Major Investment In Money And Time Brings 26 New Technology Classrooms On-Line

By Arthur Page

Release Date: October 22, 1997

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In a swift response to faculty and student needs, 26 new "technology classrooms" are up and running this semester at the University at Buffalo, more than tripling the number of high-technology classrooms.

Conceived, planned and completed in less than a year, each classroom is equipped with a computer with an Internet connection, a video projector, a VCR, a telephone, a sound system and external laptop ports, all controlled by a single touch-screen "switching panel."

Officially called the Classroom Technology Initiative (CTI), the project was a collaboration between the Office of the Provost, University Facilities, and Computing and Information Technology (CIT).

Supported by an investment of nearly $1 million from the Office of the Provost and in part by student technology fees, the project was described as "an extraordinary effort" by Sean P. Sullivan, vice provost for academic information and planning.

"It's an example of many facets of the university coming together on a project and getting it done," he added.

Sullivan said the project grew out of the provost's educational technology action plan, with input from the deans and individuals within schools and faculties responsible for information-technology efforts.

"We then constructed an aggressive schedule around meeting the need to increase the number of classrooms and diversify the size of classrooms with technology," Sullivan explained. "We had technology in big classrooms and no technology in small classrooms, and we were wasting space using big classrooms to house small classes that needed the technology."

He added: "The project actually began in late November. From then until the end of January, we came up with a concept, found the money, identified the equipment needs and prepared for implementation. From February to May, we bought the equipment and

organized an implementation schedule. From May to August, we blitzed the implementation."

Leading the implementation team were Kevin M. Thompson, interim director of planning and design in the Office of University Facilities, and Richard H. Lesniak, director of academic services for CIT.

"Faculty are relying more and more on these kinds of technology," said Lesniak. "It was a tremendous collaborative effort."

Thompson noted, "The project went well, thanks to the scheduling and coordinating of Gordon Love, project coordinator in the Office of Planning and Design. We were on a very, very tight schedule. Work began on May 19 and was concluded on August 16."

The locations of the new classrooms are: five each in Clemens and Knox halls, four in Baldy Hall, three each in Norton and Capen halls, and one each in Bell, Cooke, Diefendorf, Hochstetter, Kimball and Park halls.

The 26 new classrooms, while taking advantage of less-expensive equipment, are similar to the 10 Educational Technology Equipped Classrooms installed in the Natural Sciences Building. Over the past 10 years, according to Lesniak, UB has helped pioneer the development of technology-equipped classrooms, installing 15 from 1989-96.

Sullivan said the number and array of technology-equipped classrooms now available at UB is comparable to that at peer research universities.

In selecting and designing technology for the new classrooms, Lesniak said his department was guided by the desire to create the "illusion of simplicity" for faculty members. For example, in the new classrooms, every electronic device either turns on or begins to warm up as soon as someone opens the door. "We decided on a minimum turn-on time of five minutes," Lesniak explained. "We didn't want the technology to pull people away from teaching."

The touch-screen switching panel also is an outgrowth of this approach. Attached to a custom podium designed at UB, the panel controls all systems in the room and requires a minimal amount of technical knowledge to operate.

Sullivan said the provost's office has two committees, one looking at classroom quality and the other focusing on classroom utilization, assessing the use of the new classrooms with an eye toward determining the next step in classroom technology implementation.