U makes an effort to raise level of available technology on campus

Molly Moker

After being one of the least technology-savvy schools in the Big Ten, the University has worked itself up to being a premiere technology institution, University officials said.

Director of Classroom Management Steve Fitzgerald said the University adopted the General Purpose Classroom Technology Upgrade Plan in 2000. The plan addressed the lack of technology in classrooms and the problems it was causing students and professors, he said.

“The plan needed to meet the needs of faculty, by giving technology to teach with, and the needs of students to learn on,” he said.

Fitzgerald presented the first update of the plan since 2000 to the Board of Regents on May 13, 2004.

Although Fitzgerald said the plan is two years behind schedule, the regents were pleased with the classroom upgrades.

“I try to go into the classrooms every so often and I was just blown away with the technology,” Regents Chairman David Metzen said. “This is right on.”

Metzen said amongst wage freezes and other factors, technology plays a big role in recruiting and keeping faculty members.

“It’s issues like this that people use to decide if they’re staying or leaving,” he said. “If you don’t have the tools of the trade, (faculty members) don’t think we care about them.”

In 2000, Fitzgerald said 65 percent of general classrooms on the Twin Cities campus were without any data or video projection technology.

Now 67 percent of general classrooms are fully equipped and meet the projection-capable classroom standard.

“This is a rapid and dramatic turnaround,” Fitzgerald said.

University President Bob Bruininks, who implemented the plan while he was a provost in 2000, said he is happy with the technology at the University.

“I’m very proud of the investment we have made in technology and the progress and impacts of it,” he said. “We are truly a leader in adopting technology.”

Although improvements have been made since the upgrades began, Bruininks said the University still has progress to make, despite lack of state funding.

“We still have a great deal of distance to go and the capital bonding bill didn’t get passed,” he said. “I’m very hopeful that the bill will pass so we can vastly expand and improve our initiatives.”

So far, 200 out of the 300 general-purpose classrooms have received the technology upgrade. Fitzgerald said the upgrade is basic, but gives faculty and students what they need.

“It’s a Toyota Camry-level program, it’s not a Cadillac,” he said. “It’s reliable and affordable, but it’s not gold-plated.”

Some things included in an upgraded room are fixed data and video projection capability, instructor access to the internet and user-friendly laptop interface.

Each room also has a hotline phone, which professors can use to call for help if they get confused while operating their technology. Each upgraded room operates in the same way, so answering questions and fixing problems is not hard, Fitzgerald said.

Faculty also have access to step-by-step directions available on the Internet. The Web site shows pictures and gives directions that are specific to each classroom.

Rooms can have specialized features added as well if they will be used for particular reasons.

Students said technology helps them in the classroom.

“Technology doesn’t help me learn, but it makes things easier,” recent University graduate Helmut Rattenberger said. “It’s a step backwards if the classroom doesn’t have the technology that you have at home.”

Rattenberger said he spent time in both the Carlson School of Management and the College of Liberal Arts. Though he said CLA still needs to catch up with its technology, overall he was happy with what he had access to.

The upgrade for all 300 classrooms was scheduled to conclude at the end of the month, but due to funding issues, 100 classrooms still need to be upgraded, Fitzgerald said. He said he predicts the upgrades will be finished in two years.

“We haven’t been as well-supported by the state as we thought we would,” he said. “We’re just scurrying around trying to find funding,”

When everything is finished, Fitzgerald said the upgrade will cost about $7 million. So far, $4.2 million has been spent, he said.