Jan. 4, 1999 Writer: Edward Hunter
Source: Sue Legg, email@example.com, (352) 392-0371
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- A new computer requirement implemented last summer at the University of Florida requires students to use computers in their classes and encourages faculty to use computers, multimedia and the Internet as part of their instruction.
Yet the majority of UF's nearly 300 classrooms were built in a time when instructors' media choices were limited to the chalkboard or an overhead projector. Now faculty members want to use video projectors to display multimedia presentations and Internet Web pages and students want to bring their laptops to class to take notes or view Web pages.
So the university has launched a $3 million campuswide renovation program to bring new multimedia capabilities, new lighting, new furniture and structural improvements to its classrooms. The first phase of the project, involving about half of the classrooms, is taking place during the school's winter break. The entire project should be completed by fall 1999, said Sue Legg, director of UF's Office of Instructional Resources.
"A faculty member is going to go through a lot of work to develop media and Web-based applications when they are scheduled into a large classroom," Legg said. "If they want to use the same material in a smaller classroom and there's no network tap, no media, no projector, then all of that work goes to waste because of a room scheduling problem."
Legg said a list of priorities from college deans was compared with the results of a classroom survey completed by instructional resources staff to come up with a selection of project that met the top concerns in each college.
"We sent a team of people through all of the 297 classrooms that we call open-registrar classrooms on campus, not special-use classrooms," Legg said. "We basically completed an inventory of the condition of the classrooms -- everything from the furniture to the windows to the lighting to the media to the network.
"We didn't get everything that everybody wanted, but we did pretty well," Legg said. "We looked at those projects that were rather major in terms of structural change and the amount of time they would take. We allocated our priorities to things we could get done over Christmas break and in that process developed a subset of the college's priorities."
Legg said one long-term goal of the project is to have a minimum level of media support for every campus classroom. The basic level would consist of an overhead projector and a screen that would either be permanently located in each room or could be quickly delivered from campus distribution centers. Increasing levels of media support would add a VCR and a television monitor or a video projector to show screen images from a laptop computer.
But not all of the improvements require new hardware. Some classrooms, such as Turlington Hall, one of UF's main classroom buildings, were not built with today's video projectors in mind.
"In some buildings, the banks of lights go from the front of the room to the back -- you can turn off a bank of lights, but you still have lights in the front and lights in the back," Legg said. "This is useless for media because we end up turning all of the lights off in order to have enough darkness to project.
"So we're rebanking the lights so we can leave the back lights on and get the room dark enough, yet still have the students be able to see to take notes," she said.
Some items high on the deans' wish lists might not be completed because of budget limits. Providing computer laptop connections at each seat in some buildings may not be feasible.
"The interesting problem there is that these old buildings do not have a great capacity of electrical current," Legg said. "So we're having the current evaluated over there to see if the existing current in the building will support the laptop ports."
The cost of adding a transformer to boost the power to the point where the building could support a laptop at each desk likely would be prohibitive, Legg said. Projects to be completed during the next year in various classrooms include new furniture, carpeting, blinds, projection screens, data projectors, overhead video projectors and data and video ports.
"And were even putting new chalkboards in some rooms," she said.
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