Research in Wallenberg Hall

High Performance Learning Spaces Part 3

January 2007

3. Pedagogy and Technology in Wallenberg Hall

The key to understanding the educational effects of the technology in Wallenberg Hall is to focus our attention not on the technology itself but on the kinds of capacities for teaching and learning that it brings to the classroom.

We found that these capacities are quite general in nature in the case of Wallenberg Hall, perhaps because the classes taught in the HPLSs span a much wider set of disciplines than is typical of advanced technology classrooms. While this generality has obvious benefits – for example, in supporting the kind of transformation of the classroom space that Professor Shemtov achieving in her Hebrew class – it may also have drawbacks in ruling out classes that require more specialized technology than is consistent with the classroom design. While these tradeoffs are not a focus of our report, as we are not adopting a fully comparative methodology, they would be at the forefront of an effort to design advanced technology classrooms.

We have identified three general capacities, defined in educational rather than technical terms, that flow from various technologies in Wallenberg Hall. These include:

3.a Expanding the Social World of the Classroom

Traditionally the classroom has been a closed space, with participation and discussion limited to those who could be physically present. In fact, classrooms have remained curiously cut off from interactive technologies, even those as simple as the telephone. The Wallenberg Hall HPLSs use videoconferencing technology, in concert with large displays, to open up the classroom to other participants. In Wallenberg Hall’s first floor classrooms, two distinct kinds of activities have emerged using the videoconferencing tools. In many cases, professors at Stanford have invited remote experts to lead a single class. These classes have often been lectures but on several occasions the remote guest has served more as a resource for student project teams. Videoconferencing has also allowed groups of students to participate regularly in classes to and from remote locations.

In faculty interviews, those who discussed videoconferencing felt it to be a positive addition to their class. All mentioned the benefit of bringing people into the classroom, whether experts or other students, that could not otherwise have attended. One professor, who taught a class that always had a videoconferencing connection to another classroom, described a number of limitations in teaching a class where some students were always remote. Other teachers, who used videoconferencing on only one or two occasions, emphasized the success of their efforts. Some said they would like to expand the use of videoconferencing in their classes.

3.a.1 Guest Lectures Support Student Project Teams and Student Readings

In a typical university class, students have only one personal contact with an expert in the field of instruction: their teacher. Other experts are represented only indirectly, via readings in the class. Classes that involve multiple instructors (e.g., graduate pro-seminars) are very often surveys of areas within a field, because a typical university department contains only one or two experts in any one subfield. Bringing in guest lecturers or participants from another institution is one way of exposing students to more than one expert in a field, but this is so expensive and cumbersome that is, in practice, rarely done.

Videoconferencing offers another alternative. Faculty members can invite experts located elsewhere to participate in a class without the outside expert having to travel at all, except to a videoconferencing facility located at their home institution. Since the time and expense is orders of magnitude lower, the frequency and flexibility of guest experts can be dramatically increased. For example, a guest located across the country can join a class for 20 minutes to discuss an article that he or she wrote, allowing the instructor to incorporate outside experts into the flow of the class without devoting an entire session to the visit. In addition to the pedagogical value of including more expertise in the class, the presence of outside experts can give life to debates within the field, perhaps causing them to see their instructor as occupying just one of a set of possible perspectives.

In Professor Shelley Goldman’s Participatory Design and Research of Technology Integrated Curriculum class, Suzanne Alejandre an expert from Drexel University joined the class for a guest lecture about developing computer-based math exercises at the beginning of the quarter. At the end of the quarter, the same expert returned to class via videoconference to review and discuss the students’ final projects.

In one of Russ Altman’s Bioinformatics classes, Dr. Phil Bourne of UCSD joined class via videoconference in Wallenberg Hall to discuss protein databases. As Dr. Bourne mentioned specific websites, Professor Altman pulled them up on the second large screen in Room 127 to share with the class. “I loved it…I knew him pretty well so it makes it easy to get a rapport.” said Dr. Altman The main thing is there was no way he was going to fly up here. This is the number one protein database guy and they talked to him for an hour.” Prasahant Ranganathan, a student in the class whose team project concerned protein databases, commented, “Its amazing that we could get him…we couldn’t get him in a regular class.”

In Richard Martin’s Horace class, the students read an article by Professor Lowell Edmunds, a Classics scholar at Rutgers. As the class was discussing the piece, Professor Martin asked, “I wonder what Lowell Edmunds would say about this.” In Wallenberg Hall, this question quickly turned from curiosity into reality when Professor Edmunds videoconferenced into a later class so that students could ask him directly about his work. As he was speaking, Prof. Edmunds referenced other works by Horace; Professor Martin was able to show those works quickly to the class on the second screen. In this case and in the Bioinformatics case, the local professor enabled a far richer discussion by being able to show supporting materials quickly on the rooms second screen; the remote guest wasn’t just a talking head; instead his comments were in a deeper context that the local expert was able to create.

As these anecdotes suggest, there is a synergy in the HPLSs between the videoconferencing facilities and the presence of multiple large display screens. Typically, one display screen is allocated to showing the remote expert. The “local” instructor is able to use another display to show materials that are relevant to the discussion between the students and the remote expert. This ability also invites interaction between the remote and local experts, allowing students to see experts in a field discussing mutually relevant material.

The ability to involve outside experts in Stanford classes obviously requires that there be videoconferencing facilities located at the remote site. Now, videoconferencing still requires special arrangements and probably travel (if only to another building on campus) for remote experts. In the future, as videoconferencing moves further into the mainstream and even becomes a standard part of a laptop computer, we should expect to see remote participation in classes become more frequent and more spontaneous.

3.a.2 Using videoconference for distance education and remote collaboration

Faculty members also use the HPLS videoconference facilities for what is probably a more ‘traditional’ purpose than involving remote experts: bringing in remote students and perhaps instructors.

Using a three-way video-conference, Professor Rich Shavelson and Dr. Susan Shultz led a group of students from Stanford, UC Berkeley and UCLA in a graduate level seminar on science education assessment. Throughout the quarter, students from all three sites collaborated inside and outside of class time on projects, readings, and designing activities. The remote collaboration was complemented by several site visits that the students and the professors made to build face-to-face relationships.

Environmental Engineering Professor Stephen Monismith used the SmartPanel in Wallenberg Hall Room 120 to switch between the videoconference and a digital whiteboard on one screen while using the second screen to display his lecture notes and movies. His students at Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey watched the class unfold while he wrote on the digital whiteboard; when he finished writing, he switched back to the view of the students. The side-by-side displays allowed Prof. Monismith and his students to use one of the screens as a presentation space and the other as a workspace where they can interact with remote colleagues.

During his History of Silicon Valley course which is co-taught via videoconference with Professor Steve Usselman at Georgia Tech, Professor Tim Lenoir makes active use of the course website. Having two side by side large screen displays means that he and his students can interact with their colleagues at Georgia Tech through the videoconference and access the class website where presentations, readings, and discussions have been posted throughout the week. In both classes, students and faculty have access to the work that they have done over the quarter as well as the opportunity to discuss the subject matter with each other in real time.

Forward to HPLS Part 3b

Back to HPLS Part 2

Return to Findings