Nationally, colleges are restructuring classrooms to include smart technology which is believed to improve student performance. In an era when machinery satisfies the need for instant gratification, software in thousands of facilities is being revamped to keep up with the times.
Florida A&M has joined at the peak of the technology curve to include smart buildings and classrooms. This fall, according to FAMU’s Division of Enterprise Information Technology website, members of EIT and of the Office of Instructional Media collaborated “to provide a technologically enhanced and virtual learning experience through state-of-the-art smart classrooms.”
There are more than 33 classrooms equipped with smart boards. Within the next three years all classrooms on campus are scheduled to have smart boards.
“We have all types of media and instructional technology that may be checked out,” said Director of Instructional Technology Franzetta Fitz. “What we launched this semester was the smart classroom technology– Tucker Hall included with their new renovation. Integrated in that technology is a one-touch solution.”
At the press of a button DVD players, smart boards or screens- screens being located in larger classrooms- and touch pads are available for instructors to utilize during lessons. Much like the one-touch solutions available to faculty, smart technologies are also designed to work cohesively.
The company Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technologies has developed from a corporate America computer security system to an aide in education. Schools and teachers across the country have begun to incorporate SMART technologies and distance learning in all classrooms from collegiate to elementary.
According to SMART Technologies website, “teachers can quickly incorporate (the technology) into their teaching to transform learning and increase student engagement.” Additionally, the website notes that there are “more than 30 million users actively learning and collaborating with SMART products.
Created for computer hard drives to correct themselves in case of malfunctions, SMART systems have evolved to not only include the SMART interactive boards, but audio enhancement systems, document cameras, and the wireless slates as well. These products, and others under this umbrella, are predicted to assist teachers and improve student learning in the classroom.
According to FAMU’s director of Instructional Technology Franzetta Fitz, smart boards, retractable screens and touch pads are three of the standard designs for the recently upgraded classes. These technologies encourage student participation she said.
“We have the touch pads so that teachers can actually write on the pad and it will project on to the screen or smart board,” she said. “In addition to that, it allows the student to really get engaged and involved with the smart technologies.”
One of the leading schools on this campus, FAMU’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sales has advanced in smart and distance learning technologies since its 2003 opening. As the college’s coordinator of computer systems control, Shwana Brown said video conferencing systems are exclusive to the school.
“Two of our rooms are equipped with video conferencing equipment,” said Brown, who is solely in charge of the technology throughout the building. “Our school has three external sites in Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami. When we have faculty meetings we can connect with them. We’ve also had other departments use our equipment to conference with people in other countries.”
As Brown continues to advance the college of pharmacy technologies through networking and more, Samuel Houston, FAMU’s director of Facilities Planning & Construction, also works to ensure facilities are equipped appropriately. He said a percentage of the construction cost for an upgraded building is budgeted for furnishing and equipment which also includes technology equipment.
“We are included in all of the renovation projects,” Houston said. “For example, for Jones Hall we have set aside $1.3 million for furnishing and equipment of the building itself. The smart classroom apparatus would be included with that. We usually put in between five and 10 percent of construction costs for furnishing and equipment of a building.”
In recent years technology fees have been mandated by Florida statues. Legislators approved statute 1009.24 (13), effective fall 2010, which reads, “each university board of trustees may establish a technology fee of up to 5 percent of the tuition per credit hour. The revenue from this fee shall be used to enhance instructional technology resources for students and faculty.”
This summer, FAMU’s Board of Trustees passed Amended Regulation 3.017— the university’s fee schedule which also became effective Fall 2010. According to the regulation, 4.78 percent of an undergraduate student’s tuition is for technology fees, 12.63 percent of graduate students and 14.35 percent for law school students.
With a substantial portion of student’s tuition and other university revenue generated toward the classroom’s technological restructuring, an assessment of its productivity would indicate how suitable the upgrades are.
Third year political science/pre-law student from Miami Enisha Montgomery, 20, says all of her classes are in the newly upgraded Tucker Hall. As a freshman, she also attended classes held in the building prior to its reconstruction. She said the recent technology installation caters to audio and visual learning styles.
“We get to see what our teachers are doing on the screen. The projector is much more clear and because we have speakers everywhere, we get to hear what the teacher is talking about from the microphone,” she said.
Montgomery added that students were able to use the touch screen controlled system for class projects.
Marci Stringer has been an assistant professor of theatre at the university for four years. Along with herself, she allows her students to utilize the system- verifying it’s ease.
“I can walk in class with just a zip drive. I put it in and my power point is there. The class can see it- no problems. Group projects are so much easier.”
While Fitz said there has not been any official survey evaluating the effects of the system on student learning, she says the instructional media center “consistently” services instructors who work with the technology.
“We offer training in terms of professors becoming comfortable with the technology,” Fitz said. “Afterall, the most important thing we want is for the faculty members to concentrate on delivering instruction to the student. We want the technology to be as transparent as possible.”
Stringer said the smart technology has allotted her more resources in the classroom. Taking advantage of the media center’s training courses has simplified delivering her lectures.
“When they first opened the building, there was a sequence of training sessions available for the faculty moving back in. I took several of those sessions to get me familiar with the equipment,” she said. “I thought it would be difficult and didn’t want it to complicate my instruction. I realized that it really is like working your own laptop.”
As for students, Stringer said she believes the technology will supplement their education and improve the overall learning process.
“Just me generalizing, my lectures go much smoother,” she said. “Students can see and hear what I’m saying, so I think that makes the process go much better. I believe if you can hear what I’m saying and get to see it, if you go home and study, you will have no problems passing my class.”