Rutgers-Camden due for tech upgrade

Law professor Carol Wallinger goes largely paperless in class. She also sought a way to discuss papers with students one on one
Law professor Carol Wallinger goes largely paperless in class. She also sought a way to discuss papers with students one on one (rather than swap e-mails.)
Posted: March 11, 2014

CAMDEN When students return to Rutgers-Camden in the fall, if all goes according to plan, they will be offered a smartphone app to guide them from class to class by tracking their locations within buildings.

Computer screens outside classrooms and study rooms will display availability - and take digital reservations.

iPads will give faculty members the freedom to move around while teaching and to annotate presentations and documents in real time. Ceiling-mounted cameras will record sessions in HD and automatically post the videos to class Web pages.

The state-funded technology upgrades are intended to boost student engagement, increase research capabilities, and improve students' on-campus experience, university officials say. The goal is to complete the improvements over the summer.

"We've gone from being about where everyone else is to now being way ahead," said Kriste Lindenmeyer, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences.

She said when she joined the university in July 2011, she found a campus technologically on par with other schools but with faculty who were asking for more. Some classroom equipment currently in use is a decade old.

"PowerPoints, computers on desks . . . we've had computing across campus that you would expect of any research university," she said.

As part of the upgrades, hundreds of computers and printers across campus will be replaced. New chemistry and biology equipment will be installed, and the nursing school will get new patient-simulation equipment.

Students who cannot attend class will be able to use the classroom cameras to follow along from home if their professors stream live video on the Internet.

Behind the scenes, old servers will be replaced, which will make connection speeds up to 10 times faster.

"We're trying to move away from being reactive to being proactive, from an IT perspective," said Tom Ryan, campus IT director.

Rutgers-Camden had been exploring options for revamping technology for about two years, Lindenmeyer said, but funding was unavailable until recently. Under a $750 million bond referendum voters passed in 2012, Rutgers-Camden was able to request more than $11 million in tech and infrastructure projects.

Beyond faculty members' requests for new equipment, the rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets and the spread of WiFi coverage drove the demand for upgrades.

"Today, everything flies by us much faster . . . we're not good at listening to six-hour sermons anymore," Lindenmeyer said.

A law school building opened in 2008 became a test bed for technological possibilities: the automatically recording cameras, Apple TV systems that connect ceiling-mounted projectors to iPads and iPhones, the "digital signs" outside classrooms and study spaces.

For Carol Wallinger, a clinical professor at the law school, the dive into technology was unexpected but welcome. She received an iPad for Christmas in 2012 and began to explore.

Wallinger had never been a fan of PowerPoint presentations, she said, because they require professors to have largely prepared an entire presentation, including annotations, beforehand. Working with the document live, in a classroom, was limited.

She also sought a way to work with students in one-on-one meetings to discuss their papers rather than trade e-mails back and forth.

"Just having this device makes you start investigating things," she said. She found an app that allowed her to interact with imported PowerPoint presentations, videos, documents, and websites in real time.

She started small, bringing backup hard copies to hand out if the system didn't work.

Now, she has gone largely paperless in the classroom. She has also been able to untether herself from the computer at the lectern. She can highlight and circle key points as she teaches. Arrows direct attention to items she cares about in the moment, not just ones she had prepared for in advance.

"Just the fact that I'm doing it live engages people better," she said.

Adopting the new technology comes with a learning curve, Wallinger acknowledges. "It doesn't save actual minutes. It saves misunderstanding," she said. "It's not more or less time altogether; it's more time working with students."

Lindenmeyer said she hoped many of her faculty members would join Wallinger in picking up the new systems. Training workshops will be offered to 20 to 50 professors at a time, she said, with iPads distributed to those who want to jump in.

"Being able to keep the momentum going is going to be the biggest challenge," she said. "You can't stop. You can't get comfortable."


jlai@phillynews.com

856-779-3220

@elaijuh

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