This month’s issue of Campus Technology has an article by Dian Schaffhauser (Incubating Next-Gen.Edu) wherein she discusses how universities across the country are learning from each other to create new technology-enhanced classrooms to enhance the student learning experience.
"Incubator classrooms", as she calls them, usually have a number of distinguishing features: multiple projector/video displays, pods of computer workstations, collaboration software, and SMART boards. The real difference seems to be in how the technology is deployed in any given learning space and for what purpose they are deployed as determined by faculty and university administrators.
For instance, the University of California-Riverside has a standard set of technology deployed for all of its centrally-scheduled classrooms (much as we do here at Missouri S&T, though UC-Riverside had their standards established a few years before we did). However, they also have a set of "flex classrooms" which have additional technology above and beyond the standard baseline level of technology. Finally, they have their premiere showcase facility–the Hyperstruction Studio, which debuted its first course in January 2008. After looking at the Hyperstruction Studio web site, it seems as though the room is equipped with technology similar to our own University Center Technology Classroom (UCTC). The presentation displays in the room are connected to Dell Optiplex GX280 PC machines, which is about the equivalent of the lower-end systems found in a few CLCs here on campus. Students use Gateway M285-E tablet PCs, which are stored on a cart in the classroom when they are not in use (students can bring their own laptops, too). The Hyperstruction Studio does have a few added features that our UCTC does not, such as 42" plasma displays and videoconferencing capabilities. We do have videoconferencing capability elsewhere on campus (CS 212/213), just not in the UCTC.
Hyperstruction Studio at UC-Riverside — Click and hold the mouse on the image above to rotate 360° around the room (Quicktime plugin required).
Also in California, Santa Clara University recently built a $95 million facility (Santa Clara is located in Silicon Valley, so money apparently isn’t an issue there like it is on our campus) that houses its Learning Commons, Technology Center, and Library. This brand new facility is home to a number of classrooms that include neo-traditional learning spaces such as the one described above at UC-Riverside as well as very small "educational experimentation rooms" where instructors can explore the potential uses of new technology before rolling it out on a larger scale.
One of the more interesting aspects of Santa Clara’s facility is a room that allows the instructor to redesign the space for different learning applications on a whim, more or less. The room has a very flexible power grid that means an instructor can completely reconfigure the design space in about 30 minutes (using the already existing technology, of course). In actuality, it appears as though they have a few standard configurations that they can set up fairly quickly depending on needs.
Although this article describes a number of physical learning spaces suitable for the Net-Gen, Schaffhauser completely omits the possibility of using a virtual learning environment to have even more flexibility in learning spaces. On nice sunny days, students would really like to have the option to sit outside and enjoy the weather, even if they have to suffer through class at the same time. How nice would it be if an instructor could push out the content of a course to a class of students via their laptop. Alternatively, all of the students in the class could login to a set of virtual machines that contains the software and tools they need for the course.
Right now, Missouri S&T is about on par with the other institutions described in this article in terms of alternative technology-enhanced learning spaces. If we are behind in some areas, we are also moving forward in other areas. We have brand new collaborative learning space in Computer Science 212 and 213, we are upgrading a number of classrooms in the near future to be more aligned with current trends in collaborative spaces (IDE 105, IDE 206, McNutt 114, Physics 104, and more are all in the design phase). This campus has also upgraded its wireless coverage in the past couple of years and also increased the storage space available for email and personal files.
One thing to keep in mind when designing a new learning space is the physical amount of space available for a) students, b) equipment, c) furniture. A typical technology-enhanced classroom will have enough space for 20-40 students (on this campus, 40 students may be pushing it in most classrooms). The cost for equipping a classroom with technology enhancements (which also includes considerable work by Physical Facilities to install the infrastructure and make any other necessary improvements such as carpeting or paint) is around $20K-30K. The only real limitation on the quality of the equipment is whatever your budget can support. We could theoretically install holography systems in every classroom, but who’s going to pay for it?
We are also exploring virtual learning spaces in conjunction with the MBA program here on campus. Dr. Bih-Ru Lea used a virtual desktop environment for a pilot program this past fall and gave us some very positive feedback on her experiences.