Teaching teachers about technology

There is nothing wrong with the Audio Visual system in room 101in the Business Education Building.

That was the report submitted by Jim Weller, a technician with Audio Video Services.

But biology professor Jennifer Burns is still not happy.

"I have yet to walk into that classroom, plug in my laptop and have it work," she said. "My computer works fine in other classrooms, but I've been told that the problem is with my computer and that I should fix it."

But even many professors agree that such problems are only symptoms of a broader issue—the lack of experience that professors have with technology.

"For me, it was a very vertical learning curve," said Nancy Killoran, a journalism professor. "AV is very helpful in teaching us how to use the various pieces, but there is a lot of equipment in that room."

Audio Video Services said "smart classrooms" contain about $200,000 worth of equipment. BEB 101, for example, contains a 35mm slide projector, a 16mm slide projector, a proxima projector, a VCR, a DVD player, a mixer, various microphones and other small pieces of electronic equipment. All equipment is controlled from a panel on the lectern.

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"I would like to see instructions on how to use the different pieces of equipment," Killoran said. "Maybe a notebook with a list of steps for each piece."

Mel Kalkowski is another professor who has been frustrated with the systems in lecture halls. He says the amount of new technology that has been crammed into older classrooms makes teaching too complex.

"One person might set the room up to show a movie, then I come in and have to figure out all the controls to show something else," he said. "You're always wondering who was in here before you and how they have changed the inputs."

Both Burns and Killoran have taken advantage of the training that Audio Video Services provides upon request.

"When a professor has trouble, they just have to call, and we schedule a training session with them," said Nickolai Makarov, an AV Services technician. Makarov said that AV technicians meet with the professor in the classroom and work through the equipment with them on the spot.

Many professors, however, do not take advantage of this opportunity. Fernando Robles, director of AV Services, said that his office set up an entire week, Aug.

13 through 17, to train professors before classes began.

"Not one instructor signed up," he said. "And then when classes started, they had problems."

Taking advantage of such training sessions might prevent serious problems, such as the incident in which a math professor became frustrated and jerked wires from the equipment in BEB101. Robles said the entire system was disrupted and the damage took hours to fix. The Math department was billed for the repairs.

More recently, in Burns' case, AV technicians have visited BEB101 at least five times to check the equipment. After the most recent visit, technician Jim Weller filed a report that concluded, "everything works like a champ except her computer." The report further stated that Weller tested the equipment with two other laptops and they worked fine. Robles said his office has offered to look at Burns' computer to determine the problem, but Burns says that she does not have time.

It is this kind of frustration, Robles said that could easily be avoided.

"Professors need to take the time to be trained and we wouldn't have so many problems," he said. "Some, but not as many."