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101 BEST PRACTICES >> Smart Classroom

Edited By Rhea Kelly

Smart ClassroomWhat makes a classroom “smart”? Presentation technologies such as projectors, document cameras, and LCD panels clearly fit the bill, but when you consider other technologies for teaching, learning, and developing content, the possibilities become limited only by the boundaries of an institution’s innovation. In this opening section of our special 101 Best Practices guide, you’ll find out how colleges and universities are bringing new kinds of learning into the classroom, from the nuts and bolts of hardware configurations, to technologies that are engaging students in novel ways. Use the links provided to find more in-depth information in original articles and newsletters, and on vendor websites. These 32 “smart” ideas just might be the inspiration you need to get your own smart classroom initiatives off the ground. Read on!


Utah State University’s Merrill-Cazier Library

MERRILL-CAZIER robotic stacks
operate at 328 feet per minute-3.7 mph.

Utah State University’s new Merrill-Cazier Library, opened in the 2005-2006 academic year, is using technology to not only retrieve information from the library catalog, but also retrieve the books themselves. The $42 million project features a state-of-the-art system of robotic stacks, 85 feet high, 60 feet wide, and 120 feet long, which locates requested materials among the 1.5 million volumes and speeds them to patrons—at a rate of 328 feet per minute. The space-saving system allows for many years of collection development. Says Linda Wolcott, vice provost for libraries, “The Merrill-Cazier Library has become the hub of learning on campus, providing the resources, access to technology, and flexible study environments that support the way students learn today.” More info here.


Chris Dede

CHAMPION mediator Dede

As the Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard University’s (MA) Graduate School of Education, Chris Dede is at the forefront of change in technology for teaching and learning. “I teach a class every fall with seven different kinds of technology for mediated interaction,” says Dede. “As examples, we use asynchronous threaded discussion, internet-based videoconferencing, and synchronous interactions in a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE)—a virtual place where people interact with digital avatars, agents, and artifacts.” His students also use a form of groupware, for application sharing and collaborative work on documents, images, or other types of design. The technologies are helping students succeed: “Many students who are silent in classroom discussions find their voice and participate actively in different flavors of mediated interaction,” he says. The key is sticking to readily available technologies. “I could offer a course that uses a lot of exotic technologies,” Dede explains. “But there would be no point: What would the students do when they left and couldn’t use any of the technologies that we had experienced together in class?” More info here.


The DigitalWell Project at the University of Washington tasked itself with creating a digital repository of big, bulky audio and video files, with the ability to collaborate with other academic institutions. The initiative began when technologists set out to build a system to catalog audio broadcasts from the school-sponsored KEXP radio station, as well as video broadcasts from the UWTV television station and from campus research programs. “D-Well” was unveiled publicly in fall 2005, and thanks to a proprietary underpinning system called the Storage Resource Broker (SRB) and a middleware system built by the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California-San Diego, the system is interoperable with other digital libraries across academia. “We’re really hoping that we can communicate with just about any digital library in the world,” says Jim DeR'est, director of streaming media technologies with the Video, TV, and Technologies group. With the help of this technology, UW already has been able to trade video content with the University of Queensland in Australia, and the Forestry department has inquired about collaborating with the University of São Paulo in Brazil, to digitize video content about old-growth forests and how forest fires start. More info here.


At Colorado Technical University, a solution from Absolute Software is protecting the school’s investment in a loaner tablet PC initiative. ComputraceComplete allows IT staff to monitor who is using the computers, 4 what software and hardware changes are performed, and where the equipment is located, helping the school ensure that all computers are returned on time at the end of a lease.

ComputraceComplete came in handy recently when one Colorado Tech student dropped out of the school but kept a loaner laptop in his possession. University staff filed a police report and contacted Absolute Software’s recovery team. The team established “contact” with the laptop over the internet, verified that the stolen machine was indeed in the student’s home, and instructed the computer to call in every 15 minutes. Local police were then able to recover the machine; the entire process, from the laptop being reported stolen to recovery by police, took just three days.


