Building the Twenty-First Century Classroom
Raised on a steady diet of digital images, text, and other media, in a networked world buzzing with digital devices, today’s students—and increasingly, faculty—are digital natives. Students and faculty naturally engage with these modes of information throughout the teaching and learning process and contemporary classrooms must be able to support this engagement. Students post assignments to Blackboard, the university’s online course management system, and instructors assign films and other media as course texts and expect students to discuss and dissect them in class. Students in a writing course may be asked to produce a documentary film as a final project, while young engineers learn complex equations through online “notebooks” that allow them to write and execute lines of computer code. Faculty expect to use their own laptops and tablets to share content with the class, or to have students share content from their own devices.
Since 2012, GW has been planning a major upgrade to all of its general-purpose classrooms. This upgrade, which began in 2014, builds on a robust technological infrastructure that includes wireless connectivity throughout campus areas and state-of-the-art learning spaces. Prior to the upgrades, most classrooms had computers in lecterns, projectors, and laptop connections, and some had DVD and/or VCR players, document cameras, and lecture-capture systems. The primary purpose of the upgrade—taking place over four summers to ensure necessary classroom space throughout the academic year—is to bring more than 60 classrooms up to the latest standards in digital connectivity and equipment. These classrooms were redesigned to make them more user-friendly, with an intuitive graphical user interface.
Students and faculty returning to class this fall entered an environment where it is possible to do even more, and more seamlessly, than before. Academic Technologies designed the upgrade to foster active and experiential learning, concepts that are driving a revolution in education across the disciplines. Now faculty can sync their Apple devices wirelessly to the classroom projection system. No longer tethered to a lectern, instructors can move about the classroom as students work in groups or complete activities, tailoring their presentations to student learning in real-time. And with web conferencing, faculty can incorporate guest lecturers from anywhere in the world. Anyone familiar with software like Skype or FaceTime can take advantage of this technology with only a little effort, but the possibilities are immense. In spring 2016, for instance, a faculty member in the School of Business (GWSB) brought six high-profile guests into his classroom, including the VP of Asia for Major League Baseball (MLB), journalist and Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot (from Mexico), and the first female MLB coach.
Throughout the upgrade, the audiovisual engineers in Academic Technologies strove to make the new classroom technology as easy and intuitive as possible to use, guided by the principle that no technical disruption to the class should ever occur. Thanks to their diligence, faculty can walk into a classroom and use the technology with little or no advance training. In addition, the interfaces are now standardized across classrooms, so that moving from one to another doesn’t require learning a new system. In the words of PB Garrett, senior associate dean for academic innovation and chief academic technology officer, “technology should be like air;” vital but invisible, a medium for communication, inspiration, and vision—a medium where ideas take flight.
To help support teaching and learning initiatives, please contact Tracy Sullivan, executive director of development for GW Libraries and Academic Innovation.