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TLT teams up with College of Law to create smart classrooms

Left: Mark Beekhuizen, IT Director for College of Law. Right: Jon Thomas, Director for Teaching & Learning TechnologiesBy Emily Rushton

Ask any student or faculty member about what a typical classroom experience is like at the U, and you’re likely to get a wide range of answers – for now.

That’s because a plan is in the works to improve the functionality and consistency of classrooms across campus. Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT) is leading the effort, with the ultimate goal to develop a set of foundation classrooms with similar setups and specifications that can be used campus-wide.

“A lot of our classrooms are set up differently,” said Jon Thomas, director for TLT. “So you go to one place, and you have a certain experience, and you go somewhere else, and it’s totally different.” This lack of standardization can make it difficult to troubleshoot certain rooms when problems arise.

“We’d really like to have a common set of specs that each room works off of,” he added, referring specifically to A/V classrooms that use equipment like projectors, recording software, and digital interfaces. 

Collaboration will be a key part of this project, including input from Common Infrastructure Services and University Support Services.

“It’s exciting to see different parts of the University coming together,” said Thomas. “It’s thinking across the organization rather than in our different units, and just saying, ‘How does this work end-to-end?’”

In line with this effort, TLT has teamed up with the College of Law as the first step towards designing a new standardized classroom that will work seamlessly across campus.

“This has been a fantastic time with the College of Law, because we’ve been able to have somebody to work with as we start to bring up these new technologies,” said Thomas.

Mark Beekhuizen, IT Director for the College of Law, agreed.

“Our goal is to stay in lockstep with the new classroom,” said Beekhuizen.

The College of Law building is currently being rebuilt, so the collaboration with TLT comes at a perfect time when new classroom technologies are about to be implemented. 

Every department has unique needs, which may mean adding customized settings to the foundation of the room – but the idea is to have a standard base classroom to start from. 

“Think about a person approaching a teaching station,” said Beekhuizen. “The first thing that makes them nervous is that they’re there to do something, not manage A/V stuff.”

It all comes down to making the interface as simple and user-friendly as possible.

“We want anybody who needs to teach at our college to come in and be able to just use the technology, and not need IT help to do so,” said Beekhuizen.

The most significant upgrade will be a management server that all rooms and equipment in the rooms will be able to report back to.

“We’ll know ahead of time, for example, that a projector’s bulb hours are getting low,” said Thomas. “So there’s a monitoring aspect to this that we’re very excited about.”

The server will also be aware of the schedule for each classroom and meeting room location. In the College of Law, for example, conference rooms will have touch panels on the outside of the room that show the availability of the space, allowing students and faculty to reserve the room whenever it’s free.

“That server is key,” said Beekhuizen.

These days, with space increasingly becoming a premium in higher education, having smart classrooms that can be scheduled efficiently is a priority.

“We can’t keep building buildings forever. We’ve got to make use of the space we have, as effectively as we can,” said Thomas. “So the ability to go up and reserve a room when it’s not scheduled for other classes suddenly turns every room into an open area that students can use.”

Last Updated: 4/13/21