Using videotaped lectures to practice American Sign Language (ASL) used to be a pretty tiresome process for hearingimpaired and other students at the University of Rochester (NY). In order to access the videos, students had to trek to the campus library, reserve an audio/visual station in the media center, take out the appropriate tape, and watch it right then and there. In the spring and summer months, the process was manageable but inconvenient. In winter, however, with lake-effect snow blowing off Lake Ontario, the journey to and from the campus library became possible only for the intrepid.

But last year, digital video revolutionized the ritual for Rochester’s ASL students. With the help of the Clabs digital video solution from Cdigix, the school has digitized the entire library of videotapes and offered it online through a portal of digital media that includes movies, MP3s, and more. Lisa Brown, manager of the school’s Educational Technology Center, says that today, students can practice hand signals from the privacy of their own dorm rooms, all with a few clicks of a mouse. “Now, if a student wants flexibility in accessing this information, he can get it whenever he wants it.” More info here.



Carreo: Despite the challenges,
Plowshares is well worth it.

Three peace-minded Indiana schools—Goshen College (a Mennonite institution), Earlham College (Quaker), and Manchester College (Brethren)—banded together to digitize local archives centered on peace studies. Tom Kirk, library director and coordinator of information services at Earlham, explains the effort, dubbed the Plowshares Project: “Each campus is selecting materials from its own archives that reflect the denominations’ work in the areas of peace and social justice.” Over the course of eight months of image scanning in 2005 (mostly performed by Backstage Library Works), the schools added thousands of images, pages, and documents from just about every era since the peace movements began. By the time the project launched formally in January 2006, it boasted 40,000 items, and has added even more since then.

Throughout the development of Plowshares, the schools faced challenges ranging from copyright issues to the need for quality metadata; yet, the potential benefits to future learners are undeniable. Ultimately, says Goshen Library Director Lisa Guedea Carreño, “These are distinctive collections. No matter what we have to go through to get them online, it’s important they’re up there so everyone can use them down the road.” More info here.


In response to student demand, the University of Michigan’s School of Dentistry began videotaping lectures and linking in instructors’ slides. Then administrators looked at access logs and conducted focus groups, in order to study students’ use of the materials. The results were surprising: “Two-thirds of the students preferred the audio over either the video or the presentation slides,” recalls Lynn Johnson, director of dental informatics. “They already had the slides; the students themselves had asked their teachers to release them.”

After determining that audio was the key issue, the next step was how to effectively capture and distribute it. “We put a computer in the back of the lecture halls,” Johnson explains. “A student starts a script at the beginning of the class, and the lecture is automatically recorded through the PA system and fed to the mixer.” At the end of the lecture, the student enters the metadata —the name of the class and instructor—and the file is immediately uploaded to the school’s area on iTunes.

“We didn’t start out to do podcasting at all, but it succeeded because it was helpful to everybody,” says Johnson. “I still marvel that, in the end, this was such a simple project.” More info here.


When building “smart” classrooms, facilities planners at Indiana University include a variety of stakeholders on every planning committee. Garland Elmore, deputy CIO and associate VP for teaching and learning information technologies, says that before IU begins a project, representatives from the University Architect’s Office, Physical Plant, IT, Building Maintenance, Housekeeping, and faculty typically are consulted.

Including a wide range of perspectives is important, Elmore stresses. For example, one smart classroom improvement plan at Indiana called for changing the tile floor outside some of the rooms. The architects had selected a textured tile Elmore liked, but Housekeeping, surprisingly, had important objections. The staffers there insisted, “As you walk on it it’s fine, but if you push a mop bucket across it, it sounds like a DC-3 on the runway. You’ll have to close the doors of every classroom when we push a trash bucket down the hall.” Seemingly insignificant observations by stakeholders can turn out to be crucial. More info here.


Hitachi T-17SXL StarBoard

Oakland Univ. installed 28 Hitachi T-17SXL
StarBoards as part of new presentation
workstations in classrooms/labs across campus.

