November 16, 2014

CIT Prioritizes Technology Options for Various Classrooms

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Cornell Information Technologies, utilizing a capital  funded initiative, is seeking to sort campus classrooms and outfit them with “standardized” technologies based on their individual function.

“Historically, the selection of technology that would go into a classroom was based on the physical size of the room,” said Barbara Friedman ’81, interim director of academic technologies. “We have modified that so we’re looking at how the room is used.”

Last summer, the Cornell Academic Technologies Center prepared two classrooms each within the Colleges of Engineering, Arts and Sciences and Agriculture and Life Sciences, according to Friedman. Additions include new projectors, cameras and sound systems for an improved lecture experience, as well as wireless capabilities for interactivity, she added.

This modification has led to a different classroom classification system in order to better account for the different purposes, Friedman said.

“A standard classroom where you have a person in the front of the room is one type,” Friedman said. “But then there are rooms where you have to have videoconferencing … where there’s a lot of interaction between people in [the] room and other places. And then there’s a concept called ‘active learning’ classrooms, where the emphasis is on flexibility.”

Friedman also said the department is looking into personalized solutions designed around the specific faculty members who use each type of room. Since each faculty member has his or her own preference for using technology member has his or her own preference for using technology to teach, the department must balance standardization with customization, according to Friedman.

“Different faculty are going to use different pieces of equipment,” Friedman said. “Some of the faculty may want to project wirelessly [and] walk around the room … others need lecture cameras … some want students to project.”

To resolve this issue, the Academic Technologies Center is instituting a loaner system where faculty members can borrow certain types of equipment on a semester basis to be installed into their classrooms, according to Friedman, who says this not only allows for personalization, but also lets resources keep up with changes in technology.

“We don’t want to … commit to technology that is going to change within the next two years,” Friedman said. “For example, one of these products is the Apple TV, which has had an update pretty much every year since it came out. We don’t want to buy a hundred Apple TVs now and have 10 people use them, and then find out in two years, the functionality is so much better and have 50 people … want that one.”

For the long term, Friedman says CIT wants to concentrate on matching up faculty with the technology they want while standardizing it so that it will be easier to learn how to use devices across campus.

“From our work this summer, we have learned the importance of getting the technology to the right people,” Friedman said, “[and also] making it so that how to use the equipment is crystal-clear to the faculty so that they don’t have to spend time learning how to do things, that they can spend more of their time focusing on classes.”

Han Wang grad said that while he expresses concern that the interactive technologies might slow down the pacing of classes, he is interested in how the more visual aspects of the new upgrades — such as lecture capture cameras — may help his teaching.

“These ideas [like lecture cameras] are better,” he said. “The slides are just a way to present the lecture. It’s not the whole class. What’s more important is the way you describe [the lesson]. The video [captured] is a better alternative.”

Keyi Ruan ’18 acknowledges the potential for this new technology to be useful, but says that it also can detract from the lectures themselves.

“Sometimes I have a hard time seeing the professor’s writing, so if we have more interaction, it’s good,” she said. “At the same time, people might be distracted because of the technology.”