Technology is transforming higher education, but perhaps nowhere is that change more evident or exciting than at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing. “It’s wonderful and a little bit scary,” says Jerzy “George” Jura, Director of Academic Technology. “We don’t really have traditional lecture halls anymore. Every classroom designed for more than twenty people includes the best available tools for team-based, interactive, problem-based learning, rather than the more traditional lecture-centered approach.
Harness collaborative technology to control and automate sophisticated new learning environments.
For the Doctor of Nursing Practice and Nursing Ph.D. programs, the design team created two-tiered seminar rooms, each of which can hold up to 60 graduate students. “These rooms are the closest thing we have to traditional lecture halls,” Reese explains. They even have video conferencing systems so instructors can bring in guest lecturers or combine their classes with those at other locations. But there are three crucial differences.
First, each flooring level holds two rows of tables, and the tables are built enabling students in the front-most row to turn around and work in groups with those at the tables behind them. When they do so, they can share a laptop to create a full-class presentation or take notes on an 18”x 23” marker-board, a low-tech but very useful device that can be shown on one or both of the side-by-side projection screens.
Second, the tables include push-to-talk microphones at each seat. “You can speak in a normal tone of voice, yet everyone can hear you clearly,” says Dave Ruddy, CompView Account Executive.
Third, the rooms include digital recording systems, so that students can review what was covered at a later time via UW’s video-on-demand server. To facilitate those recordings and classroom-to-classroom video conferences, the microphone buttons each trigger one of three wall-mounted Vaddio cameras to zoom in on the person speaking. If a student mic is not active, the camera system defaults to a shot of the instructor. “It’s always our goal to make the rooms easy to operate, and I think we did that here,” Ruddy adds.
Active Learning Classrooms
For smaller graduate-level and clinical classes, there are two mid-sized ALCs. These have side-by-side Panasonic® projectors and a digital capture/streaming device. Here, however, students work in four groups of eight, and each group has a 55” Sharp® display to share. Shure® push-to-talk boundary mics on the student tables and wireless mics for the instructors make it easy to address the entire class.
CompView installed a “show me” button next to each table-mounted computer input, which eliminates the need for any kind of control panel for the student groups. It triggers a Crestron DMPS-300-C presentation system – which acts as the table’s local switcher, control, and audio system – to switch that laptop to the Sharp display. They press one button if they want to talk and another if they want to show their computer screen to the group.
From a 24” Crestron touch screen, instructors can choose whether their own or student visuals go to the projection screens and the student screens, and they can annotate over those images. A DM 32×32 switcher allows instructors to route any computer or video source to any combination of projectors and displays in the ALC.
For undergraduate baseline classes, the School of Nursing has replaced its largest lecture halls with two active learning classrooms, each designed to hold a full, 153-member first or second-year nursing class. While working in groups, students simply share one of their laptops and its display or take notes on a 23” marker board.
For larger groups, each table shares a 55” Sharp display. When they’re ready to address the group, students use their “show me” button near their seat to send their laptop image to the 55” display. When, they’re ready to address the entire class, there’s a push-to-talk gooseneck microphone as well.
To handle a class so large, instructors typically work in teams of three, either two professors team-teaching with a graduate teaching assistant, or one professor with two TAs. Each wears a Shure wireless mic for those moments when they want to address the entire class. Room control is accomplished via a 15” Crestron touch screen (with annotation) at the podium, or either of two Apple® iPads equipped with the Crestron app.
Jura says the two rooms can also act as a single classroom accommodating over 300 students. “We’ll use them that way during student orientations, when we address the first and second-year classes together.” Once the doorways are open between the rooms, it’s as simple as pressing one button on a Crestron touch screen, and the video, and control systems combine into one. “When the rooms come together, we actually have the largest active learning classroom in the country,” Jura adds.
“Ironically,” Jura says, “I’ll have someone come in and ask, ‘Is it difficult to teach with all that technology?’ ‘No,’ I’ll answer. ‘It can be challenging to come up with good activities. But using the technology, pushing the right buttons, has never been an issue.’”