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New high-tech classrooms in Jacobs promote collaboration

David Costello, Assistant Dean and Director of IT and Facilities for the Jacobs School of Management, with John Pfeffer, UBIT’s Technical Program Manager for Learning Spaces, in one of Jacobs' new classrooms.

Article and photo by Blake Cooper

Published November 30, 2015

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.

Three years ago, the basement in Jacobs School of Management was a storage space. Now it is home to some of the most technologically-advanced learning spaces on campus. The space was re-imagined with collaboration in mind… and it was made possible by another successful collaboration between UB Information Technology and the School of Management.

Collaboration in mind

The two recitation classrooms in the Jacobs basement are equipped with clustered workstations where six students gather around a large, wall-mounted flatscreen monitor.

Each student also has his or her own laptop, and the instructor can control every screen in the room from the teaching station, sharing what’s on the instructor’s screen or under the digital document camera on the large monitor at the front of the room, or by broadcasting it to any of the other connected screens in the room, big or small.

John Pfeffer, UBIT’s Technical Program Manager for Learning Spaces, explained how the screen-sharing technology was built from the ground up with collaboration in mind. “It allows students to work in groups at their table, and then the instructor can guide collaboration by sharing their screens with the rest of the class.”

“The instructor at the podium has control over what’s shown on each monitor,” added David Costello, Assistant Dean and Director of IT and Facilities for the Jacobs School of Management. “The flat screen panels at each table can switch between displaying what’s on one of the students’ laptops and what’s being shown up front by the instructor.

“The opportunities are endless, and the faculty are pretty excited about it.”

Despite the spatial challenges, which had to be taken into account from the very beginning, John Pfeffer sees these classrooms as an achievement for UB, representing the cutting edge of classroom technology. “It’s far different than anything we’ve ever done at the university.”

From Storage Space to Solution

According to David Costello, the idea of a space for undergraduates in the basement of the Jacobs building started to percolate in 2013. Walking through the new Undergraduate Community and Learning Center, it’s evident that a lot has changed in just three years.

“The hardest part was emptying the storage spaces out, and getting everybody to leave,” Costello quipped.

UBIT offered initial input on how to retrofit the basement space, which has low ceilings and a few load-bearing pillars, with the right kind of technology given the obstacles. This meant using a flat screen monitor in the lecture classroom instead of a projector, LED lighting and special audio equipment.

Above all, the technology had to be easy to use for instructors and students, and easily supported by UBIT.

Now, according to Dave Costello, the full potential of the space can be realized. And that’s something that may take time to discover.

“Now it’s up to faculty to think about how to utilize the power of these classrooms in their everyday teaching,” he said.