U will upgrade classroom technology

To date, the University has spent $4.5 million to upgrade 193 classrooms.

Tricia Michel

The Office of Classroom Management is midway through a campus-wide classroom technology upgrade that several instructors said will make teaching more convenient.

Five years ago, University classroom technology was lagging behind many K-12 schools, classroom management director Steve Fitzgerald said. Since then, the University has become a leader among universities.

The University formed the Office of Classroom Management in 1999 to improve learning environments and allocated $7 million to upgrade classroom technology.

Once the project is completed, all 307 campus classrooms will be equipped with projectors, Internet connections and other standard technology.

To date, the University has spent $4.5 million to upgrade 193 classrooms. The project was expected to be complete by 2004, but budget cuts have pushed estimated completion to 2006.

University professors said they are pleased with the upgrades, and many said they depend on technology to teach.

Social sciences professor David Knoke said he regularly uses PowerPoint slide presentations because they are convenient.

Art history professor Catherine Asher said she sees how the technology could be handy, but that it is not perfect.

“I don’t like the color. It’s very untrue,” Asher said of new classroom projectors.

Some students, however, said classroom technology can be an annoyance.

Political science major Dave Weiss said classes have become too structured because professors are lecturing with PowerPoint rather than discussing main ideas from the text.

Some physics students are experiencing the pros and cons of technology through a departmental experiment that requires them to pay $36.

The physics department recently spent $10,000 dollars on two electronic response systems used to encourage participation and track class statistics.

Students use a handheld device that looks like TV remote control to send answers to a computer at the front of the room, which are then compiled into a graph displayed on a large screen.

Professors can use the tracking systems to see which topics students struggle with.

Astronomy and physics professor Ken Heller said because the computer tracks individual student responses, it makes it easier to monitor class participation in classes of 300 or more.

Heller said while no technology works perfectly, the system is a fast way to improve communication between professors and students.

Physics students, however, disagree.

Nolan Hoistad said he dropped a course when told he would have to buy the remote control for class.

Shannon Fansler said $36 is too much money for a remote that does not always work. Fansler destroyed her first remote jamming a screw into the wrong hole and was had to purchase a new one.

University Bookstores have sold 1,705 remotes so far, but used remotes will be available next semester for $27.

Heller said the physics department will re-evaluate the remote system at the end of the semester but said he is hopeful the remotes will stay.

Other Big Ten schools are also working on technology upgrades, but low demand and funding problems have put some projects on hold.

Ohio State University is working on similar classroom technology upgrades and hopes to complete them by 2004, said Greg Rickabaugh, Ohio State’s assistant director of classroom technology.

Its improvements include wireless technology and two-way video.

Brian Rust, an information technology specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Madison is only making upgrades when necessary because too much technology can be distracting.