Professors, students discuss enhancing learning spaces

Members of USC’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Center for Scholarly Technology met Friday to discuss ideas to help transform and upgrade USC’s classrooms and auditoriums.

CET and CST are working on a five-year initiative to improve USC’s learning spaces. Those spearheading the initiative hope to make USC’s campus more tech-friendly by updating the technologies and infrastructure in spaces around campus.

The first phase of the initiative involves updating the classrooms and auditoriums to meet the same standards — all rooms will have media boxes and projectors. This phase will be completed by fall 2010.

By this summer, all three computing centers at USC — King Hall, Salvatori Computer Science Center and Waite Phillips Hall — will be renovated along with 50 classrooms and two auditoriums, Montgomery Ross Fisher Building 340 and WPH B27.

The auditoriums will be equipped with media boxes, projectors and computers.

“This is a big movement in higher education IT,” said Joseph Cevetello, director of Learning Environments and Technology-Enhanced Learning, who is in charge of the initiative and works with CET.

Beyond the initial changes, much of the plan is still being developed, and concrete actions have not been decided.

Faculty and students discussed the initiative, “USC Learning Environments Initiative: People, Processes and Places,” on Friday, offering ideas for long-term improvements and focusing on why these enhancements are necessary.

Cevetello said the increase in the use of technology around campus has caused the classroom environment to shift.

“Students really for the first time in history are coming to college campuses with more knowledge of technology, better skills, more powerful technologies in their hands than the average university professor,” Cevetello said. “That affects the dynamic of the classroom because suddenly … students have the advantage.”

He said USC’s classrooms have not evolved at the same rate as the technology students are using.

“The biggest challenge we have in our learning spaces is the lack of technology,” Cevetello said. “The average classroom has one outlet, [while] 85 percent of students have laptops. Our environments don’t support the use of laptop computers.”

The initiative hopes to change how students at USC learn and interact with professors and fellow students on a physical and virtual level.

“The more you can create a classroom that allows a student to interact or collaborate, that takes out the notion that ‘I can just sit here and no one will notice that I’m doing something else,’” said Terry Le, a graduate student studying educational psychology.

Cevetello said there are two main questions this initiative will attempt to address.

“If we are going to meet physically … What should these collaborative spaces look like? Can USC’s existing learning environments support 21st-century learning?” Cevetello said.

The initiative is based on three major factors: predictability, sustainability and flexibility.

“Our first priority for the classrooms … is to create all our classrooms at one level,” Cevetello said. “So that when you, as a faculty member, or you, as a student, walk into a classroom you know what to expect.”

Faculty in the audience raised concerns as to whether new technologies would further encroach on student participation.

Some noted that there are professors who do not allow laptops in their classrooms.

But students in the audience defended the use of technology in the classroom, saying technologies like Twitter, live chats and laptops are more effective and engaging ways to learn.

“In my experience … in college [General Education] classes, the professor was throwing so much information at us that writing down notes is not an effective way of studying or writing down all that information,” said Alexa Hudnet, a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering.

Everyone agreed that in the 21st century universities need to adapt to changing technologies.

“USC is serious about making classrooms better for students and faculty alike,” said James Lawford Anderson, CET director.

So far, no price tag has been placed on this initiative, and it has not been determined where the funds to pay for the renovations will come from.