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Transforming Teaching Technology

By Blake Cooper

Published August 21, 2014

“I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but the names of the states are printed around the crest of the Lincoln Memorial.”

Blake Cooper (UB Student, Class of 2016) is originally from Canandaigua, NY. He is studying Spanish, Linguistics and Comparative Literature, and beginning work on translating an Argentinian novel into English.

Jack Empson, Instructional Support Technician with Network and Classroom Services (NCS), took a crisp five dollar bill and placed it on a document camera in Clemens 206. Aided by automatic overhead lighting, he zoomed in until the names of the states could be seen in large letters across the screen.

Clemens 206 is just one of eight rooms that UBIT was busy testing and installing new teaching technology in for a Fall 2014 semester debut.

Chief among the improvements are new, powerful ceiling-mounted document cameras. "The document cameras are top-rate,” Jack Empson, Instructional Support Technician with Network and Classroom Services (NCS), stated. As he set up his demonstration, Jack explained how the new digital infrastructure in rooms like these will enhance picture quality and zoom capability.

According to Jack, the new capabilities of the document camera make possible a host of new teaching and learning opportunities, such as the close-up examination of 3D models by engineering students, or medical students examining x-rays.

The new technology in these classrooms will redefine what is possible in the UB classroom of the future. And judging by what UBIT News saw on our behind-the-scenes tour, the future is bright.

A Brighter Glimpse

Jack Empson using the ceiling-mounted document camera.

In addition to the ceiling-mounted document cameras, Clemens 120, 206, 217, 219 and 220, Cooke 127A and 127B, and Fillmore 325 and 328 will also offer HDMI and VGA connectors for laptops and a 22” touch screen monitor. The teaching stations are entirely redesigned; there is now a second touch screen which activates and shuts down the technology with a six-digit code (replacing the combination locks on current classroom units). In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the new cabinets are also shorter and less thick, ensuring easy access to all control interfaces.

These updates are the result of recommendations made by an IT Infrastructure taskforce as part of the ongoing UB 2020 initiative. The task force has called for the adoption of “interactive learning spaces” made possible by “[transforming] our classroom audio and video facilities.”

 “There are things you will always be able to do in UB's classrooms, like plug in a memory stick and open a PowerPoint,” Jack said. He entered a six-digit combination on the control touch screen and the station came to life. “But other things, like connecting newer laptops or streaming video, things like these have been an issue in the past.”

The expanded digital services will address these issues and other technology updates in classrooms, which was a request by faculty responding to the UB TechQual+ 2014 survey.

“Most of the classrooms are very well equipped,” noted one commenter from the UB TechQual+ 2014 survey. “Nevertheless, sometimes the access to very old systems gets a little bit complicated..”

These upgrades are part of a pilot program that is expected to expand to more of UB’s classrooms in the future, starting with thirteen more classrooms in Clemens which will be transformed throughout the Fall 2014 semester. Classes for those rooms will be relocated as needed to the already-upgraded Clemens 120.

Connecting Our Campuses

In order to foster the goal of connecting UB’s classrooms to the world, upgraded rooms will have Wi-Fi access points that aim to increase network access to nearly 150% over the seating capacity of each room. The bolstered network access makes possible, among other things, more reliable media streaming for instructors.

Piloting Apple TV

Apple TV, which allows streaming of media from an iTunes account, is being included as a pilot program in Clemens 120, Kapoor 190, Knox 4, 14 and 20 this fall.  Using Apple TV in these rooms, instructors with iOS devices will be able to wirelessly project their screens onto the room’s video projector and sound system. Instructors will also have the ability to annotate the projection and control video display.

Instructors scheduled in these rooms will be the first to use the Apple TV and if they desire, instructors can give students permission to share from their iOS device to the screen.  UBIT will track usage the Apple TV rooms, and will examine data collected to determine the need for installing Apple TV in more classrooms in the future.

Coming Soon

“These changes are the results of many, many meetings with people across campus,” Jack told us. He explained that UBIT is committed to tailoring campus technology to the needs of its users, both in the beginning stages of this transformation and by fine tuning the technology according to user feedback going forward. Jack hopes he can work toward a better technology-aided teaching and learning experience across campus.

The upgraded teaching stations rolling out in the fall are just the first signs of this renewed investment in the UB experience.