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UA profs getting used to high-tech teaching tools

By Rachael Myer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
November 19, 1998
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Wildcat File Photo
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Electrician's Apprentice Alfredo Sandoval installs new electrical wiring inside one of the newly remodeled Economics classrooms Tuesday. The Economics building is one of many buildings being modernized as part of the UA's Instructional Space Renovation Project.

A $10 million classroom renovation project aimed at bringing the UA up to speed with peer universities' technology has left some professors in the dust.

One hundred of the University of Arizona's 300 classrooms have been remodeled to include high-tech equipment - displaying the Internet on a large screen or projecting 3-dimensional objects.

"There is more here than one person can use, so for me the challenge was which piece of equipment I was going to focus on," said history professor Alan Bernstein, who works in the newly renovated Social Sciences Room 100. "There are still things I haven't worked out."

It takes a long time to master the high-tech classroom, said Bernstein, who added that sometimes he needs a teaching assistant's help with the equipment.

The Social Sciences building is part of UA's 5-year Instructional Space Renovation Project, which receives $2 million per year from the state of Arizona. UA officials hope legislators will renew the project in June for another five years to continue upgrading the remaining 200 classrooms, said Michael Urena, a media technician for the University Learning Center.

The project has modernized about 100 classrooms in 10 buildings, including Modern Languages, Forbes, Economics and Harvill.

The Economics building is being improved and should be completed by mid-December.

The Biological Sciences West and Anthropology buildings will be upgraded this summer, Urena said.

The up-to-date classrooms, however, lack high-tech support personnel some professors say they need.

Classics professor Jon Solomon said he requested a technician to help solve computer glitches during his class.

"It is not something professor or assistants should do," Solomon said. "The university should budget someone to help with equipment."

Technicians are not assigned help during classes, said Terri Riffe, director of the University Learning Center.

"We don't have the budget to provide personnel," Riffe said, adding that the project's five media technicians are assigned quadrants of the campus to maintain.

But when the equipment is newly installed or if a problem occurs, a technician may step in, Riffe said.

"We would like to get to the point where instructional support is there all the time but right now we don't have the resources to do so," she said.

Faculty Center for Instructional Innovation personnel train professors how to use the new technology, Urena said.

Few malfunctions have occurred with the new equipment, she said. If an incident occurs, the machinery usually will be functioning again within a week.

Bill Bunis, a sociology lecturer, said he taught in Social Sciences Room 100 before renovations took place.

"It is a big difference to go into a classroom with confidence," Bunis said, adding that equipment in the classroom previously malfunctioned about one out of every four class periods. "The old classroom was falling apart."

Although he has not had any problems with the new equipment, Bunis said he does not use all of the available technology.

Some classroom modifications and additions were suggested by students, faculty and staff members through surveys, said John Adams, a facilities project manager.

Additional modifications include movable furniture, new ceilings, "blackout" shades and lights that will allow the instructor to control classroom brightness, Adams added.

Gerald Lippert, a finance and political science junior, said projecting the Internet on a large screen is a good learning tool.

"It gives a lot of different options for the class," Lippert said. "A lot of times that information can (also) be accessed outside of class. That is a big improvement."

Adams said project officials are interested in hearing feedback.

"If we are not meeting the concerns, we are not doing our job," Adams said.

Rachael Myer can be reached via e-mail at Rachael.Myer@wildcat.arizona.edu.