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Experimental classroom turning heads

May 23, 2011

Click to see more photos

The University of Notre Dame designed room B011 in the DeBartolo Classroom Building to support collaborative learning in a technology rich environment. A small number of classes used it in Fall 2010 and the load increased in the spring. Next fall the room is booked nearly solid, with a waiting list for some time slots. The university does not promote the room as “the classroom of the future.” It Is a space that can help meet the teaching and learning needs of certain courses.

Capabilities

  • Flexible seating– maximum of 32 students, eight movable rectangular tables. See sample seating arrangements or you can download a floorplan (PNG)
  • Whiteboard walls – every wall surface acts as a whiteboard and markers are provided. There is no chalkboard.
  • Student computers – eight Mac Minis are mounted on a rack in a closet; each one is controlled by a wireless keyboard and mouse, and the video signal can be directed to any display in the room
  • Equipment cart– can be moved within a five-foot range; equipped with Windows and Macintosh computers, a laptop hookup, a document camera, and a DVD/CD player.
  • Flat screen displays– two 60″ displays on each wall (8 total) and four ceiling-mounted 40″ displays in the center of the room (like a JumboTron). Each one can be independently connected to any video source. There is no traditional projection screen.
  • Auxiliary Input – under each wall display are VGA and HDMI jacks; they allow video from a laptop, tablet, camera, etc. to be directed to any screen
  • Sound system – quality speakers flush-mounted in the dropped ceiling
  • Lighting – all lights are dimmable (unfortunately, the room has no outside windows)

Take a virtual walk through the room

To provide a better sense of how the room “feels,” we created a three-dimensional simulation of the facility. It runs in a web browser and requires the Unity Web Player plugin (not available for iOS).

What we have observed

During the first year we have noticed several patterns. There were technical issues, but we are not going to get into them in this article. What follows are general reactions to the functionality of the room. This is neither an objective assessment nor a thorough one. Rather, it’s the beginning of a conversation.

  1. There is no “front of the room” because there are screens on all four walls. There is also no podium and the instructor station sits in the corner.
  2. Students love the whiteboard walls, especially for brainstorming. When you ask them to write on the wall it’s like they’re being encouraged to misbehave.
  3. Flexible seating has been a real asset. Tables can be placed against the walls or arranged to suit the task at hand.
  4. The wireless keyboards and large screens seem to make group collaboration easier.
  5. It takes time to set up multiple screens or technologies for a class. The professor can do it before class or students can help when they arrive. We will become more proactive in providing this kind of support.
  6. Because of the complex options available, faculty need a thorough orientation to the room early in the semester. Later sessions might include meeting with fellow users to share strategies.
  7. The sheer amount of technology has psychological effects. On seeing the room for the first time, many people feel intimidated. It feels conspicuous when you are not using the technology.

If you have a similar learning space, please consider sharing a description or experiences in a comment.

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