Dal profs reject high-tech classroom

Notice to students of class change of location posted on door of Killam 2600. (Photo: Belinda Alzner)

At least three professors are refusing to hold classes in the Killam library's new high-tech classroom and have demanded to be moved elsewhere.

The new $450,000 classroom, known as the learning incubator and networking centre, or Killam 2600, opened for classes at the beginning of the semester. It is meant for courses that emphasize "problem-based group learning," says Nicola Embleton-Lake, the architecture and planning manager of Dalhousie.

Justin Roberts teaches a second-year course on the history of the Atlantic world. The learning incubator was assigned as his classroom.

Roberts said he was in the room for all of three minutes before realizing that there was "no way" it was going to work for him.

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Geography professor, James Boxall, demonstrates the features of the room to faculty. (Photo: Scott Riddell)

Features of the new classroom:

• 19 pods of six seats, each with a wall-mounted TV
• Wireless mobile podium with document camera
• World's largest reading lamps
• Mobile whiteboards
• Wireless mic for professor
• Tables double as notepads
• Ability to display any computer on all screens in the room
• Variety of seating options including couches and bar stools
• Holds 115 people

"It wasn't the right space for lecturing at all," he said.

Because of the way the room is compartmentalized, Roberts couldn't see all of the students at once. Some were sitting with their backs to him and some were literally behind a wall.

Now, Roberts teaches his 42 students in Ondaatje Hall - a room with a capacity of 535 people.

Lack of classrooms on campus

Mary Louise Matheson, from the Registrar's Office, says that at least three professors whose classes were originally assigned to be held in the incubator have demanded to be moved. The office has been working to find a space for these "refugees," Matheson said.

Right now, there is a lack of space on campus for mid-size classes such as Roberts' because one of the classrooms that accommodate lectures of this size is being renovated. As a result, classes and professors not typically suited for the new room have been diverted there.

"It's been a difficult transition," Matheson said about trying to juggle the classroom placements.

Roberts said his class was moved four times before finally settling in Ondaatje Hall.

Student sees incubator as counterproductive

Tim Richard's second-year comparative politics class was moved into Killam 2600 after originally being taught in a chemistry lab. He said in an email to Unews that the room was awkward for the 88-student class due to the layout and furniture choices.

He echoed Roberts' sentiment that professors aren't visible to students at all times.

"I've given up following (the professor) around the room. I just listen and watch the PowerPoints," Richard said, adding that the "couches are too relaxed for an environment for learning - it feels as if I'm there to hang out rather than to learn."

The room is intended to be an interactive classroom as well as a group study space for students during evenings and weekends. But this has yet to happen.

Tina Usmiani, communications officer for the Killam library, said that they were "not optimistic" about opening the room as a study space in the next week or two due to technical issues.

One of the issues is the door lock method currently in place. Students would find themselves locked out when coming and going from the room after certain hours, Usmiani said.

Stressing proper use

One or two professors wanted to try the new room after a demonstration for interested faculty members last month.

The room would be perfect for some, Matheson said, and a couple love it.

In order for the room to work effectively, lecturers must have a teaching style conducive to the layout and technology in the room, Embleton-Lake said.

James Boxall, who teaches a first-year geography course in the room demonstrated its features to faculty on Friday. He stressed that they spend time practicing with the equipment before going live with students, acknowledging that there will be daily glitches with the technology simply because there is so much of it.

Ultimately, the room did not suit Roberts' history class. "It seems like they were reveling in the high-tech, but not paying attention to the process of learning," he said.


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