Students and faculty at The University of Texas-Pan American during Summer Session II were among the first to reap the benefits from the installation of "Smart Classroom" technology into 32 classrooms in 10 separate buildings on campus this year. The completion in July of these initial classrooms - Phase One of a three-year initiative to equip a minimum of 90 classrooms with enhanced technology - brings University President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas a step closer toward fulfilling one of her premier goals announced at her investiture December 2004.
At that time Cárdenas said the University needed to prepare students for a life in which technology was a tool not a control and called for an acceleration of the University's plans in the area of technology.
"We are living in a time of such rapid technological change that it's critical that our students just embrace that technology and make it a part of the way they learn because that's how they are going to be working," Cárdenas said, noting she hopes to have every single feasible classroom at UTPA technology ready in two years from this September as a result of her Technology Equipped Classroom Initiative.
Dr. Gary L. Wiggins, chief information officer and head of the Office of Information Technology, a unit of the Office of the President, serves as the initiative's account manager. Cantu also worked closely with Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo in the selection of the initial classrooms to have the enhanced technology installed.
"This technology allows faculty and/or students to show power point presentations, Web-CT material, streaming video webcasts, textbook material, pictures/graphs/illustrations/objects, math formulas on paper, laptop computer input and DVDs, VHS and CD ROMS," Cantu said.
Although the Department of Video Resources has been designing, installing and maintaining technology equipped classrooms since 1996, only 50 classrooms until now had multimedia presentation systems said Cantu and because they were done a few at a time, the systems are all different he said. "This initiative provides a standardized system that can be installed campuswide allowing the faculty to readily become familiar with the equipment and to utilize it easily."
Describing the Phase One installation process, Cantu said the physical plant electricians and carpenters as well as the telecommunication services personnel worked tirelessly to make the rooms ready for equipment installation, which was done through Troxell Communications from Houston. Troxell worked nights when classrooms were not being used to complete the rooms in time for the start of Summer Session II.
Reaction by both faculty and students to now having access to smart classroom technology has been highly positive. Ned Wallace, lecturer in history and philosophy, said the addition of this type of technology in the classroom is an important investment the University is making for its students.
"Smart classrooms offer several powerful learning tools. For example, in my American Heritage classes we can now regularly access the Internet to locate photographs and more information about various historical events. It really helps to make history come alive. In my logic class I have been able to show a DVD composed of several excerpts from Hollywood movies that demonstrate fallacious arguments. It really serves to augment and reinforce the material we study in the textbook," Wallace said.
Sonia Chapa, lecturer in communication who has used the new technology in her Fundamentals of Speech class, said she appreciated how easy the equipment was to operate and said it has been useful in her class in developing speech delivery skills by enhancing the students' ability to use visual aids during their presentations.
Student reactions range from descriptions such as "awesome" and "really great" to "it saves me time" and "helps me in my reading."
Alex Juarez, a junior majoring in computer science, said he has been in several classes where the new classroom technology has been used by the instructor and thinks its use has been really helpful to students.
"A lot of the devices that the professors are using are really helpful especially when you have access to the Internet, because when he (instructor) posts things to the Internet, we are all able to see it at the same time in class so we are able to interact. Also the learning does not end there; we can go home and continue where we left off here in class," he said.
Cantu said his department will conduct user training during the two first weeks of the fall semester and also formulate a tutorial that will be available on the department Web site - www.panam.edu/dept/videoresources/
After completion of the first 90 classrooms, upgrading of older equipment in other classrooms will continue, Cantu said, as well as the provision of the enhanced technology features in new classrooms when they are built. For example, he said, installation of this new technology is almost complete in 11 classrooms and one conference room in the new Education Building. Phase Two of the initiative, which will provide installation of up-to-date smart classroom technology into at least 30 more existing classrooms, is scheduled to start in the fall.
Besides the cementing of new technology into the core of education alongside math, English and history, the mastery of it, according to Cárdenas, can be a great equalizer.
"If a student or if a worker masters the technology then it doesn't matter whether they came from a poor background or a rich background. They know that technology, they know how to use it and they know how to get the most out of it. They are equal at their starting point in their ability to produce. I consider it a great equalizer if used right," she said.