This summer, Oakland University (MI) installed 28 Hitachi T-17SXL StarBoards as part of new presentation workstations in classrooms and labs across the campus. The pen-driven 17-inch LCD panel allows a presenter to face the classroom while having the screen’s contents projected onto any size screen. The T-17SXL software captures written notes (using a pen-input device with full mouse function capabilities) on top of presentations in any format, and allows conferencing of up to 50 StarBoard systems for distance learning capability. George Preisinger, of Oakland’s Classroom Support & Instructional Technical Services department, sees the system’s potential not only for distance learning and web-based instruction, but also for more traditional learning content. “Even the more traditional ‘attended’ courses commonly feature a web-based supplement with quizzes and course notes online,” he notes. “It’s a great benefit for our students to have the instructor’s handwritten notes on top of the original documentation.”


iPod initiatives

its iPod initiatives before putting
them into practice.

Services such as Apple’s iTunes U have established podcasting as a powerful new way to broadcast educational content outside of the classroom. But at Georgia College & State University, iPods are making a difference in the classroom as well. Take, for example, the Department of Music and Theatre, which had foreign language speakers come in to do recordings that are helping the school’s chorus. “We’re singing in Korean, Portuguese, and many other languages,” says GC&SU student Jill Albano. “Now we can listen to the diction, and make sure that we’re pronouncing everything correctly.”

The secret to GC&SU’s iPod success? Administrators take great care to evaluate potential technologies before putting them into practice. The first step toward deciding which initiatives to pursue: assembling a group from all areas of the campus— admissions, residence halls, library, and academic areas —to discuss the possibilities of a technology. “If you just give people technology, a lot of the tools will sit on their desks because they don’t yet have a good reason for using them,” emphasizes Anne Gormly, VP and dean of faculty. “You’ve got to have some values that are driving the use of technology: How d'es this improve the teaching and learning? How d'es this help us create those graduates that we envision in our mission?” More info here.


In a recent pilot, 120 Wake Forest University (NC) students were given either a Cingular Siemens SX66 Pocket PC or a Sprint Nextel 6600. The university’s questions as they conducted the pilot included: How much would students use the smart phones? How would instructors incorporate them into classes? In his first-year chemistry course, Professor Robert Swofford developed three ways to use smart phones as a learning tool; all were particularly effective in enhancing communication between instructor and student. First, to encourage students to bring the devices to class, he began each class with a one-question quiz, awarding students a small amount of credit for responding. Students sent their responses (with their names included) to his computer via the wireless connection, where he could tabulate them instantly. Second, he used the devices’ wireless connectivity to collect immediate student feedback throughout the lecture. Several times during each class, he paused and asked students to “vote” electronically on whether they understood a concept. Since votes were anonymous, students responded frankly, allowing him to immediately decide whether to repeat a point or continue. Third, he encouraged students to use the devices after class, while still in the classroom, to send post-class feedback. The amount of feedback was surprisingly high, he says, which he attributes to the immediacy the devices allow. More info here.


Tegrity at Santa Clara University

A lecture capture solution from
Tegrity at Santa Clara University

At Santa Clara University (CA), technology is freeing students from madly tapping out notes in the lecture hall. A lecture capture solution from Tegrity includes a special digital pen for noiselessly taking notes on regular paper during class; the system digitizes students’ handwritten notes as they are taken down, then automatically synchronizes the notes with the recorded instruction. Later, in front of a computer, students can view their notes online, exactly as they were written in class, and can click on any notation to hear the instructor explain a particular concept.

According to Santa Clara CIO Ron Danielson, the solution works well because it means that students don’t need a computer in class. “The students can simply come in to class and use the [Tegrity] pen to take notes as they usually do.” Danielson, who also teaches, likes the fact students can actively listen to lectures instead of transcribing. The technology, he asserts, “is a great learning tool.” More info here.


When considering the costs of configuring “smart” classrooms, it’s important to look beyond the cost of maintenance, hardware, and furniture, and remember the soft costs as well. Peter Saxena, CIO of Roberts Wesleyan College (NY), found that as professors at the school started using smart classroom technology more heavily, there was a need for more support staff. But how to increase training resources without impacting costs? Saxena says his department found it helpful to enlist a faculty member to provide training, rather than someone from IT. An adjunct faculty member, for example, could effectively teach the faculty how to run the new classroom equipment, explains Saxena, because as a peer, an adjunct “could speak to them in an academic language as opposed to an IT trainer language.” More info here.


