James Madison University: 21st Century Multimedia Lecture Hall

Article excerpt

To many students, the traditional college lecture is not an experience that gets the heart pounding with excitement. They know the importance of lectures, but many equate the experience with simply scrawling out notes or sitting stupefied for an hour.

The problem: most lectures depend heavily on oral exposition, while class size prohibits student participation. No matter how skilled the professor, the very format itself is a prescription for daydreaming.

At James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Va., the college lecture is being radically transformed into an interactive, multimedia experience - one that captivates the imaginations of students while also allowing meaningful group participation. With its new "21st Century Lecture Classroom," the university has created a unique classroom that supports the easy integration of text, graphics, audio, images and motion video into regular lectures. What's more, the classroom also supports student interaction through automated response keypads installed in every seat.

Developed through a partnership with IBM, the new classroom has become a powerful model for how instruction may be delivered to large audiences in the future. Certainly, professors at JMU are thrilled with their new capabilities. "We're having a ball in here," says Dr. Charles Harris, professor of psychology. "I could never go back to the old way of teaching, where I was limited to slides and overheads. Today, all my lectures are integrated through multimedia.

"The investment in this lecture hall is definitely worth it. I hope to see the day when every institution has several of these classrooms. It should become the norm."

Facilitating the |ah-ha!' syndrome

"This room can provide students with information using text, graphics, audio, images and video," says Harry Reif, assistant vice president for information technology. "The multimedia approach helps hold and focus their attention.

"Now you have the |ah-ha!' syndrome. As a professor, I can explain and illustrate a concept to you in enough different ways so that you truly understand it. Traditionally, students have just copied down what the professor was saying. But the real goal is to have students understand - and that's what this classroom helps promote."

The 104-seat classroom is visually distinguished by two 6 x 8-foot rear-projection screens that flank the podium and act as the classroom "chalkboards." The podium itself incorporates two IBM PS/2[R]s and a range of audiovisual peripheral equipment - including two VCRs, two laserdisc players, a slide projector, an audiocassette player and a document camera. Control of the VCRs and laserdisc players is provided by IBM M-Motion[TM] video adapters installed in each PS/2. A CD-ROM drive and an IBM M-Audio adapter is also installed in each PS/2.

"We've tried to support all different media formats, so professors can use content in whatever format it exists," says Reif "The document camera, for example, easily allows a professor to bring in a piece of art-work or even a three-dimensional object and present it in full color to the class."

Limitless resources

"Good professors have always tried to get clips, using a film projector or a slide projector," notes Dr. Ronald E. Carrier, president of JMU. "But with multimedia, they can integrate media from many different sources, prior to class. There's no real limit to the number or type of resources that they can access.

"As an example, we're now proposing to convert thousands of slides of artwork to electronic form. When this artwork is digitized, professors will be able to access it at any time - from their office or classroom. Using multimedia software, they can program a presentation very creatively - and then simply pull up their presentation off the network in class."

With common storage spaces on the campus computer network, the university also hopes to promote sharing of multimedia content among professors. …