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Going High Tech

By France Griggs Sloat

When it comes to technology on campus, this really ain’t your father’s classroom anymore. The University is catching up and even pushing ahead in terms of the technology available—from Internet access to interactive classrooms—as a means of better educating its students.

Just this summer, the University renovated another six classrooms with ceiling-mounted video projectors, a computer at the podium with online access and a document camera that displays three-dimensional images through the computer and onto a screen at the front of the room. Called presentation classrooms, 29 out of nearly 80 campus classrooms have now been converted, says Bob Cotter, director for instructional technology services.

Also this summer, three computer science professors launched the University into the world of supercomputing. The professors won a $142,767 grant from the National Science Foundation to buy specially designed computer equipment that gives the University supercomputer technology and allows for cutting edge research in a number of disciplines. New classes are planned, and space is being made to house the research laboratory.

“This provides Xavier with supercomputer technology and will have a huge impact on our ability to conduct research with our students,” says professor Gary Lewandowski. “This is high-performance, state-of-the-art equipment.”

The push to upgrade computer and information technology on campus is an initiative of President Michael J. Graham, S.J. Last fall the University created a new division of information resources, hiring Carol Rankin as its vice president and charging her with coordinating and addressing all technology needs. Cotter’s department is a merger of two offices and is now in charge of ensuring that technology is available to students and teachers.

“Our classroom support is unique,” Cotter says. “Anyone can have a computer projector set up in any classroom. Xavier was always able to set up and retrieve presentation equipment, and we’re maintaining that service even though the equipment has gotten more sophisticated.”

Some converted classrooms are, of course, more high-tech than others. And for those that haven’t been converted yet, Cotter’s staff can bring in a computer cart—a collection of wires on wheels, so to speak. The cart delivers a computer—or several laptop computers so students can interact—along with a data projector and online access so professors can display web sites for instructional or research purposes.

Teachers are getting more comfortable using the computer-assisted displays, which are slowly replacing the overhead projector, flip charts and even television, Cotter says. They also are getting trained on the Blackboard course management software program that allows students and teachers to communicate online outside of class.

“While maintaining and respecting the traditional media formats, we’ve aggressively pursued computer-based technology,” Cotter says. “Nothing is obsolete in the short term.”

He predicts the technology will eventually replace the old overheads, but the standby blackboard and chalk will be the last to go.

“It’s so spontaneous,” he says.

The University also has four interactive classrooms—the most high-tech available. These rooms have an Internet-based computer work station for every student, in addition to the presentation equipment. Some also have desks arranged in tiered semicircular levels. Professors’ and students’ work can be displayed on the big screen for all to see.

And finally, a classroom in the Cohen Center is interactive in a different sense. It has two-way video equipment that allows students in a distant city to view a classroom lecture and join in discussions with the professor and students. A television monitor, cameras and microphones are mounted in each classroom, allowing both groups of students to see, hear and converse with each other. It was tested in the spring and will be used this fall by the department of education.

Six years ago, when only one classroom had a ceiling-mounted projector and computer-based video display, a student-paid technology fee was put in place that allowed for most of the technology upgrades, Cotter says. What’s next is anyone’s guess. But Cotter sees computerized blackboards using a new plasma-based touch screen technology as a possibility, and more distance-learning software programs for off-campus learning.

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