Low Plaza

New Smart Room Utilizes Technology to Enhance Teaching and Learning Process

By Lauren Marshall

Marc Meyer uses smart board to access online documents

Because of the wide TV-like screen, the classroom overlooking Lewisohn lawn might feel a bit like a living room, if it weren't for the16 students and two professors in front of it. Here in 308 Lewisohn, technology plus traditional lecture equals a new kind of learning experience for students, and a creative but surprisingly natural teaching experience for professors.

308 Lewisohn is one of the newest smart classrooms on the Columbia campus and the only one created by the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL). It is an experimental classroom designed to help faculty use technology to enrich the learning process by engaging students in analytic and creative situations. Here the technology of fortune 500 boardrooms is at work for the benefit of education and everything, from wireless access to the easy-to-move tables, is an element added to bring endless possibilities to teaching and learning.

"The purpose of the experimental digital classroom is have a laboratory for testing new classroom technologies that is also part of the living enterprise of the University," said Frank Moretti, executive director of CCNMTL. "We have been able to learn directly from our faculty collaborators the efficacy of different technologies as they are being used in classroom practice."

Peter Awn, religion professor and dean of the School of General Studies (GS), and Marc Meyer, adjunct professor of religion, both experienced in teaching with multimedia, were among the faculty to sign up when the CCNMTL smart room opened last semester. In their team-taught, seminar-style GS class, Ancient and Classical Traditions, they used the smartboard to access multimedia resources, online documents and interactive tools that were built for outside class use as study environments or resources. The technology did not dominate the classroom or dwarf the professors, it was just another tool.

"What we are not doing is asking students to give up their books, but rather to use these resources to enhance their studies. And they work so well together to accomplish that goal," said Awn. "By using technology in this course we can address one of the great drawbacks of studying texts from diverse time periods and cultures out of historical context. Web resources become study environments in which to locate these texts and ideas historically."

Easy and unobtrusive, the smart board enhanced the teaching and learning experience in the course by displaying existing multi-media resources that apply to the texts studied so that the entire class could view them and comment together. The teaching and learning process equally engaged the professors/guides and the students/knowledge explorers, who were able to creatively use the resources before them.

Marc Meyer and John Frankfurt use technology to team-teach a GS colloquium

"To make a student-centered class, you can't come up with an agenda and then resist deviating from it," said Meyer. "Peter and I are of the opinion that even though they don't have a wealth of experiential knowledge, that doesn't mean that students shouldn't be involved in developing the curriculum. To use technology in the classroom in this manner is to discover the process of designing curriculum in the moment."

Awn and Meyer enhanced the natural rhythm of the class using the technology. While Awn speaks about the influence of St. Augustine on the Judeo Christian tradition, Meyer might be tracing invisible lines on the smartboard screen to scroll through the online multimedia study environment On Christian Doctrine that he helped CCNMTL to build. There he could quickly access texts that applied to the day's discussion topic. Meyer might find a video clip from a BBC production that related to the discussion on St. Augustine, click on it and ask the students to comment on how it applies to what they have read. Or the smartboard might be entirely forgotten, as the natural discourse between several students carried the discussion in a completely new direction.

But at any given point, Meyer could scroll through an online resource, find a passage from an ancient text that applies to the discussion and ground it again in text by inviting the students to read and comment on the text together.

"The purposeful use of technology should be as seamless a process as possible," said Meyer. "It is as if you have a chef in the kitchen who doesn't think about the technology assisting him or her, but just uses it intuitively. It takes a time commitment and practice to get there, but the benefits to the student are tangible because you can see in the middle of a discussion how it can enhance understanding of the subject."

In Awn and Meyer's classroom, the smart board was used in a variety of ways. The group could also post or access different resources on the same subject together on the screen and easily compare them in class. Or video, audio, image and text could be pulled up as a point of departure for conversation, which helped to engage student interest through the sight and sound.

In addition to content-rich CCNMTL-developed resources, such as On Christian Doctrine, Awn and Meyer also used the smart board to employ CCNMTL-developed tools to enhance learning. Third Space, an online work space where video clips can be annotated and shared over the Internet, enabled students to view video of Joseph Campbell's acclaimed series The Power of Myth, and post on the class bulletin board responses, comments, and even their favorite clip demonstrating a theme discussed in class. Both professors and students also used the CU Analyzer, a tool that enables the user to easily compile a multimedia presentation or product by pulling items off the Internet and organizing them for presentation. Professors used the tool to organize and prepare discussions with multi-media resources and students used it to prepare their final class project.

"It is almost like my class now has a desktop," said one faculty member in an evaluation of the space last semester. "I go to class and I bring my briefcase, now my briefcase is in the classroom and everyone can look at it."

Published: Feb 04, 2002
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002

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