Appendix 3: Smart and Virtual Classrooms - Teaching, Learning, Technology Roundtable - St. Cloud State University

Appendix 3: Smart and Virtual Classrooms

The design of electronic teaching spaces can have a substantial impact on their use. The equipment has to be transparent -- predictable, simple to understand and easy to use. Anybody who uses these instructional spaces should be able to expect support and training.

In addition, the technologically rich spaces SCSU currently has are not well suited to teaching and learning. Better environments have a low level of ambient noise and sophisticated lighting controls. Because the equipment itself adds to the noise level and because they may be doing more cooperative and collaborative projects, students in a technological instructional space need to be able to hear and see everyone in the class. Also, once they are more accustomed to using computers, students are more likely to begin bringing computers to class, which means the small tablet desks will be inadequate for all the materials needed for class.

When technological instructional spaces are designed, attention needs to be paid to ergonomics. The electrical, networking, atmospheric and furniture needs of technologically rich instructional spaces are different from the requirements of traditional classrooms, which means that budgets for instructional spaces must include money for the ambient environment. Budgets must also include money for technical support personnel, who may need to be in the room during classes, who may need to provide ongoing maintenance and who may need to assist instructors as well as the University itself in the design and maintenance of these rooms.

Electronic Media Delivery System

At present, audio-visual equipment (VCRs and monitors) must be transported across campus, an inefficient and costly method of supporting the instructional process. With the telecommunications infrastructure currently deployed throughout the campus, we are well prepared to implement a new approach in the delivery of instructional support materials to the classroom. An campus-wide Electronic Media Delivery system is designed around a high-speed digital server upon which instructional support materials would reside. This server should be capable of storing video, graphics, audio files and any other materials that could be coded to the digital domain and then accessed from classrooms over the campus data network. This Electronic Media Delivery system would support simultaneous, multiple users accessing the same materials at random locations within the program.

Basic level of instructional technology

We recommend that over a five-year period all commonly used classrooms be equipped with a basic level of instructional technology, including the following:

  • data connection with bandwidth capable of video on demand or video conferencing
  • video/data projection system capable of displaying current computer-scanrates
  • electronic overhead/visualizer
  • videotape playback (VCR)
  • projection screen
  • telephone with conferencing capabilities
  • instructor's station with laptop connection

Smart Classrooms

In addition to the technology available in the "basic" or traditional classroom, smart classrooms need to have technology that allows the teacher or leader to broadcast or project materials. Such additional technology might include the following:

  • an instructor's station with a built-in multimedia PC
  • a smart board (electronic white board)
  • a means of projecting materials from the local PC or the Web onto the projection screen

Computer Classrooms

In addition to the technology available in smart classrooms, computer classrooms need to have technology that allows students to work at their own computers. Such additional technology might include the following:

  • adequate ethernet connections for all student desktop computers in the room to be able to be used simultaneously
  • an adequate workstation for each student, including a good-quality monitor, speakers and sound card, and so on
  • sufficient RAM for multitasking and multiple open windows
  • sufficient printers

Distance Education

For rooms able to be used for distance learning, some or all of the following to the basic and smart classroom level of technology would be needed:

  • Media control system (touch panel)
  • Fiber-optic connections to the Distance Learning Network Operations Center
  • Cameras, microphones and sound system
  • Student tables hot-wired with data and power connections

For SCSU to successfully implement virtual classrooms, the following list of tools is needed:

  • A secure, high capacity, expandable Web server dedicated solely to virtual classrooms
  • Web support personnel to deal with technical and pedagogical issues
  • Software for online discussion forums and rooms and student progress tracking
  • High speed remote access (modem) providing greater than current supported speeds (33.6 Kbs)