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High Tech on a Human Scale

An impressive new space is the center of the University of Dayton's commitment to investing in high tech tools that enhance teaching and learning. Called the Ryan C. Harris Learning Teaching Center, the facility emphasizes "the integration of technology with human needs," says Tom Skill, associate provost for Informational Technology at the university. Skill and lead academic technologist Brian A. Young are the university's main technology directors. The 18,000-square-foot facility, situated within the campus library, is fully equipped with the latest hardware and software. But its first mission is to facilitate teaching and learning, and it d'es so on a very comfortable, human scale. That's fitting for this small university, a Marianist college of 6,600 students, over 80 percent of whom live in campus-owned dormitories, apartments, or houses. Here, the focus is on learning within a community of like-minded learners.

This may be the most technologically sophisticated learning space on any campus. The LTC, as it is known, contains 330 data ports, wireless networking capability, an adaptive computer laboratory, and a classroom called the Studio, which boasts Smartboards, televisions, and the like. But the LTC also houses the student writing center, the office for service learning, the office for students with disabilities, and a lab for developing Web-based applications, as well as a student-run coffee shop called The Blend. The high-tech Studio is a very special place, says Skill. "We deliberately set up the Studio as a place where faculty could be experimental, where they could come to rethink their teaching." Courses taught in the Studio are not included in faculty evaluations, so as not to inhibit instructors from trying new ideas.

The metaphor for the LTC is a village, and as such it contains many different types of spaces. The LTC's architecture is designed to inspire learning, whether through collaboration or quiet study. At the centerpiece is a rotunda. Other rooms are labeled the Collaboratory and the Forum. The floor is cut in unusual angles and divided into spacious gathering places as well as small private areas for contemplation. Even the kitchen is wired, however, so wherever one g'es, one can plug in a laptop.

The University of Dayton made the technology commitment several years ago when it began requiring students to come to campus with one of three designated computers. These are then loaded with software and serviced by staff at the university for four years. Every campus-owned building is fully wired, and every effort is made to ensure that non-residential students have equal access to connections. The university is moving into wireless technologies to broaden accessibility for every student.

Indicative of UD's integration of technology with learning is the university's "Virtual Room," a program to encourage incoming freshmen to prepare for college during the summer before they arrive. Professor Larry Ulrich of the Philosophy Department is the lead faculty facilitator for the program, which is run out of the LTC. According to Ulrich, the Virtual Room is both social and academic. Students can meet their roommates and dorm-mates and get a feel for campus life to help quell the freshman jitters. But they are also encouraged to begin reading the assignments for UD's humanities base, a required sequence for first year students. Ulrich notes that since launching the Virtual Room, 500 students have purchased the textbooks in advance, and there have been more than 1,500 hits on the Virtual Room Web site.

The LTC and the campus commitment to technology have supported several new teaching projects. For instance, Professor Don Polzella is working on an ambitious redesign of the first-year psychology survey course, taking it from a standard lecture course to a fully online course with built-in collaborative activities.

As a good psychologist, Polzella is not taking this huge step without doing the appropriate scientific research. This year, with funding from a Pew Grant for course redesign, he has worked with others in the Psychology Department and university to design an experiment: students taking Intro to Psych this year are randomly assigned to either the standard lecture course (which he teaches) or an online equivalent. The results of the experiment will shape the development of the new course design, scheduled to become fully operational in the next academic year. Polzella credits the university's commitment to educational technology for giving him the pedagogical and technological support he needs to build the new course.

Larry Ulrich has also developed online versions of his courses, offering both Bi'ethics and Business Ethics in an online form to summer students. This year, with the help of LTC staff, he'll transform the course into Lotus Learning Space, which he feels will give him and his students more features and make accessing the course site easier.

Many other faculty members are experimenting with new approaches to teaching with educational technology with the help of the LTC. The Studio, the university's experimental teaching space, is fully booked. "We could have used several of those," says Skill. "We could use more classrooms just like it."

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