The University of Toronto’s new “electronic classroom” combines familiar audiovisual equipment, such as slide projectors and VCRs, with such sophisticated equipment as a multi-sync data/video projection system and multi-scene preset dimming controls. Instructors can now electronically enhance their lectures with an integrated user-friendly presentation system.
The Media Center’s Electronic Classroom opened in February, 1995. It is located in the Mechanical Engineering Building in a room that has 358 seats.
The design goal for the electronic classroom was to enhance or improve the learning environment for students and faculty by providing them with an environment equipped with a wide variety of technological options. Classrooms that use a variety of equipment are often not compatible. The room was also designed to be highly intuitive to learn and affordable to purchase and replace components, such as the basic computer that runs it.
To achieve the design goals, the Media Center worked with Adcom Electronics for almost a year to make the Electronic Classroom a reality.
They designed a system with preset dimming control in the podium of the Electronic Classroom that let the lecturer select desired combinations of lighting for recall at the touch of a button. Software integrated all devices-VCR, data/video projector, document camera, and lighting. These two systems came together using icons on a touch screen VGA monitor embedded in the console that served as the room’s control panel. The instructor presses an on-screen button to activate whatever device is needed; for example a VCR player to introduce a short video clip to supplement, augment, or clarify a topic in a lecture. The lectern design emphasizes practicality and includes multi-task functions that are transparent to the user.
With the system, lighting can be preset to optimum levels; for example, 100% for lecture, 50% for videoconferencing, 20% for data or video viewing, spotlight only for demonstration. Lecturers can concentrate on instruction and, at the touch of a button or screen icon, change lighting levels, audio levels or manipulate other equipment as desired. The system defaults to the original setting when turned off – ready for the next lecturer. Lutron Grafik Eye dimming controls provide four preset room scenes and off for touch button recall.
The first user to test the efficacy of the Electronic Classroom involved a professor in Mechanical Engineering. Positive feedback from both students and the professor led to the decision to conduct may additional sessions from the room. The promising results have led to a host of small activities hat have increased the interest on campus. A particularly appealing feature is the ability of instructors, for example, to connect to the network at the Engineering Computing Facility and to bring files from that location to the Electronic Classroom by using an X-terminal. The X-terminal produces workstation-level files and graphics that can be shown by using the high-scan data projector. In other words, professors can extend what they are doing in their labs to the Electronic Classroom. Connection to the Internet is also available from the lectern.
Instructors are able to use either Macintosh or IBM compatible computers in the classroom. The podium has been designed with ports that accommodate both kinds of computers. This means that instructors can use their own notebook computers, for example, to prepare and store their simulations or presentations and then use those same machines during class. All that is required is to plug their computer into the appropriate podium port and then use the ouch screen monitor in the lectern to share their materials with their audience.
The room was equipped with a 486 PC with a touch screen VGA monitor (in 1994). Adcom Electronics’ iRoom software managed the room’s utilities through the 486 and Microsoft Windows. The iRoom software integrated all the devices (e.g. VCR, high scan data/video projector, document camera, lighting, etc.) using the RS232 connectivity. Using 486 computers and Microsoft software allowed the systems to be replaced inexpensively. The Media Center added 16 more electronic classrooms on campus with laserdisks and networking for videoconferencing capability.
Classes taught in the facility include Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Zoology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Business and Management.
The main benefit of the design decisions was having a classroom that enabled instructors to use sophisticated electronic equipment with a simple interface. The facility was so well received by students and professors that a host of new activities were featured in the electronic classroom. Professors can now extend what they are doing in their labs to the Electronic Classroom.
This educational vision of the future was developed through the efforts of University Information Commons, the lighting controls company, and the technology company personnel. Simplicity in design and usage, budget, and purpose were key elements that were delineated and satisfied. The lighting control system was specified because it is sophisticated, yet simple and easy to use.
The plug-and-play automated characteristics of the room means that the set-up time for instructors to use the technology is quick, and the need to know how to connect different pieces of technology is limited. The projector c an be programmed up to 99 settings which allows for a great deal of flexibility in using it. It means that any type of computer or video source can be connected to it once the settings are programmed. The room is self-sufficient in the sense that the instructor, when trained, operates independently without the need of a technician being present. The instructors are able to operate the room on their own.
The room is easy to use from a technical standpoint and feedback from the students and faculty has been positive, especially in terms of the quality and variety of the audio and visual enhancements that can be inserted into a presentation. However, users have learned that developing new materials such as computer demonstrations, slides, and videos requires a significant amount of time.
Specifications & Credits
Owners: University of Toronto, University Information Commons
Technology Consultants: Adcom Electronics Ltd. of Toronto R&D Center
Control Manufacturer: Lutron Electronics Co., Inc.
Equipment Providers: Automated Imaging