College classrooms get smarter with new technology

Laura Smith

The Pendulum

Business professors teach in classrooms with high-tech gadgets in the Koury Business Center, which was built in 2007. Photo by David Wells

Business professors teach in classrooms with high-tech gadgets in the Koury Business Center, which was built in 2007. Photo by David Wells

A few years ago, a colorful Powerpoint presentation was enough to teach a classroom full of college students about the principles of business or the alignments of the planets. Today, students are learning on a more advanced level thanks to the installation of new technology in classrooms.

At Oakland University in Michigan, the administration recently spent $15,000 in technology upgrades in each general classroom, according to an article by the Detroit Free Press.

Elon University is no different. The school has spent anywhere from $18,000 to $24,000 per classroom in the past several years, according to Fred Melchor, director of technology support.

“Back in the early days all a professor needed was a chalkboard and chalk,” Melchor said. “We have always tried to stay not ahead of the curve but on the curve. As the technology progressed, we went with it.”

Elon’s classrooms are considered either level one, two or three, Melchor said. A level one classroom has no technology. A level two classroom has moderate technology such as a TV and DVD player. A level three classroom has full hookups, including a TV, DVD system and a wireless control system.

According to Melchor, 90 percent of Elon classrooms are at level three and the rest are at level two.

In addition to HD televisions and DVD systems, Elon is moving toward the use of Smartboards.

Smartboards are white boards that can throw an image a short distance and allow for professors to map to other elements within the board using special pens and a projector that is built in.

Currently there are three in Lindner Hall, one in Duke, one in Belk Library and one in Mooney.

Smartboards are gaining popularity in the School of Education, Melchor said. Because of the rising prevalence of these systems in public schools, the education program at Elon felt it was necessary to have education majors trained in using a Smartboard.

Touch screen panels are also becoming more prevalent on Elon’s campus. Created by Creston Digital Media, these panels allow for information at the touch of the finger. There is a panel already installed highlighting Elon sustainability in the lobby of Lidner.

Another feature Elon has been using is electronic response systems. These gadgets allow students to respond to a question anonymously by clicking.

“You can immediately see on the screen how many people chose what answer,” Melchor said. “You can see if you get (the answer) right or wrong.”

Tony Crider, associate professor of physics, uses these devices on a regular basis. He said they allow for group work where students can decide the answer in groups and as a whole.

“They keep students engaged,” Crider said. “Sometimes there’s no moment to say ‘What do I really think?’ It’s nice to pause and get input from everybody in the classroom. It’s helpful for students to put in an answer.”

Crider said he also enjoys using the Smartboards, especially for annotating slides.

“It’s difficult on the spur of the moment to draw on a slide,” he said. “You can’t do that with a mouse easily. (With a Smartboard) I can pull up a pen and start sketching right away.”

Crider is also a member of the Elon Visual Culture Group, which consists of different faculty members from varying departments who look at how visuals can help students and how data can be presented.

In the future, the Elon faculty is hoping to integrate even more technology into their lessons.
“I think you’ll see we always take into consideration what the faculty want,” Melchor said. “They would like to have more HD on campus … and remote clickers for Powerpoint.”

Another feature the faculty is hoping to acquire is video teleconferencing, Melchor said. This would allow professors to record their class and post it on Blackboard.

“Regardless of the Smartboards or whether it’s the clickers, you need to have multiple lines of information coming into the classroom,” Crider said. “I don’t like the idea of the instructor being the source of all knowledge.”

Joe Davis, assistant director of campus technology support for classrooms, said this technology is also beneficial for marketing the university.

“We’re bringing in students who almost expect to see (the technology),” he said. “If we don’t have it, what gives us that marketing edge? It also gives faculty members a new way to help transfer that knowledge to the students.”

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