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Smart Classroom

Interactive Podiums Display Multimedia Content

By Linda L. Briggs

Interactive whiteboards, which allow instructors to use an electronic board in class to display and edit information, have proved popular over time. One issue: the boards sometimes aren’t big enough to have all of the content seen and read from the back of a large class.

Georgia Perimeter College in Dekalb County, Georgia, is addressing that issue by gradually retrofitting 360 classrooms across five campuses with a product from SMART Technologies called Sympodium. Using a special 15-inch monitor screen and an interactive pen, instructors can write on the monitor while displaying Web sites, graphs, charts, maps, and more. The monitor’s contents are displayed via projector onto a large screen at the front of the class – a screen that can be much larger than traditional electronic whiteboards.

As a testament to the popularity of the technology at the college, a new campus that will open in summer 2007 – Newton College in Newton County, Georgia – will have a Sympodium in every classroom.

According to Susan McKinnon, director of educational technologies for Georgia Perimeter College, the approximate cost of a fully outfitted multimedia classroom, including Sympodium, is about $10,000. (List price for the Sympodium ID 350 is $2,249; education pricing can reduce the cost further.)

Outfitting classrooms with Sympodiums is worth the price, McKinnon says, because instructors love the boards. The school already has about 80 of the devices in place. “Any time that we’ve had the opportunity to replace technology, to build a new building, to do any kind of retrofit,” McKinnon says, “we have standardized on Sympodiums.”

Advantages of the boards, she says, include the fact that professors don’t have to turn their backs to students, making it easier to initiate face-to-face exchanges. Instructors using Sympodiums also don’t have to face the glare of a projector. SMART provides a variety of useful software along with its hardware, McKinnon says, including templates for graphs and charts, maps, anatomy designs, and more.

What instructors appreciate most about the Sympodiums, McKinnon says, is that the projected image can be as large as the screen itself: “That’s what they love the most versus the SMART boards.”

Using supplied software, the Sympodium runs on a classroom PC connected to the monitor. The monitor and pen record all written content during class and save it as an HTML file, which can then be posted on the Internet by the instructor almost immediately after class. Georgia Perimeter College uses WebCT as a course management system. The files can also be posted there. Instructors can also display multimedia content, or connect to a Web site via the Sympodium screen.

In addition to offering extensive training to faculty, Georgia Perimeter includes an instructional design lab on each campus, where instructors can go for individual help or to work on projects. A math professor at Georgia Perimeter College, for example, has been using the product, along with a microphone, to record and post audio recordings of her lecture along with visuals recorded by Sympodium, immediately after each class. “If those lectures aren’t posted [right away], she gets calls,” McKinnon says. “[Students] leave class and watch the lecture again to get clarification.”

The college is also experimenting with audio podcasts that include a recording of a lecture, along with the written content captured by Sympodium.

The SMART boards in general have proved a tough and long-lasting part of the multimedia classrooms, McKinnon says, which require little maintenance in general other than routine chores like replacing projector bulbs. In fact, she jokes, some of the classrooms with original SMART whiteboards might wish they would stop working, so those classrooms could upgrade to Sympodiums.

Linda L. Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif.

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