Research in Wallenberg Hall

High Performance Learning Spaces Part 2

January 2007

2. Wallenberg Hall in Use: Teaching Hebrew in the HPLS

Understanding Wallenberg Hall as a sociotechnical system requires seeing it in use in the concrete practice of teaching and learning. In this section, we present an extended description of the use of Wallenberg Hall’s learning spaces in a Hebrew language class. This description makes clear a point that an analytic decomposition of the teaching activity could not: that the overall effect of teaching and learning in Wallenberg Hall results from the simultaneous presence of a variety of technical and human resources, all available to be incorporated into the activity of faculty and students.

Throughout the academic year, Dr. Vered Shemtov used Wallenberg Hall’s space and technologies to simulate everyday situations in which students use the language skills they are learning. In one class, she set up the breakout space outside of her room to resemble a movie theater box office. As students were coming to class, they “bought” tickets, popcorn, and drinks; to get into the classroom students had to give their tickets to an usher. Once inside the class they found 3 rows of chairs all facing the large display screens in the front of the class. The lights were turned down low. After all of the students had taken their seats, Dr. Shemtov turned out the lights and played the opening scenes of an Israeli movie. After fifteen minutes, she stopped the film and students rearranged their chairs into a circle to discuss what they had just seen. Their homework for the night was to watch the rest of the film, which Dr. Shemtov had posted on the class website, and to write a review.

In another class, Dr. Shemtov asked her students to use their new vocabulary to work together to design the ideal classroom. Students broke into teams, with each team using a Huddleboard™ -- a small, portable whiteboard stored in racks of five -- to sketch out their design. The teams took their Huddleboard racks and spread out throughout the class and the breakout space so that each could have room to work. Dr. Shemtov and her teaching assistant circulated among the groups, helping them when necessary. After fifteen minutes, the teams came back together in class and presented their work. As is often the case, time ran out before one team could present their full work. So, they hung their Huddleboard™ on a rail attached to a larger whiteboard and then used the Copycam™ -- a digital camera integrated with the larger whiteboard -- to take a picture of their design and save it to the class website. That same group kicked off the next class by pulling up an electronic version of their work in front of the class and finishing their presentation. In a traditional classroom, that group might have been forced to cut their presentation short, or to hurriedly recreate their work before class in order to share it.

Dr. Shemtov also taught her Hebrew Land and Literature class in the Peter Wallenberg Learning Theater, a large central space with three very large projector screens, each controllable by computer. The topic for one day was a Hebrew poem about a specific place in Jerusalem. On one screen she showed an English translation of the poem. On a second screen, she showed photos from the neighborhood that was referenced in the poem, and on the third screen she showed artists’ paintings of the same scene. Students were thus able to see, simultaneously, three different representations (text, photo, and painting) of a specific place in Jerusalem. Dr. Shemtov guided her students through a discussion of the poem, and the room’s technologies allowed her to create a layered context for their discussion.

One of Dr. Shemtov’s students, a sophomore majoring in religious studies, commented:

I'm a religious studies major and I’m probably never going to build something or do something with computers but what I thought was amazing as I was sitting in this class learning an ancient language that I’m going to use read texts and do all those other kinds of things but doing it with technology in a very modern way, and that they were compatible. And so I thought that was really exciting and I would encourage you that the humanities people can also be open to technology. And, if anything, I think... I learned the language, probably better than I would have normally just because there were so many media with which I could interact with to learn language – it wasn’t just like a textbook. And the fact is, you know, it’s a living language and I got to experience that in the class.”

This comment nicely encapsulates a trajectory of experience that recurred frequently in discussions with faculty and students: the first impression is of the technology itself, an effect that is probably accentuated by the white walls and neutral tones of the room furnishings; and over time the technology moves into a supporting role as the classroom activities move into the foreground.

Forward to HPLS Part 3a

Back to HPLS Part 1

Return to Findings