November 29, 1999
Volume 52, No. 13
The 'smart' classroom from the faculty perspective
Emory faculty are taking advantage of several new "smart" multimedia classrooms installed into college teaching spaces over the last three years. These rooms seek to simplify the use of traditional multimedia technologies--like VCR, laser disk and cassette deck--while also providing easy access to new technologies like computers and "document cameras," the modern-day replacement for the trusty overhead projector.
A variety of classes are using these new spaces. Allen Tullos from the Institute of Liberal Arts is teaching his undergraduate class, "American Routes," in Room 217 of the Woodruff Library. Tullos' class, which explores the cultural contexts of traditional and emerging musics in the United States, uses a web site as its text and as a main source of discussion material during class.
It is not unusual to see Tullos, and co-instructor Walter Reed, switching between the course web site, a VHS recording of a traditional musical performance and the audiocassette deck. According to Tullos, "the multimedia capabilities of these new classrooms make possible a richer, livelier and more interconnected presentation of materials such as music, maps, documentary photos and video, as well as written texts. In addition, both students and faculty can revise and freshen up the web site, year after year."
At the heart of the new multimedia classroom is the "smart" podium. This podium may look different in different rooms, but its basic purpose remains the same: to integrate all existing equipment with a controller system that allows faculty to manipulate everything from one touch panel. Whereas in the past faculty might have had to cope with several remote controls, now even the room lighting can be adjusted from the podium using easy presets for lecture, video and slide presentations.
The installation of smart podiums is part of a sustained effort by Emory College to upgrade teaching spaces. "Working with faculty input and with the help of the Information Technology Division and the Facilities Management Division," said Rosemary Magee, senior associate dean, "we are looking to improve classrooms throughout the college."
The overall goal is to place all the tools a faculty member might need at his or her fingertips in a standard, easy-to-use fashion. By eliminating worry about the reliability and accessibility of equipment and by expanding significantly the type of tools available, these smart classrooms allow faculty to experiment with their approaches to teaching.
White Hall represents the largest conglomeration of smart classrooms. In addition to aesthetic improvements, five rooms were upgraded technologically over the summer break, with two more to follow this winter. Making use of the improvements this semester are Gordon Newby and Vernon Robbins of the religion department, who are teaching "Introduction to Sacred Texts," an exploration of the life of oral and written sacred traditions in Hindu, Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities.
They are using a LearnLink conference extensively in this class (at the time of this writing there were 45 subconferences) both for student submission and discussion of materials.
"The ability to use LearnLink in an enhanced classroom," Newby said, "has significantly increased our ability to present our class materials, particularly the primary sacred texts, in an effective manner. We are able to demonstrate to our students how we want them to read and think about the material in a graphic way that reinforces our words in class.
"As a result, we have noticed an even higher level of performance among our students than when we were in a non-enhanced classroom," Newby continued. "We had sights and sounds from the web, texts posted on LearnLink, student contributions posted on LearnLink, and all were accessible in class as we needed them."
Students agree that having the LearnLink conferences displayed in class makes a huge difference. "Since it is a class on sacred texts from every tradition, the lecture in class is facilitated by putting the texts on LearnLink," said Cristina Merete, a freshman in the college. "It helps everyone a lot because then everyone can see the text."
Classroom renovation is being coordinated by the Classroom Working Group and any suggestions may be sent to Magee at RMM_classrooms@emory.edu.
Carole Meyers is academic technology coordinator for Emory College.