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UMass Lowell Gets Smart

University Installing 80 Smart Classroom, Thanks to Stimulus Funding

Lisa Abdallah
Lisa Abdallah

By Sarah McAdams

A recent study revealed that eight out of 10 students want universities to overhaul traditional learning environments to include more technology and collaboration.

UMass Lowell is on the leading edge of making that happen. Thanks to $750,000 in federal stimulus funds appropriated last year, the University is installing 80 “smart classrooms” to help faculty explain complex topics to students by using all available media - access to the Internet, collaboration tools, video and audio.

With this upgrade, about 90 percent, or 150, classrooms on campus are “smart,” or “technology-enhanced,” says Mike Lucas, director of instructional technology support.

Lucas’ group, Information Technology Services, has been installing the systems from the start of the project, and will continue to maintain the classrooms after completion of the project.

The University’s technology-enhanced classrooms are categorized into either Tier 1 or Tier1+ designations. Tier 1 classrooms include a teaching podium, computer, digital document camera, DVD/VCR player, laptop connection, network connection, integrated sound and a system that controls all audio and video from the lectern.
The Tier 1+ classrooms include all Tier 1 components, as well as a Smart Technologies Sympodium, an interactive LCD touchscreen that acts like an electronic writing tablet with the ability to save, share and print class notes.

For instance, a professor could open a series of PowerPoint slides on the Sympodium, which would also be shown on a large projector. As he lectures from the slides, he could make additions and notes on the slides using the Sympodium’s touch screen and pen; those notes would appear immediately on the projector screen. He could then save the updated slides and send them to a website, e-mail them to students or print them. See some examples of Sympodium in use

Both tiers of smart classrooms allow faculty to easily present electronic material to students.

“The systems increase the reliability of the room equipment and allow faculty to use a ‘turn-key’ system,” Lucas says. “They can just walk in and within a minute or so, are able to present their materials. It also allows faculty to bring their own laptop into the classroom environment and easily connect to the projection system.”

It also helps faculty more easily connect with students ߝ and ensure that complex subjects are making sense to them. Studies show that with adequate teacher preparation, technology greatly facilitates teaching of abstract concepts and problem-solving, as well as basic skills.

“The funds helped outfit our lecture halls with technology that lets us know on the spot whether critical concepts are understood by our nursing students,” says Assoc. Prof. Lisa Abdallah of the Nursing Department.

Students benefit by having access to online material, rich media learning and streaming media technologies encompassed in an easy-to-use setup.

“Taking class with technology definitely makes learning more interesting - a professor is finally able to show you the clip she’s talking about, or show a picture he’s talking about, or play a song,” says Jessica Provan, a senior English major.

Students can use the same “turn-key” technology when it’s their turn to present to the class. And, as Provan notes, this generation of students expects to use such technology in every aspect of their lives.

“Students in my generation are very technologically savvy,” she says. “We’ve learned to use anything with a touch screen or mouse and have grown up with the technological boom - it's a huge part of our culture.”

Not sure how to integrate technology into your classroom? The Faculty Development Center can help; it’s offering several “Classroom-Integrated Technology Quick-Info Sessions” through April 16. No registration is required. For information, visit the FDC website.