Mike Hickey

BEOWULF CLUSTERS share processing
tasks among a group of networked
computers - achieving high-performance
results for researchers like Hickey.

At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (FL), a new supercomputer has revolutionized research technology. With the 131-node, 262-processor Beowulf cluster, Mike Hickey, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is running simulations of acousticgravity waves propagating through the upper portions of Earth’s atmosphere. These waves ultimately impact flying conditions, which is why the research is of such value to a school like Embry-Riddle.

Such simulations used to take three or four days to run; with the power of the new machine, however, Hickey can run them in a matter of hours. Moreover, researchers in other departments are also able to tap into Beowulf’s processing power to speed up projects of their own. “Especially at an engineering school like ours, there’s a lot of numerically intensive simulation work on campus,” says Hickey. “The best way around [the demand for so much simultaneous simulation work on one campus] was to try and get a computer that serves everybody’s needs.” More info here.


Riverbluff Cave

RESEARCHERS broadcast live
classroom content from Riverbluff Cave.

What could be better than technology that allows students to observe, from their own classroom, actual field research in real time? Ozarks Technical Community College (MO) and MOREnet, the Missouri Research and Education Network, are digging deep into the application of videoconferencing to learning and research. They’ve installed 1,600 feet of armored, direct-burial fiber-optic cable in the Riverbluff Cave in southwest Missouri, and have networked a field house where work is being done on discovered artifacts. Those finds include some of the oldest Ice Age fossils in North America. Polycom videoconferencing equipment will bring the field science into classrooms at various institutions around the state, while protecting the cave from some of the disturbances caused by human visitors. More info here.


In a small pilot project begun in fall 2005, Duke University (NC) worked with news radio publisher Public Radio International to create a model for making relevant radio content available to universities. “We said, if [students] are carrying iPods and PDAs and using them all the time, well, radio is all about audio,” recalls Lynne O’Brien, Duke’s director of the Center for Instructional Technology. “So how can we make that relevant?” With the help of PRI, the school is examining issues such as how to make specific radio content available for selective download, what content should be offered, and what faculty and students might do with such content.

O’Brien says short clips of timely news programming seem most useful. Faculty members have used specific interviews tied to a subject under discussion; writing professors have had students listen to radio content about specific books, for example; and journalism instructors have found various broadcasts useful. Foreign language programming is also of interest, via the British Broadcasting Corp.. More info here.


Temple University’s (PA) TECH Center

Temple University’s TECH Center

Temple University’s (PA) TECH Center (TECH stands for Teaching, Education, Collaboration, and Help) opened last February. The 75,000-square-foot facility (said to be the largest of its kind in the US) provides a variety of workspaces to enable students to work collaboratively or individually. Resources include: a student computer center with up to 600 fixed workstations and 100 wireless loaner laptops; a 24-hour help desk for students, faculty, and staff; specialized labs for video editing, graphic design, music composition, and software development; a faculty wing with a Teaching and Learning Center and Instructional Support Center; access to 150-plus software packages; a wireless internet lounge; collaborative learning spaces; and cable TV and music delivered right to the desktop. More than 38,000 students made use of the center in the first two weeks. More info here.


The mind d'esn’t always work in a linear fashion; hence the interest over the years in “mind mapping,” a technique in which ideas and words are sketched out as interrelated items in a diagram. While mind maps have been drawn by hand for years, Mindjet’s MindManager digital mind-mapping tool brings the method to the computer.

And at the Harvard-MIT (MA) Division of Health Sciences and Technology, MindManager is helping make complex learning content more manageable. Dava Newman, professor of aeronautics, astronautics, and engineering systems, is using the program to deliver interactive lectures, incorporate student questions and feedback in real time, and provide an enhanced learning environment. She integrates visual maps with lectures on creativity, for example, including learning objectives and an outline of the lecture. Because she uses a tablet computer, she can display a mind map in class, then mark it up during the lecture. All of Newman’s lecture materials, complete with the notes she adds in class, end up on the web and are available first to students, then later to the public, through MIT’s OpenCourseWare program. More info here.


