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Web-assisted instruction meets the absent- minded professor

New classroom technology keeps DePaul at the top of the class
One of  DePaul's 21 new classrooms
Have you ever wondered how the absent-minded professor got that way? He had a brain full of knowledge but a shortage of storage space and no easy way to access it. Laden with books and papers, his fate was to bustle from class to class, writing on blackboards and fumbling for that lost assignment. Thatís not an image youíre likely to find today, at least not at DePaul University in Chicago. Absent-mindedness is history there, thanks to the arrival of classroom projection systems that tie in to the World Wide Web.

 

Closer look at ceiling-mounted camera and projector at DePaul University's Course On Line classroom

The professor and the Web

Now any DePaul instructor, absent-minded or not, can create his class materials at home and save them to the schoolís Web server. When he gets to class he opens his saved files and projects them in a matter of seconds. It wonít matter if notes are forgotten or classrooms are switched at the last minute. Every classroom has (or soon will have) the same computer access, the same projection system and the same controls. What can be done in one classroom can be done in another.

Though the concept is simple, its implementation, like that of many brilliantly simple ideas, has taken a great deal of foresight and hard work. The man behind this transformation, Lorne Henne, has been in charge of classroom technology at DePaul Universityís six Chicago-area campuses for the past ten years.

Bringing a/v systems to DePaul

Desktop PC and flush-mounted computer monitor highlight DePaul's new podiums.In 1992 Henne got funding to equip seven classrooms for a price tag of $75,000 each. They are beautiful, user-friendly rooms with three-gun Sony projectors and AMX control systems that will even dim the lights for you. The cost, however, was too high for the design to be widely used, and the rooms went beyond what was really needed to do the job. "Those rooms are very slick," says Henne, "but now we can do it much less expensively and provide the same functionality." Whatís essential is to show computer and video, with bright clear images, and clean, intelligible sound. "For $75,000," says Henne, "I can now do five rooms instead of one." Thatís good news for an institution that is now, with over 20,000 students, the nation's largest Catholic university.

Henne began working with United Visual in the summer of 1997, during the construction of DePaulís new campus in Naperville. Just four months before opening for classes, the entire building was gutted. Henne needed the best a/v equipment for the best price in the least amount of time. It was United Visualís Dave Woods who came up with a package based on a high-brightness Sharp projector. He had it installed in 21 classrooms, two computer labs and an auditorium before September. "Dave was great," says Henne. "He came back to us with all the quotes we needed and the installation time was right."

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Naperville was the first of DePaul's campuses to open with all of its classrooms equipped with installed a/v systems. In the fall of 1998 they opened a second with their new Lake County Campus. And each year since they have added projection systems at the existing campuses, including six new classrooms in a new addition at Naperville in 2000. No more do you see part-time student employees pushing TV monitors and VCRs on rolling carts from room to room. Every classroom sports a podium equipped with computer and VCR, or professors can project from their own laptops. "When it's all said and done, we're really happy with the way Dave and the United crew pulled through for us putting the project together," says Henne.

Interactive classrooms

Among the most interesting of the classroom installations are new "Course On Line" rooms, where instructors can record class sessions and store them on DePaul's computer network for later viewing by students. In addition to the standard projection systems, they each include a ceiling-mounted camera and microphones plus a document camera and Quartet Mimeo. A classroom PC, tied into these sources, captures all class materials--video, audio, notes written on the whiteboard, documents and, of course, PowerPoint or other computer materials--and sends it to the network server. Students can review the class whenever they wish on any computer connected to the DePaul wide-area network.

Students continue to drive the demand for a better, richer classroom experience. Students with more and more sophisticated technology at home are less and less satisfied with a simple lecture. Bigger and better, faster and more efficient is the order of the day for DePaul instructors. And there's plenty of storage space for an absent-minded professor to enjoy.