Millions of dollars have gone into renovating 51 out of 91 deteriorating classrooms and lecture halls at UCI this summer through physical and technological upgrades. These ‘smart’ classrooms are intended to enhance the learning experience for students and provide instructors with more options while they teach.
The rooms are designed as ‘do-it-yourself classrooms’ and contain equipment and resources commonly used by instructors who teach classes using electronic equipment. These include a personal computer, Internet connection, a video and data projector, sound system, overhead transparency projector, VHS/DVD deck, laptop audio/video connections and an AMX touch-panel controller. All the equipment is controlled by the touch-panel on the instructor’s podium located in the front of the classroom.
With this kind of technology available in classrooms and lecture halls, instructors have more options and control over their room. They can now use PowerPoint presentations in place of writing on a white board or overhead projector. Controlled lighting and the ability to play DVDs and videos are only some of the possibilities.
The computers in smart classrooms are on a network that is connected to the rest of the campus. Faculty members can pick up a telephone and call the network center if they have any problems. Technicians can fix many problems over the network.
Bill Nail, director of information systems in the Division of Undergraduate Education, was central to the technology design of these new classrooms. Nail explained the timeline of this project.
‘This is a project that was initiated by Executive Vice Chancellor Mike Gottfredson,’ Nail said. ‘The first year of renovations was in 2003. We started planning in 2002.’
Rooms in Humanities Hall and Krieger Hall were the first to be revamped in 2003, at a cost of almost $1.8 million.
‘In Humanities Hall we pulled out and rebuilt walls and opened the space up a little bit. We redid all the lighting, the ceilings, furniture, everything,’ Nail said. ‘Those rooms were built in 1965 and were pretty dingy. If you ever took a class in there it was pretty awful. Our objective was really to brighten the spaces up.’
Classrooms in the Social Science Laboratory, Social Science Tower and Rowland Hall were renovated earlier this summer, costing almost $2 million. Renovation in all the remaining 40 classrooms will be finished by 2007.
According to Gottfredson, to fund the first two renovation phases, the university pooled building renewal funds that were set aside every year for facility problems.
‘I collaborated with a group of faculty, including the dean of undergraduate education,’ Gottfredson said. ‘What stimulated the project was our general dissatisfaction with the quality of undergraduate education at UCI. Most of the classrooms aren’t the types of facilities that can provide our students with the best possible education and provide our faculty with the best teaching environment.’
In planning the renovations, technology models at USC, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton and Stanford were assessed. The types of classrooms that the group thought were conducive for student learning were implemented at UCI.
Richard Symanski, senior lecturer in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, first started using the new smart classrooms in the summer. He regularly uses PowerPoint presentations in his lectures and enjoys the new options available to him.
‘They’ve put in telephones so that if you have a problem they can fix the problem from the command center or come over right away and fix it for you,’ Symanski said. ‘That’s a big advantage.’
However, Symanski notes how the classrooms could be improved.
‘I don’t have any complaints about the technology, but the only thing that I would like to see is if they had something built in to show slides,’ Symanski said.
Nancy Coster, a full-time lecturer in the Graduate School of Management, includes PowerPoint, Excel and Word documents in her lectures.
‘The addition of the ‘video mute’ feature on the instructor’s computer station allows me to easily revert to the white board when necessary,’ Coster said. ‘In accounting classes, students often need to see a problem solved step by step, not just the end result. The ability to work with PowerPoint, Microsoft Excel and the white board is a definite plus.’
As professors are embracing the technology, many students carry mixed feelings.
Emily Scherping, a second-year biological sciences major, feels that posting PowerPoint slides on the Internet gives students an incentive to skip class.
‘Students can always download PowerPoint presentations online and not go to class [because it is] much easier to download a PowerPoint presentation than copy lecture notes from a friend,’ Scherping said.
However, Pari Mathur, a third-year studio arts major, likes PowerPoint presentations in the classroom.
‘A PowerPoint presentation is artistic, creative and engaging to the students,’ Mathur said. ‘If a professor just lectures it’s incredibly boring. We’ve also become more resourceful. With the Internet connection, if a student questions [a teacher’s] answer, the teacher has the ability to go on the Internet and find an article.’
Becky Chappell, a first-year undeclared social sciences major, still carries an appreciation for the outdated overhead projector.
‘I like the overhead more because you’re writing in the same pace as the professor and you don’t lose information like they do in the PowerPoints when they add slides,’ Chappell said. ‘If the professor [didn’t] go through the slides too fast then I’d like PowerPoint better.’
Gottfredson understands students’ concerns and acknowledges that the process of changing teaching and learning styles is not easy.
‘We’re testing as we go along. It is a continual renovation process,’ Gottfredson said. ‘There will be periods of adjustment where faculty and students get used to the technology, but essentially a much higher quality instructional environment will pay off for everybody.’
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