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Room 9-150 Made Into High-Tech Classrooms

By Elizabeth Werbos

Three newly constructed classrooms in Building 9 were dedicated Monday.

The classrooms, which are aimed at improving teaching and learning methods using modern technologies, are the Stephen P. Kaufman '63family classroom for instruction in teaching, the Ford Virtual Design studio, and MITLearning Networks Central.

The classrooms were constructed from the old lecture hall 9-150 at a total cost of $2.5 million, using funds donated by alumnus Stephen Kaufman, class of 1963, and the Ford Motor Company, as well as by former Provost Joel Moses PhD '67. Richard Larson, Director of the Center for Advanced Educational Services, did much of the coordination for the construction of the classrooms.

Room 9-150 "is a space that is not remembered fondly by anyone at MIT," said Chancellor Larry S. Bacow '72, speaking at the dedication ceremony. He said the hall is now a "flexible space which can be re-configured for a whole bunch of different purposes."

Paul E. Gray '54, former President of the Institute, agreed, saying that the three classrooms have undergone a "marvelous, marvelous transformation."

The dedication was preceded by a lecture by Professor Diana Laurillard of Open University in the United Kingdom, entitled "Models of Learning and How Technology May Best Support Them," which detailed her views on the best method of utilizing the technologies used in the three rooms.

Laurillard emphasized the "engineer's approach" to learning technologies, and the fact that "we're trying to get something to work as well as we can." It is important to not just cram as much technology as possible into the learning process, but to be sure that this technology actually makes a difference, she said.

TheKaufman classroom

The Kaufman classroom, Room 9-151, is designed to help professors and teaching assistants study their own teaching methods. According to Kaufman, "the young faculty members are not always as good teachers as they are scholars."

Kaufman's main goal in creating the classroom which bears his name is to "ensure that world-class scholarship is matched with world-class teaching."

The classroom is designed like a video studio, with three cameras and six microphones to capture teachers in action. Instructors can teach a single session in the classroom and have it videotaped. After this session, the teachers review and critique the session with a teaching consultant.

"When you see yourself on tape, your weaknesses and strengths really come through," said Ravi D. Vakil, an instructor in the Department of Mathematics who ran a math microteaching workshop for graduate students and new faculty.

Elisa Kamenetskaya '02, a student in Vakil's recitation, said that the session in the Kaufman classroom felt "almost like a normal [recitation session]." She said that while Vakil is a "really good recitation instructor," the problems that he discussed with Lori Breslow, the teaching consultant for the session, were accurate.

Vakil agreed, saying that "you lost track of the fact that there's a camera there."

"I particularly enjoyed the role of film director" said Peter Dourmashkin, a lecturer in the Experimental Studies Group and the organizer of a TAorientation for Physics I (8.01) and other physics courses.

The recording of sessions can be controlled by an operator in a control room adjacent to the Kaufman classroom, or by the professor through the podium at the head of the class.

"The cameras are hidden and the operator is hidden," said Breslow, who is the Director of the Teaching and Learning Laboratory and was heavily involved in the implementation of the Kaufman classroom. She notes that the previous system of taking cameras and operators into normal classrooms was "in some ways more obtrusive," because the camera and operator were visible.

The Ford Virtual Design studio

The Ford VirtualDesign studio, in Room 9-152, shares a control room with the Kaufman classroom but its facilities are very different in other ways. Its purpose is to encourage "goal-oriented learning, particularly in the area of engineering design," according to the classroom's web page.

Another of its primary purposes is to aid the Ford/MIT Collaboration, a cooperative agreement between MIT and Ford which was signed in Sept. 1997. The new classroom is likely to become the operations center for these activities.

The classroom is equipped with a number of workstations which are reconfigurable through the use of the power and network hookups in the floor. The classroom also has cameras and microphones which enable videoconferencing.

"If they need to move an engine in here to work on, they can move the tables," said Kris Kipp, manager of corporate and university relations for the CAES. The Ford studio's floor is made of recycled tires to prevent possible damage from such activities.

The Ford studio will be used primarily for the Ford Collaboration, but it is a "really layered collaboration and there are various thrusts to it," which will allow for a lot of flexibility, according to CAESAdministrative Officer Deirdre A. Dow-Chase.

Learning Networks Central

The Learning Networks Central, in Room 9-057, occupies the bottom portion of the space which was formerly Room 9-150, and it contains the primary control room for the triad of rooms. The room can be used for many purposes, but it is particularly suited for distance learning applications.

A workshop on making web-based courses was recently held in the LiNC broadcasting and teleconferencing with numerous locations in Brazil, Italy, Columbia and around the United States.

According to Bacow, a recent teaching session held in the LiNC involved the "first connection to the Russian Federation."

To increase lecturers' mobility, the LiNC is equipped with tracking microphones, which allow the cameras to follow the lecturers as they move around the room.

The LiNC can also be used for many other applications, such as interactive design.