to assess the effects of technology on teaching and learning. Results will assist educators at all levels in how to best employ technology in the classroom.
  • DIVER: Created by a team led by SCIL co-director Roy Pea, DIVER software enables users to focus attention on relevant portions of any video footage, then annotate and analyze the video to share it with colleagues and peers. This year, student teachers utilized DIVER to reflect on tapings of their own teaching to evaluate their performances through “guided noticing.” DIVER also has promising applications in the fields of law, medicine, film study, and architecture.
  • Folio Thinking: Based on the hypothesis that documenting and tracking learning through the use of an electronic portfolio deepens learning, students in an engineering class in Wallenberg Hall are the focus of SCIL’s current research on ePortfolios. Findings will help researchers understand more about how students learn and what tools most complement their experience.
  • Virtual Video Collaboratory: Supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, a team of SCIL researchers is creating the world’s first Digital Video Collaboratory—a multimedia library that will be available on the Internet. The library will allow the viewing, annotating, and editing of a vast array of useful footage collected and catalogued from sources around the world.
  • Teachable agents: The CAT2 Lab at SCIL, which has developed its own “learn by teaching” software, is studying the idea that a powerful way to learn is by teaching.
  • Interactive toys and robots: This broad project involves the development and testing of interactive toys and robots that teach and entertain, utilizing concepts and ideas from psychology, sociology, linguistics, computer science, robotics, communication, and education.
  • Social responses to communication technology: This new research is examining the extent to which human interactions with computers, television, and new communication technologies are conditioned by real social relationships and the navigation of real physical spaces.

Since Wallenberg Hall first opened its doors to classes in 2002, it has grown from a magnet for early adopters to a widely sought-after learning center for faculty and students from more than 20 departments and schools at Stanford University. Courses offered in the high-performance learning spaces of the hall have included anthropology, history, biochemistry, classic Greek, engineering, and Hebrew, reflecting the fact that virtually any subject can benefit from a well-designed, technology-enriched environment.

Every day from early in the morning until late into the evening, teachers and students utilize the frequently updated classroom equipment such as interactive Webster boards, video conferencing tools, in-class laptops, tablet PCs, and reconfigurable furnishings to create a seamless multimedia experience. As faculty and students employ these technologies, researchers from the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning (SCIL), who also reside in Wallenberg Hall, evaluate and analyze the impact in an ongoing study of technology in education.

Highlights from some of the innovative courses taught in Wallenberg Hall include:

  • Using iRoom software, Prof. Russ Altman had his students download Web pages on particular diseases each was studying, then asked them to share the material with the class. PointRight, experimental software, allowed them to “beam” their material to the computerized Webster white board. During discussion, the Webster screens were jointly controlled by the students from their own computers so that anyone could point out highlights and issues without passing around a keyboard or leaving their seats.
  • In her course, “Introduction to Hebrew,” instructor Vered Shemtov used the three large screens in the Peter Wallenberg Learning Theater to present diverse content, from written p'ems, to music, to video clips, maps, and artwork. One screen could display the course outline for the day, while another showed a piece of literature and a third ran a related video clip. Moving from one medium to another occurred without hesitation, all controlled by one remote computer mouse.
  • The Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR), directed by Prof. Andrea Lunsford, is a requirement of all freshmen and sophomores at Stanford. Freshmen practice everything from working individually on their laptops, to working collaboratively in small groups with one computer and a large plasma display, to whole class discussions utilizing the Webster smart boards. The PWR program is an excellent example of how Wallenberg Hall allows teaching and learning to keep pace with technological advances.
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