Technological Instructional Spaces - Teaching, Learning, Technology Roundtable - St. Cloud State University

Technological Instructional Spaces


  • SCSU will provide ongoing training and support to enable all members of the university community who want to teach in a technologically rich environment and incorporate technology into their instruction.
  • Over a five-year period, all commonly used classrooms will be enhanced with electronic instructional technology, ranging from basic equipment to highly sophisticated environments used for applications like ITV, distance education and specialized, discipline-specific environments.
  • SCSU will commit to installing, maintaining and upgrading instructional technology.

The TLTR recognizes that all instructional spaces, like all teachers and all students, are not the same. The design of technologically rich instructional spaces needs to allow for a variety of teaching and learning styles as well as the practices of the different disciplines and the requirements of different purposes.

Traditional classrooms, which are essentially simple instructional spaces, are flexible and remain useful for many courses and instructors. Beyond them, however, we need a graduated series of technological richness: smart classrooms, computer classrooms, distance-education environments and discipline-specific spaces. (Traditional classrooms, which require what we call a "basic" level of technology, are discussed along with the other kinds of instructional spaces, in Appendix 3: Smart and Virtual Classrooms.)

Finally, the TLTR recognizes that not all spaces used for instruction are classrooms used by students and faculty; some are used for training other members of the academic community. A technologically rich room can be used for instruction, both on-site and remote, for example, and it can be used for making cultural events available to students at remote sites. Some of these rooms might be used by members of the university community for meetings with colleagues at other places within MnSCU as well as both within and outside of Minnesota. These spaces require technology and support as well and are included in our thinking about technological instructional spaces.

Technologically complex instructional spaces require specialized instructional design and support, which can range from new materials constructed by instructors themselves to the on-site support of a technician who is available full time to assist the teacher or discussion leader while the class or event is going on. The experience of many instructors using technology is that the development of electronic course materials is evolutionary, arising from more traditional classroom practice and developing step by step into practice that is appropriate for distance or remote learning situations. The MnSCU Strategic Plan, Goal 4, "Electronic Education," seeks the "integration" of "electronically delivered and campus-based education." (Summary of Strategic Goals)

Smart Classrooms

Smart classrooms are essentially traditional in the sense that they support teacher-centered, lecture- or demonstration-format classwork. Most of the technology needs to be available to the instructor for amplifying and broadcasting to the students. Many who lecture or make formal presentations will want to move to a smart classroom, enabling them to use presentation software or illustrate points with material from the Web, for example. The university should equip small numbers of smart classrooms and increase the number of such classrooms as more and more members of the university community request them. Some reliable, frequent means of making certain that the technology in the room is working and functional -- technological support -- will be necessary.

(Appendix 3: Smart and Virtual Classrooms offers a fuller discussion of electronic learning environments, including smart classrooms, and lists the kinds of technologies that might be found in them.)

Computer Classrooms

Computer classrooms differ from smart classrooms in the kind and amount of technology necessary. Computer classrooms, sometimes called computer labs, have desktop units for each student and offer an instructional environment in which students work experientially, sometimes collaboratively and sometimes on their own projects. Not all curricula should be taught in computer classrooms, so not all instructional spaces should be converted, but we are in need of a greater number and a better quality of computer classroom right now. In computer classrooms, or in any complex instructional space, technical support may need to be onsite, especially during classes.

Some disciplines have worked out collaborative arrangements with Academic Computer Services, using facilities as classrooms for some hours of the day and as open computer labs the rest of the time. Such arrangements should be encouraged wherever possible, especially when they can make best and fullest use of the technology and technological spaces. (Appendix 3: Smart and Virtual Classrooms offers a fuller discussion of electronic learning environments, including computer classrooms, and lists their special requirements.)

Distance Education

SCSU will commit to taking leadership in using technological environments to expand student opportunities for engaging with educational curriculum, whether generated by SCSU or other educational institutions. SCSU will look carefully at the opportunities offered by the Minnesota Virtual University (MnVU) for offering our own expertise and courses, for making greater professional development opportunities available for the members of our community and for information and services available to our students, including, for example, Internet registration, class lists, course materials, information about our personnel and resources, campus and area maps and schedules of upcoming activities.

Distance education is any instructional course delivered to remote (off-campus) locations via audio, video or computer technologies (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997). Although an institution can expand its enrollment with distance education, students may choose to take their distance education courses from institutions other than their "home" institution. (SCSU should allow students to transfer in "distance ed" credits, developing a policy that assures their quality and aligns with the rest of its transfer practice.)

The decision to transform a course into a "distance ed" course should be based, first, upon pedagogical principles -- in particular, the needs of the students -- rather than primarily as a revenue stream. Successful distance education, whose purpose is to expand learning and teaching opportunities and to offer education to students normally not able to enroll, involves a great deal more than the actual technology for delivering course materials. It involves training for teachers and students, a clear pedagogical purpose, and institutional support.

Opportunities should be available for students at remote sites to interact with other students, whether remote or on campus, outside of scheduled class hours. An attempt should be made to include distance-education students in cultural and co-curricular activities and to enable co-curricular support centers like the Academic Learning Center, the Write Place and the Counseling Center to offer their services remotely as well.

A number of constituencies who would be good candidates for distance-education courses include other MnSCU colleges and universities, the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Virtual University (MnVU), P-12 schools and businesses and industry in partnership with SCSU. Preference should go to Minnesota citizens and agencies, and then to other constituencies, including regional, national and international.

Distance-education instructional spaces
A distance-education instructional space, a virtual classroom, can be nothing more than an ITV camera aimed at a faculty member in an otherwise traditional classroom, or it can be a rich environment that allows faculty and students at remote sites to interact real-time using a variety of synchronous and asynchronous capabilities for video, audio, text and graphical communication. Members of the university community who are creative in coming up with pedagogically sound and innovative virtual classrooms should be rewarded and supported as far as possible.

Discipline-specific technology needs

Many disciplines have a need for special technology and specialized teaching and learning installations. These technologies often require secure, supervised sites and discipline-specific technology because special expertise is needed even to operate the equipment. These instructional and research spaces cannot by their nature be available to the general university population, and their status, which is critical to the missions of the disciplines, are not that of an instructional space that can be used interdisciplinarily or for a number of applications or as an open computer lab. A wide range of discipline-specific technology exists throughout the university. Although it is impossible to be exhaustive, a few examples of some discipline-specific installations might be

  • a human performance testing lab
  • a chemistry department high-technology analysis lab
  • an earth science meteorology lab that uses down links from remote sites and electronic platforms
  • a spatial analysis lab that uses computers in a manner that requires specialized equipment, software, input and output devices not generally available in general purpose computer rooms
  • a biological department that uses unusually expensive equipment in the analysis of trace elements
  • a broadcasting television or radio studio
  • a theatre that needs specialized lighting, sound and scenery equipment
  • a lab for composing, performing, and recording electronic music
  • a computer science Operating Systems and Architecture laboratory

An instructional setting outside of a traditional or electronic classroom, a discipline-specific installation will be used by advanced students. The instructional format is often one of experiential learning where students directly interact with the highly specialized materials of their discipline. A discipline-specific installation is furthermore an integral part of the research activities of faculty and students over and above classroom activities.

Given their specialized nature, each discipline-specific environment should come up with its own goals for operation. A coordinated plan should balance the individual goals of each installation with SCSU's instructional goals and be presented to the TLTR for discussion. (For more discussion of the funding and definition of discipline-specific needs, see Appendix 2: Discipline-specific Needs and Funding.)