At Florida State University, personal response systems (aka PRS or “clickers”) are used in the classroom to engage students in learning and provide instructors with immediate feedback. (Students answer a few questions per class period from questions embedded in the class Power- Point presentations.) To encourage faculty to incorporate PRS in the classroom, training for use of the systems is provided via a series of instructional videos created by J'e Calhoun, lecturer in the Department of Economics and assistant director of the Stavros Center for Economic Education. This approach, used in place of standard face-to-face workshops, lets faculty review the materials as many times as needed, at their own pace and convenience. A “how-to” video is provided for students and can be linked to/from an instructor’s website. More info here.


MACALESTER’s Kaplan (left) and Koralesky

MACALESTER's Kaplan (left) and
Koralesky outfitted a 'smart' classroom
that enjoys constant use.

At Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, a project involving the outfitting of a data statistics exploration classroom (the brainchild of DeWitt Wallace Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Daniel Kaplan) demonstrated the value of careful planning and the inclusion of input from users. The professors felt strongly that putting standard LCD monitors in front of each student would obscure sightlines and prevent students from interacting effectively with the professor or with each other. The technology project managers evaluated the ergonomic relationships between users, furniture, and technology, and in the end, chose NEC 15-inch LCD monitors and small Wacom touchscreen monitors for the student workstations. Barron Koralesky, associate director for academic technology services, explains, “We chose these monitors because all the others had higher stands or larger bezels. Now, the faculty members are happy and the room is booked solid every class day.” Demand for teaching and learning in this type of lab has also increased campuswide since the room was installed. More info here.


UTAH’S Technology Assisted Curriculum Center

UTAH’S Technology Assisted
Curriculum Center helps faculty
incorporate technology in the classroom.

At the University of Utah, the Technology Assisted Curriculum Center (TACC) helps faculty members gain a better understanding of technology and incorporate it into their lesson plans. The center—part of the university’s library— employs more than 40 librarians to help educators get comfortable with technology. In some cases, this is as simple as showing professors what kinds of databases they can make available for a particular class. In other cases, the librarians help educators build syllabi around one-of-a-kind software.

In addition, TACC Director Alison Regan says the center provides workshops for faculty members three times a year. These workshops teach educators how to use everything from Adobe’s Photoshop and Dreamweaver, to software that combats plagiarism. “We provide them with whatever kind of technology support they need,” Regan says. “They have questions; we have answers.”

Most recently, Regan says the office added a streaming media division, designed to help teach faculty members how to digitize video and stream it over the internet. More info here.


At the University of Texas-Austin, Peg Syverson, associate professor in the Division of Rhetoric and Writing, has developed a comprehensive ePortfolio system that moves the learning record into a standalone application that UT faculty and educators at other schools can download for free and use at their convenience. The professor created the application with FileMaker Pro from FileMaker, and named it Learning Record Online.

In a nutshell, the product is a freeware relational database that stores the most current version of a particular file. Teachers input course information, and students, in turn, submit the most current copies of their assignments. The instructors make comments in the files and upload the comments. Students then import those comments into their versions and proceed accordingly. Educators can see the observations students have been keeping for the duration of the process.

Behind the scenes, teachers simply download the standalone application, input the course information, and make it available for students. To date, more than 7,000 students in 14 schools are using the tool. “Don’t think of this as a buffet for the masses, think of it as a Big Mac: substantial, portable, and cheap,” says Syverson. “I think of it as a small, elegant implementation that d'es one thing very well.” More info here.


AMX ClassroomManager

AMX ClassroomManager

Baylor University’s (TX) 508,000-square-foot Sciences Building is designed to encourage interactive collaboration in research and teaching. As Anthony Lapes, technology project manager, explains, “A critical component of the vision for the building was to provide flexible teaching and learning environments incorporating a wide range of technologies that can be easily operated via a single point of control.”

