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Monday, May 19, 2003
Bigger and Better

SDSU Building 500-Seat Classroom
By Michael Naval

While the trolley extension is drawing significant attention, there are many other on-campus construction projects under way to enhance the university – including SDSU’s first 500-seat lecture facility.

Crews are midway through transforming Room 280 in the Exercise & Nutritional Sciences building into what will become the largest classroom at SDSU.

Geology Professor Pat Abbott, who regularly teaches a class on natural disasters in a 300-seat lecture room in the Chemistry Geology building, said the best teaching doesn’t always happen around a seminar table.

“The circumstances need to be right, that’s for sure,” Abbott said.  “But if you have the right subject and the right instructor, a big class can be a big success.

“I’ve grown to prefer teaching in big classrooms,” he said.  “The bigger audience requires a different type of preparation and delivery to hold the large crowd.  When a class enrollment exceeds 200 students, the presentation has to become so engaging that students want to be in the room to experience it.”

Abbott’s sentiments are far from isolated.  Taking from in-depth studies on the subject and anecdotal responses from professors, the May 9 Chronicle of Higher Education cover story concluded that large classes are an effective and valuable part of a university education.

The story asserts large classes have evolved to the point that professors demand just as much of their students as do colleagues who teach smaller courses, and that students attend and enjoy their large classes just as much as the more intimate ones.

SDSU professors teaching courses in the new $400,000 facility will have use of cutting-edge technology to help ensure a positive big-class experience.  “The new classroom will be the university's first ‘ultra-smart room,’” said Ernie Griffin, associate vice president of Academic Affairs.

A regular “smart” classroom consists of items such as a video data projector, a VHS player, computers and wiring for laptop capability.

“The new room will have all that and more,” said David Sharpe, director of Instructional Technology Services.  “It will also include new things that no other classroom on campus has ever had.”

Sharpe said faculty and students who use the classroom will benefit from the Student Response System, a tool designed to ease teaching in large classrooms.  The system will include a small electronic device attached to every seat in the audience.  Through the use of a number pad and a digital screen on the device face, every student will be able to interact with the lecturer.

The lecturer can use the system to poll the class.  For example, the lecturer could ask the students: “Am I going too quickly?” or “Should I expand on this topic?” The students could then input their answers and the professor could respond accordingly.

Sharpe said there are countless other advantages provided by the system. Every keypad will be connected to a larger computer that can save all data transmitted to it.  This makes it possible for all 500 students in the room to take a quiz with the results already tabulated into a computer.

Sharpe said the class will also feature a lectern which he called a “Smart Sympodium.”  It will be connected to two 12-foot by 16-foot screens and can incorporate Power Point presentations, Internet pages, documents and more.

It will also feature “pen technology,” analogous to what sportscasters use to highlight plays on television screens.  Through the use of a digital pen, the lecturer will be able to write directly on top of whatever is displayed on the screens.

“Faculty will be able to lecture without ever needing to turn their eyes away from the audience,” Sharpe said. 

The Sympodium will also boast a recording system.  The entire lecture can be stored in a computer.  Faculty would then be able to review their lectures or even post them on a Web site for students to review.

SDSUniverse, a news Web site for the faculty and staff of San Diego State University, is published by
Marketing & Communications, Division of University Advancement.