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."
"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.
"We will eventually build a large set of resources that everyone can use," says Reif. "I want our faculty to be able to take the best of the best from anywhere."
"Ultimately, professors will access a campuswide audiovisual library, right from the classroom," adds Carrier. "Let's say you're teaching Shakespeare. You can go into the library and pull up a scene of Burton or Olivier doing Hamlet. If you're studying racial relations, you can pull up Martin Luther King's speeches and let students experience them directly. Or if you're talking about World War II, you can actually pull up the battles.
"The technology makes learning come alive for the students," continues Carrier. "And once they're engaged, the professor can give more emphasis to critical thinking."
An electronic blackboard
Beyond multimedia, the computerized classroom also supports traditional applications such as word processors and spreadsheets.
"It's nice to have regular computer applications that you can pull up onscreen before an entire class," says Dr. James Couch, professor of psychology. "We have applications like Microsoft[R] Word, Microsoft Excel[TM], and CorelDRAW" online at all times. I can go to Excel, enter some data and create a graph for the class in realtime. I can bring up Word and use it as a blackboard - which is good for students, because typed text is easier to read than handwritten text. And with CorelDRAW, I can pull in graphical images to illustrate a point in discussion."
Response keypads for students
While the presentation capabilities of the classroom are impressive, the ability to support student interaction is equally important. Lecture size has traditionally made student participation a token gesture at best; however, with response keypads built into every seat, JMU's classroom can incorporate input from every student, instantaneously.
"Our vision was to personalize the large-class experience of lecture classrooms, by enabling regular student input into the topics being discussed," says Harris. "The emphasis is on active learning. The two screens allow me to present something visually on one screen while presenting a question on the other.
"The keypads even allow students to express controversial or personal opinions. If I ask a question requiring moral judgment, students can express their opinion anonymously, and then compare it with those of the rest of the group."
Since the keypads are connected to the podium PS/2s, instant tabulation is possible. Quizzes can be graded automatically - and results can even be instantly graphed and projected for all to see. This immediate ability to poll audiences has powerful implications for classrooms of all kinds.
"When I was going to school, every desk had an inkwell," says Carrier. "In the future, every desk will probably have an instant response keypad that ties into an interactive computer.
"Keypads give students a chance to see how their thinking compares with that of other students. It also has another implication. Let's say you're teaching a history class. At times, professors repeat the book. With keypads, you can start the class with six or seven questions and immediately see if students understand the material. If students do well, the professor is free to direct the class to new areas; if not, the professor can review areas of weakness.
"Professors have learned that keypads help keep students alert and participating in class. The professor can tell if a student isn't answering, since the computer can tally answers by seat number. As a result, students tend to be more prepared and more involved in class."
One of the key success factors in the development of JMU's futuristic classroom was broad teamwork. "This was not something that the computer people conceived, specified, implemented and said, |Here, faculty, come use it,'" says Reif. "This was not a |Field of Dreams' classroom - |build it, and they will come.' Instead, we had faculty, instructional design people, technology people and administration people all come together in one team.
"We also didn't want to start from ground zero and build a |Star Trek' facility," continues Reif. "Instead, our goal was to retrofit an old building. The fact is, most campuses have a lot of old buildings, and schools are going to have to retrofit them."
Members of the psychology department, the first department to use the classroom, were offered multimedia training at the Institute for Academic Technology (IAT) at the University of North Carolina. In a week-long class, professors were able to learn the basics of creating multimedia presentations, using the authoring software ToolBook[R] by Asymetrix[R].
Back at JMU, the professors were provided with IBM PS/2s and multimedia equipment for their offices, enabling them to prepare lectures conveniently. "Having preparation equipment in your office is vital," says Couch. "It's also helpful to have the multimedia authoring tool on your home computer."
A beacon for faculty
Since the 21st Century Lecture Classroom has an observation gallery, other professors have been able to visit and learn bout he user of ultimedia - stimulating further interest in the technology.
"I think you need to have a like this on campus to act as a beacon to faculty," says Dr. Bethany Oberst, vice president for academic affairs. "Professors need to see multimedia in action. They've got to talk colleagues about what it is like to author a program. and what the student reaction is in classes. And then it becomes real to them.
"Interest is expanding very rapidly. I'm now funding 22 professors in all different departments to go to the IAT for multimedia training.
"I want to cultivate enough faculty interest in multimedia to create demand for other facilities continues Oberst. "My vision is a series of 21st century classrooms. Specifically, I want to be able to use technology to expand the kinds of materials that can be brought into the teaching environment. The effect is an enriched teaching environment - the ability to bring more of the world of knowledge to the classroom."
"The opportunities are immense," adds Dr. Carrier. "Multimedia technology clearly allows instruction to be delivered more effectively. The technology is here today; we just have to take the time to learn how to implement it."
IBM Multimedia: One-stop Systems Integration
While IBM provided some of the key multimedia technology for JMU's futuristic classroom, its most important role was in technology integration. The project involved components from many different vendors, plus the physical retrofitting of an existing building to support the technology.
"An ambitious project like this requires complex technology integration," says Melissa Mello, IBM account representative. "The difficulty is in managing that complexity - both from the start and over the long term.
"IBM is skilled in managing this type of complex operation. We can guarantee that the project will work, and we bring a single point of contact. The customer has only one person to call to set up the project, and one person to call for any problems."
"The partnership with IBM made it possible to tap into one of the really innovative and progressive companies involved in multimedia," says Dr. Ronald E. Carrier, president of JMU.
"IBM has spent millions of dollars on the research and development of multimedia and interactive learning," Carrier continues. "They're an excellent partner for this type of project."…