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 Montpelier Magazine

Classroom of the 21st Century

EVEN AFTER 12 YEARS, it's still the only one in the nation. With dual rear projection, this JMU classic sounds like a vintage car. But, as its name foreshadowed for an entire decade, the Classroom of the 21st Century in Maury Hall is a thoroughly up-to-the-minute technological forum for teaching and learning.

And only today is it completely appreciated. Twelve years ago, even classroom founder Charles Harris could not anticipate the intensity of the 24/7 multimedia lifestyle that youth (as much as business executives) are living today - cell phones, pagers, e-mail, instant messaging, DVDs, CDs, laptops, PDAs.

Today's information lifestyle feeds all the senses.

As psychology professor Harris well knows, it can also mesh with solid pedagogical principles and the precepts of the psychology of learning, which dictate that teaching be crafted to make learning a total experience. For the last 12 years, Harris has been championing not only the Classroom of the 21st Century, but reconceptu-alizing the traditional lecture and enhancing the Socratic method. Hence the classroom's dual rear projectors for nonstop alternating PowerPoint slides (or simultaneous presentations) and variety of audiovisual equipment all harnessed via computer for the professor's use. Instant student polling at each student desk increases class participation and interactivity, thereby bringing mass customization to the Socratic method.

Lest anyone think it all bells and whistles, Harris says, "Of course you can make your lectures as fancy as you want, with rolling text and fluttering photos and stuff like that, but students don't like it. And that's not the point."

Nor is it a spoonfeeding system, as Harris forewarns his students at the start of each semester: "'You can't pass this course based solely on what you see. I'm teaching this course, the technology isn't.'  I engage the students intellectually, and the classroom en-gages them visually."

The point, Harris proudly points out, is best expressed in a paper in Teaching of Psychology by JMU colleague T. Dary Erwin, psychology professor and director of the Center for Assessment and Research Studies, and Ricardo Rieppi. The two compared the effectiveness of multimedia and traditional classes in three JMU courses.

According to Erwin and Rieppi, "Results showed that students in the multimedia lecture hall performed, on average, better than students in traditional classrooms.

"Furthermore, the results of the study suggest that, in comparison to smaller traditional classes, a larger number of students can be taught more effectively in the multimedia classroom."

By Pam Brock