To meet this goal, Baylor turned to a variety of systems from AMX, including ClassroomManager. All of the Sciences Building’s classrooms are networked via ClassroomManager, which allows Baylor’s IT staff to perform system updates over the network and track device usage. With reports generated on equipment usage, the university knows which devices are most in demand, enabling administrators to allocate funds for technologies offering the highest return on investment. Says Lapes, “Not only has [the technology] enabled us to maximize our limited IT personnel resources, but we can also make more educated purchasing decisions, which should save the university money and time.”


The University of Virginia, which houses one of the most respected digital libraries in academia, combined its Etext Center and Rare Materials Digital Services Center into a uni- fied Digital Research and Instructional Services department. The new department contains everything from electronic maps PRACTICES to social science data sets, journal articles to book chapters. Works in this new department are much more than just electronic copies of physical documents; all of the pieces have been digitized and marked up by certain scholars to enhance the original content. Donna Tolson, director of outreach and instructional services, says the approach makes learning so easy that students don’t even realize they’re doing it. “The medium is now so engaging,” she explains (referring to age-old textbooks as “useful but dry” to most students), “it allows you to access this information in many more multifaceted ways than the printed book has allowed over time.” www.campustechnology. com/ article.asp?id=18438 More info here.


Iowa State University’s “eDoc” ePortfolio system is helping students take a bigger role in their professional development, as well as helping to mitigate the pressure from outside agencies for departments to demonstrate competence in learning outcomes. One example: The Food Science and Human Nutrition department uses electronic portfolios for all of its students, in order to track student competencies against pre-established learning outcomes from the American Dietetic Association. Dietetic interns are required to note in their portfolios when certain outcomes are accomplished.

“The key idea was to custom-build departmental and general ‘themes’ to meet each department’s requirements,” says Pete Boysen, senior systems analyst in the IT Services department, adding that students in the Educational Leadership & Policy Studies and Mathematics Education departments track performance against similarly pre-established outcomes. “The customized approach eDoc provides has given us the flexibility to meet all of these needs.” More info here.


UT-AUSTIN’s Dan Updegrove

UT-AUSTIN’s Dan Updegrove:
digitizing the treasures.

The University of Texas holds vast and diverse library and museum collections, research and scholarly materials, and many other knowledge assets. What if they could be leveraged among all the citizens of the state of Texas and beyond? This is the vision underlying UTOPIA, an expanding knowledge gateway to university resources, conceived in 2002 and launched in 2004, that continues to grow with the breadth and depth of UT’s resources.

eLearning might seem a natural outgrowth of the UTOPIA initiative. “The UT system d'es have a successful, although modest-scale, distance learning program,” says Dan Updegrove, UT-Austin’s VP of IT. “But that didn’t seem like the best approach [for UTOPIA], in part because distance learning ends up focusing new demands on the faculty who are already dealing with 50,000 students on the campus, plus their research.” Instead, administrators decided to use the web to bring UT’s digital treasures to the public. Says Updegrove, “A key goal of UTOPIA is to demystify information, curate it, edit it, and provide graphics, illustrations, and formatting to make the resources more accessible to a non-scholarly audience.” More info here.


Students and faculty in the San Diego State University College of Engineering’s Computer Aided Design (CAD) labs regularly work with visually intensive material in which the detail of fine lines—typically present in CAD drawings—is paramount. When the school set out to outfit the labs with multimedia projectors, the technology “had to meet strict criteria,” notes James Frazee, director of instructional technology services. “The projectors needed to be bright enough to be clear in minimal note-taking, ambient lighting conditions; they needed to be higher resolution than XGA; and they needed to have the best possible image quality.”

To meet those specific needs, administrators selected two Canon REALiS SX50 multimedia projectors. Canon’s proprietary Aspectual Illumination System (AISYS) optical engine maximizes the REALiS SX50’s next-generation liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) display technology to provide SXGA+ (1400x1050) resolution images with a brightness of 2,500 ANSI lumens and a contrast ratio of 1,000:1—all key considerations for SDSU’s implementation. “In the CAD labs, the increased resolution is a real plus beecause of the large amount of detail that must be shown on the screen at once,” says Frazee.

Editor’s note: Campus Technology will be following the campus use of four REALiS SX6 projectors (the latest addition to Canon’s high-resolution line). To find out how to participate, click here.


