Classroom Technology: Working Behind the Scenes
The number of classrooms on the JMU campus that are equipped with audio, video, and internet access grows every semester. Have you ever wondered what is involved in bringing a traditional classroom up to modern expectations for audio, video, and internet connectivity? Libraries and Educational Technologies has a team of technicians in the Classroom Technology (CT) unit who are busy working behind the scenes installing equipment and maintaining those classrooms.
CT technicians include Jim West and Vince Drumheller, who are part of Technical Services East Campus, and Olen Burkholder, O.C. Siron, and Jackie Woolf on West Campus. A new technician, Jeff Roadcap, joins the West Campus team after Thanksgiving; he will also assist in covering early evening hours. Jeff Clark, Director of Media Resources, oversees the CT unit.
Installations: Since 1999, the number of technology classrooms has grown from about 16 to around 175 today. Most of the about 45 of those classrooms on the CISAT campus were installed as part of the overall East Campus building projects. The equipment systems in the technology classrooms on the Bluestone side of campus, however, is installed by CT technicians from scratch. For example, this past summer over 24 new classrooms and teaching labs were installed in Harrison Hall. These technology classrooms replaced seven classrooms and added new ones for the departments which moved into Harrison from other buildings on campus. More recently, two tech classrooms were added in Johnston Hall for the Psychology department and two more were added in Keezel Hall primarily for the English department. The CT staff will soon turn their attention to outfitting some 20 new classrooms in Memorial Hall, to be completed by next summer.
CT technicians typically plan to fund and install technology consoles and equipment at the rate of about seven to ten classrooms per semester, according to Jeff Clark. Special projects such as Harrison and now Memorial Hall, however, have increased that rate dramatically.
Work on a classroom begins with evaluating for technology “friendliness,” taking into account variables such as wiring and lighting. In many older rooms the only previous technology was the chalkboard and an overhead projector for transparencies.
The actual upgrade of a technology classroom takes six to eight hours in the room itself, plus time spent by Facilities Management staff to upgrade electrical and lighting systems. Another six to eight hours is spent outside of the classroom with assembly of the teaching station and testing its systems. The technicians look for strategic times to perform installations, consult with the room users and, if needed, arrange “swing space” where classes can meet on the day the installation takes place. The job is often done on a Friday, and involves moving in the preassembled instructor’s console and connecting the equipment. (Readers may also be interested to know that the instructor’s console used in technology classrooms was designed in-house by CT Manager Olen Burkholder.)
If CT had to limit its installation times to breaks, the unit could upgrade only two or three classrooms per semester, and critical periods for maintenance of installed systems would be compromised, too, Clark noted. As a part of the installation, the room’s locks are changed, so that regular access is limited to the community of authorized tech classroom users.
Maintenance: CT technicians are also responsible for equipment maintenance and troubleshooting. To respond quickly when faculty report technical problems during classes, CT sometimes use bicycles to travel across campus. If a network interruption occurs or a desktop reconfiguration causes unexpected problems, CT technicians must visit the classrooms throughout campus before classes start to make sure computers have re-booted properly. As Jeff Clark points out, West Campus represents a major “legwork challenge.” Checking on classrooms in the new buildings on East Campus is a simpler process by comparison, as they are situated along that major spine through the A1-A3 buildings.
Because of the interaction of classroom computers with campus networks, CT staff need to build skills in networking, directories, and folder structures. They have a close working relationship with Lab Services. LS staff are a central component in the process, Clark adds, in that they develop the classroom computer software setup, and remotely manage update patches and minor revisions as the need arises.
Even at current classroom numbers, the ratio of tech classrooms to CT staff on West Campus is over 40 to 1. This ratio is high when compared to with similar maintenance and tech troubleshooting units at other universities, says Jeff Clark. The addition of a new staff member will help lower JMU’s ratio and make classroom servicing more manageable.
Keeping Up with Emerging Technologies: CT technicians also research new instructional technologies, and attend conferences where they learn about new trends. They already offer technical support for a “classroom response system,” and with the Center for Instructional Technology (CIT). This system, eInstruction’s CRS, has wireless clickers that students can use to punch in responses to multiple choice or true/false questions. Software on the instructor’s computer enables the class to see responses immediately in graph form on the classroom’s screen. These clickers can be useful in very large lecture classes, providing a way for instructors to get immediate feedback.
CT staff are also investigating the use of interactive displays that will allow instructors to visually annotate, highlight, and provide other types of real-time interaction with presentation materials. They also expect to be involved, along with CIT, in devising a consistent, user-friendly way to record and distribute podcasts of lectures and other events in tech classrooms.
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