July 13, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 28



Of Note


Classrooms and labs getting major upgrades

Illustration of people and computers

Although low-tech chalk and blackboards are still very popular, classrooms and other teaching/learning spaces around the Health Science Center are being upgraded to keep pace with rapidly changing instructional and information technology.

For example, labs built in the 1960s and 1970s are getting new network connections for students to plug in their laptop computers. Lecture rooms are being equipped with video projectors, DVD players and network connections so that all teaching spaces have minimum consistent standard technology. Many teaching spaces are receiving lighting and acoustics improvements and some also are being upgraded to include video teleconferencing connections.

Thanks to generous funding from the Permanent University Fund (PUF) and the state's Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, the Health Science Center's Classroom Technology Infrastructure Project is able to bring numerous teaching facilities, including the main auditorium, large and small classrooms, multidisciplinary teaching labs and the anatomy labs, to a baseline developed by faculty and staff. A. Jerome York, vice president and chief information officer, initiated the project in 1999. A committee chaired by Dr. Deborah Greene, vice president for academic administration, allocated the funds. In some cases, the classroom technology will go well beyond the baseline.

"Although Information Management and Services (IMS) had the vision to propose specifications and technologies for all classroom spaces, this project would not have come to fruition without broad input from the five schools and their faculty," York said. "A variety of enhancements and suggestions were included in the originally proposed plan, and faculty buy-in to the project has been quite good. The goal was not only to upgrade the teaching and learning spaces, but to provide a consistent and reliable environment for faculty, regardless of the rooms in which they are teaching.

"In addition, nine high-end multimedia classrooms are being upgraded and will be similar to those designed and implemented by IMS in the Allied Health/Research Building. The cornerstone of each high-end classroom is an integrated touch screen console that is very easy to learn to use," York said. "Therefore, the faculty can focus far more on their content than worrying about how to operate what can sometimes feel like very confusing technology tools."

Dr. Ken Andrews, academic informatics services, is helping to coordinate the remodeling. "Work is under way and some portions will be complete by the end of July," he said. "For example, better lighting in the gross anatomy labs is being installed while the students are out this summer, and portions of the classroom upgrades are now complete. Whatever is left to finish later this fall will be worked around class schedules." The Medical School, Dental School, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, School of Allied Health Sciences and School of Nursing, as well as support facilities such as the Briscoe Library, are included in the project.

At the outset, faculty offered input ranging from the desire for wireless microphones, better acoustics and lighting to suggestions for how to design the new consoles that are being placed at the front of major classrooms.

Once classrooms are upgraded, an orientation for faculty will be scheduled to allow them to learn to use the new equipment, including the high-tech consoles.

According to Dr. Greene, the U. T. System's PUF provided $2 million to be used for immediate project needs. The total included more than $1.5 million for technical infrastructure and nearly $500,000 for furniture upgrades.

"The U. T. System was incredibly flexible in allowing the Health Science Center to devote $2 million of a $7 million PUF allocation to address immediate needs for upgrading existing teaching facilities on our campus, while setting aside the remaining $5 million for constructing a new multidisciplinary teaching facility on the central campus," she said.

Added York, "It has been a pleasure to work with the schools and to deliver solutions that will enhance the faculty's ability to continue to be more creative in the classroom. By providing both the baseline and the high-end solutions, our Health Science Center can continue to compete effectively for the best educators and the best students.

"The learning experience for all will surely continue to improve. I am particularly grateful to Dr. Ken Andrews for his leadership in bringing this vision to a reality."