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June 24, 2004

Smart Classrooms Will be Ready for Fall Semester at ULM

Twenty-two classrooms at the University of Louisiana at Monroe have spent the summer being made over into "smart classrooms." "Smart classrooms" are lecture rooms and lecture halls that are equipped with computers, DVD and VCR players, a sound system, Internet connections, and document cameras.

ULM Associate Provost Dr. Eric Pani says the ULM classrooms will be very appealing to today's technology-savvy students and will help the faculty reach more students because of the additional resources available to them. Pani says, "Faculty may want to show their students information and research from their office computers or Internet sources. The classroom, in effect, can be an extension of the professor's office or laboratory. Smart classrooms allow faculty to enhance their lectures, include music, data, and images, and provide graphic displays that help clarify the principles being considered in the class. This will allow students to be more engaged in the learning process."

The project is being funded from the technology fee that ULM students pay each semester. The decision to use those funds for this purpose was reached by the student-led Student Technology Assessment Plan Committee.

Assistant Professor and Graduate Coordinator in the Department of History and Government, Dr. Gordon Harvey, is already using technology in his classroom. He says it's a big help. "We are realizing that today's students are learning in different ways than most of us educated in the 1980s and before did. They are very visual in the way they process information. Much of this can be traced to the influential role of television, which has come to dominate American culture. Smart classrooms allow professors to bring to the classroom charts, data, images, sounds, music, and web sites of their own or from other sources," said Harvey.

Since the mid-1990s smart classrooms have grown to be an expectation for college campuses rather than an extra feature.
Harvey also said, "In my experience, smart classrooms have been indispensable in the teaching of U.S. History. When I lecture on the early twentieth century and the rise of Jazz in New Orleans, I like to play for my students selections from some Jazz greats of that age. How can I adequately convey to students the importance of this music form and why it became so popular around the world if I cannot let them hear a selection from Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, or King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band?"

"When I lecture on the Great Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt, I stress his calming influence over a desperate population. His Fireside Chats over the radio waves were tremendously effective; his voice a soothing balm for a nation in economic crisis. But students really come to understand this point when I play a portion of a Roosevelt speech and they can hear for themselves what Americans in the 1930s heard. My lectures on American slavery become so much more effective when I can show my students photographs of former slaves, taken in the 1860s and 1870s, the cabins in which they lived, and the scars they suffered after being whipped by their owners. Every one of my U.S. and World History lectures is in presentation format in Microsoft PowerPoint. I include my lecture outline, images, charts, graphs, and whatever else is necessary to aid my student in understating the content of the course. I can prepare these lectures on my office computer, "burn" them on to a CD and then show to any class equipped with the technology. These CDs have all the music, video clips, and data that I want to show the students, and it is incredibly portable, as long as I have an equipped classroom in which to show it. In my teaching evaluations, students have commented on the benefit of my lecture presentations and how seeing many of the people and events that I lecture on aided their ability to understand."

Using technology has an added long-term benefit. Harvey adds, "We are modeling it for our students. Some of our students hail from less-affluent school districts that haven't had the good fortune of abundant technology in the schools. Perhaps, they could not afford their own home computer. By showing them how we use it in a classroom setting, modeling the technology, we are introducing them to the technology so that perhaps in their future work situation they will feel more comfortable in using it. This is especially important with those students at ULM who seek to enter the teaching profession. If we can model the use of information technology with these pre-service teachers, then they are more apt to adopt it in their classrooms. Or perhaps in the case of a less-affluent school system, they might work to secure private donations for such technology."

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