TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
> Does anyone have any experience with computerized
> collaborative learning labs or teaching environments?
> We are in the middle of developing a multimedia-capable
> collaborative learning classroom for the English
> Department--particularly the Technical Writing program.
The University of Maryland at College Park has designed, constructed, and has
been using the "AT&T Teaching Theater" for two years. It has 20 networked
AT&T systems (Windows) and "every A/V device known to man." It also has a
video, keyboard, and mouse signal switching system which permits the instr.
to: view any student's monitor, display the instr monitor to any or all stud
comp, disp any stud monitor to any or all stud, blank all screens, display
any monitor on room projectors, take control of a student's keyboard and
mouse, etc., etc., etc. This is a very powerful teaching tool, especially
in the pseudotraining environment you describe. Call Applied Comp. Sys.;
800-237-5465. Costs about $1K per machine--worth it.
> Right now it looks like we will have about 25 486-50
> machines, networked, with 8 MEG, CD-ROM, and 120 MEG
> hard drives. These will have standard software (Word
> for Windows, Pagemaker, Corel Draw, Excel, etc.) and
> probably Daedalus for collaborative writing.
A CD-ROM per machine or on the server? (If per machine, where will you
get all of the copies of the disks? If on the server, will the disks you
want to use run in a server setting?)
> Additionally we will probably provide up to about four
> high-powered PCs and Macs with Framemaker, Interleaf,
> Freehand, and similiar software (generally one copy of
This sounds like a specialized lab. Will it be in the classroom? How will
students access their classroom environment out of class?
> Ideally, this environment will facilitate collaborative
> writing and group work on one hand, and on the other
> hand will allow technical writing students the
> advantage of gaining familiarity with the tools they
> will be expected to use in the "real world."
Who will train the teachers? What's in it for them to risk the slings and
arrows of technology? More money? Tenure points? Who will decide which
class will get the MWF 10-11 slot and which won't?
You will need a lot of support for the room: software upgrades, rebooting the
server when it stalls, servicing the fading monitor, etc. We have a staff of
six to provide day-to-day support of the AT&T Teaching Theater: a full-time
person with ed-tech skills, a technical person to assure that everything is
fully operational, a student to schedule the room for special events, etc.,
and to answer the phone, three students to be "back stage" whenever anyone
is using the room (one at a time).
The bottom line is: Faculty assume many risks when using a hi-tech classroom,
especially if they are the least bit innovative (which you dearly hope they
will be). The last thing you want is for an instructor to blow a lecture
because of technical difficulties, or to look stupid when something doesn't
Therefore, we work closely with our faculty--one-on-one--before each semester
begins, work closely with them during the semester to assist them in trying
new things, etc., hold periodic meeting of the facutly using the room to
encourage sharing of ideas--successes and failures, and finally, have a
collective debriefing after each semester, including a formal evaluation
form given to each student (sometimes on-line) and faculty.
It's a lotta lotta work to make it successful; but it's great when it works!
After all of this, we have a steering committee of faculty who decide on the
use of the room (this is critical for us since our rooms--we're building a
second one and have four more on the drawing board--are available to all
departments in the Univ.: a Campus resource.
Walter Gilbert, Asst. Dir. Walter_Gilbert -at- umail -dot- umd -dot- edu
Computer Science Center Manager: AT&T Teaching Theater
University of Maryland at College Park 20742-2411 (301)405-6727