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High-tech classrooms in UI’s near future

BY MORGAN OLSEN | FEBRUARY 18, 2010 7:30 AM

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A new project is underway in the UI Main Library. Just past the Information Arcade, a room is being transformed into an interactive high-tech classroom.

UI officials have started to build several of these technology-assisted classrooms around campus.

Another is located in MacLean Hall.

These classrooms are becoming reality through the UI Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage program, with the help of the Office of the Provost, Information Technology Services, and the Center for Teaching.

Inspiration for the project came from classrooms in use at the University of Minnesota and North Carolina State. Jean Florman, the director of the UI Center for Teaching, visited the University of Minnesota last year to sit in on a biology class using the technology.

“Everyone was extremely engaged and busy working through problems,” she said in describing the class of approximately 112 students.

“There aren’t many people in the professional world who sit behind a desk and don’t talk to anyone during the day,” said Beth Ingram, the associate provost for undergraduate education. “You have to problem solve with others, and this will help students learn those skills.”

The classroom under construction in the library will have six round tables, each accommodating nine students. Students will work on computers and have a central computer mounted on a wall near their table. The classroom has one central screen, which the professor can use to post important information.

Some have expressed concerns these classrooms could take away from the teaching process.

“I think the technology would be beneficial,” UI sophomore Natasha Santos said. “I just wouldn’t want to see a decrease in face-to-face communication between students and teachers.”

While Ingram understood the concern, she said, the classrooms are meant for student and professor interaction and that professors would still lead the class.

“The classrooms aren’t about just sitting in front of a computer,” Ingram said. “It’s about interaction and a new way of thinking.”

While officials face some troubles with budget cuts, the program is moving forward with alternative funding.

Maggie Jesse, the ITS instructional-services manager, estimated the classroom being built in the library cost the UI $290,000. The price tag could fluctuate with varying classroom sizes.

Ingram said officials are considering several different size classrooms scattered across campus. Each room would hold anywhere from 20 to 100 students.

High-tech labs will be built in existing classrooms so the costs lie in computers, chairs, projectors, and some remodeling.

The project is around a year old, and officials have held two meetings for faculty and staff interested in integrating technology into the classroom. Each meeting brought in nearly 40 to 50 faculty members, Ingram said.

Faculty using the classrooms would undergo training on how to use the facilities at the Center for Teaching.

Ingram said courses in business, sciences, and humanities will likely lend themselves well to these high-tech classrooms.

“These will work best with classes using discussion in conjunction with exploration-based learning,” she said.


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