Common “smart” classroom configurations typically bore an $8,000–$18,000 hole in an IT budget and encompass a projector, screen, set of speakers, DVD and video players, networked internet access, and either a computer or an easy way to hook up a computer—and it’s easy to spend far more if document cameras or high-tech whiteboards are added to the list.

But certain bells and whistles may not be essential. One frill that New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice (associated with the City University of New York) decided to do without: a motorized screen. A manual screen was a bit less convenient, but scrimping there reduced costs both up front and in terms of maintenance, says Bill Pangburn, John Jay’s director of instructional technology support services.

And Henry DeVries, CIO and CFO of Calvin College (MI), says that administrators at his school chose not to bother with a master smart classroom controlling system, and instead, simply locked a number of remotes to the professor’s desk. More info here.


At Joliet Junior College (IL), Professor Rich McNeil is using technology to help students get involved and stay engaged in the classroom using an interactive learning product called DyKnow Vision. The software, which can be used on individual laptop or desktop computers in a lab setting, delivers materials electronically in various forms to each student. Students can add notes on the spot, and notes from one student or instructor can be shared with the rest of the class. “The biggest thing I’ve found is that [the interactivity of the technology] helps focus students,” McNeil says. “They’re doing the work right there in class. They’re engaged.” Since he introduced the product last year, the improvements McNeil has seen in final grades speak for themselves.

By using DyKnow with Blackboard, McNeil is also able to maintain a virtually paperless classroom. Students upload completed tests, he grades them in Blackboard, and then returns them to students electronically. More info here.


At Coppin State University, an inner-city institution in the heart of Baltimore, a large number of students receive extensive financial aid and cannot afford the technology tools they need to help them succeed. With this in mind, explains Ahmed El-Haggan, VP of IT and CIO, the university developed a laptop refresh program whereby (based upon the financial needs of each student) the school pays up to 50 percent of the costs of a personal laptop from Gateway, giving students four semesters to pay off the balance.

At the end of the two years, a student can purchase the laptop permanently for $50, or remain in the program and get a new laptop to use over the next two years. And for students who are unable to support even the reduced costs involved in the ownership program, Coppin developed a loaner program of used computers from those students who have chosen to refresh. El-Haggan says the refresh program has empowered students, making them feel as if they have options. “Coppin is also able to help address the digital divide,” he notes, “as students can take their laptops home for their studies, and to share with their families.” More info here.


Instructors at Stetson University’s (FL) School of Music are using document cameras from Elmo to help music students learn. Previously, faculty would hand out paper copies of music, which were shared among students. But with the document camera, instructors can display to the class a single copy of a score, and as the music plays, “they can circle things, point out things, even go back and review,” says Gerry Ewing, Stetson’s director of instructional technology. The camera allows instructors to display images from books, pictures, musical scores, and more, as well as zoom in to specific areas.

According to Bobby Adams, professor of music education, as well as director of bands and coordinator of instrumental music at Stetson, the document camera is especially useful for presenting large drill charts to students. “Each student in a marching band has an assignment that involves specific and often complicated movements that are all choreographed,” Adams says, noting that the cameras allow the entire class to view the charts simultaneously so that students can see each movement as it relates to others. “It’s a superb teaching tool for showing different formations.” More info here.


At the University of Texas-Austin, Kurt Bartelmehs, program manager for instructional technology, has worked hard to standardize technology in classrooms across campus. A typical UT “smart” classroom contains a full complement of equipment, including an internet-connected computer, Epson 3LCD large-format XGA projector, ampli- fied stereo system, VCR/DVD player, document camera, touch-screen remote-control system with software from Crestron, cabling for laptop connection, and set of inputs to plug in devices such as microscopes.

For the IT group, the use of the same systems in all classrooms means virtually no downtime, since equipment can easily be swapped out and replaced, and spares are always available. For faculty, the news is even better. Because every classroom works the same way, Bartelmehs says, faculty “can prepare a lecture for a 20-seat classroom, and give the same lecture in a 500-seat lecture hall” with absolutely no changes in equipment. More info here.

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