The Classroom of the Future

(Which should have been here today already)

Ron K. Cytron

NB: Document under construction!

With the new Lab Sciences and Whittaker buildings complete, I thought it reasonable to evaluate the state of technology with regard to classroom equipment installed for the purposes of facilitating the Educational Experience.

I teach twice a week in Lab Sciences 300, and I have guest-lectured in Whittaker 218. I have also seen many other rooms around campus that boast of "modern" facilities for teaching. What follows is my evaluation of what we have and some ideas of where we should have been by now.

What do we have?

My overall impression is that the facilities installed today are over-packaged and under-useful.
Screens and shades
Almost all of the rooms have buttons one can push to raise and lower: Activiating any one of the above turns on a loud, slow motor that raises or lowers its subject with great fanfare and drama.
Network access
Most of the rooms have some form of wired access, and many now have wireless. To use the wired access points, say for a laptop, you have to register yourself on a webpage, where you are asked to supply your password for a computing system you use on campus. Last time I checked, that page wasn't secure, and giving away your password is usually a bad idea.

The wireless support uses BlueSocket for verification--a much better idea in my opinion.

Computer in the room
Most of the rooms offer a computer at the front, that already has network access and can supply video for the projector. The computer is usually in a locked cabinet, and you have to go by the Women's building to check out a key to use it.

The computer's power is usually controlled by the master panel for the projector and other equipment, so telling the panel to power down usually drops power from the computer, leaving its filesystem in a bad state.

Also, the software I install on the computer for teaching in the room can be (and has been) wiped out at the whim of those who maintain the computer. I typically install the Emacs/Java environment the students use so I can demonstrate various things while teaching. I've been surprised a couple of times when I've gone in to teach and the computer's disk has been wiped clean and reinstalled.

My big complaint

The rooms and the equipment were designed for one of two things: Switching back and forth between video and chalkboard is difficult and tedious in every room I've seen, including the newest building on campus.

Why is this? It's because the screen for video projection is placed in the middle of the front of the room, where it hides the chalkboards when it descends. To switch to chalk, you have to raise the screen, mute the picture, bring up the lights. It can be done, but it's loud, slow, and inconvenient.

Classroom of the Future (which should be here today already)

We've had the technology to put together an amazing classroom, but it has not happened yet.

Why, you ask?

Because the expensive new buildings and their classrooms are constructed without consulting those of us who have to teach in them. So, for the record, I'm publishing what I'd like finally to see in a classroom in the hopes that someday somebody with the will to do so will make this happen.