Boston University Transforms Classroom Instruction With Networked Projectors

For all the impact the Internet and other online resources have had in academia, access has typically been confined to the computer desktop. On most campuses, the technology has been limited to use as a research tool for individual studies. Recently, such server-based resources have been freed to extend beyond research and into classroom teaching.

At Boston University (BU), Sony's VPL-FX50 network projectors are bringing traditional audiovisual-equipped classrooms to a new stage of evolution. The recommendation to add Sony network projectors to BU classrooms was facilitated by local integrator and AV communications specialist HB Communications Inc. Much as the Internet transformed stand-alone computer labs, the VPL-FX50's networking capability is opening up isolated classrooms to the wealth of online multimedia materials. Across academic disciplines, BU educators are developing a new style of teaching as they realize the potential of working with a "digital chalkboard."

3 Disciplines, 1 Projector

Before installing Sony's networked projectors, BU already had a major investment in AV teaching technology with 130 classrooms set up for projection. Of those classrooms, 81 have permanent projector installations. And in the last year, 12 were upgraded with the VPL-FX50, which helped bring new opportunities to teachers already vested in using display technology. "The move to computer-based content has eased the mechanics of managing material," says David Whittier, assistant professor at BU's School of Education, Department of Curriculum Teaching. "Computing has made it easier to store, search and retrieve material than when I used a lot of slides and overheads."

As director of the university's Educational Media and Technology Program, Whittier takes these techniques seriously as he trains the next generation of teachers. "We are developing resources to help teachers help students learn better," he says. Sony projector's networkable design also opens up a new frontier by letting teachers develop their own Web-searchable databases, according to Whittier. "This brings the curriculum almost entirely into a computer-based format," he says. "It is so much faster and economical to develop and distribute content on computer networks. Teachers can move freely from classroom to classroom and have pinpoint access to material."

Classroom display systems enhance teaching across the disciplines. For Raymond Levy, coordinator for emergency medical services in BU's Depart-ment of Physical Education and Recreation, Sony's projection technology allows him to connect with today's MTV-generation students by stimulating them visually. Keeping students focused also means removing distractions like having to turn off the lights to make presentations more visible. At 3,500 ANSI lumens, the VPL-FX50 now lets educators illuminate their points seamlessly by enabling them to see images in a well-lit classroom, as well as allowing students to take notes and review the textbooks without struggling in a dark classroom. "Multimedia capability has become a necessary part of teaching in higher education," says Levy.

Some areas in academia have taken the lead in bringing multimedia presentations to the curriculum. Patricia Johnson, an assistant professor in Classical Studies at BU, has watched the new technology reshape her work. For Johnson, display technology has changed a frill into a fundamental element. "Now, we can fully integrate imagery into our course curriculum," she says. "In my Roman civilization class, it has become part of the required material. After the images are shown in class, they go up on the Web. Then we use the projector during the exams. For the first time, we're really able to present visual material as an integral part of the material of classics, instead of it being a pretty addition."

Being able to bring online imagery into the curriculum is also crucial because of changes in scholastic publishing. Today, discoveries are available online years before they come out in book form. For some material, this is the only chance to get a glimpse into these lost worlds. "Scholars have been great about putting their material on Web pages," says Johnson. "So for teaching, the Web is the future for us."

Proactive Support

The VPL-FX50 can be accessed remotely to implement a proactive service program that increases uptime, while reducing operating costs. With projection technology tightly woven into the curriculum, keeping equipment up and running is essential, according to Al Gineitis, manager of BU's technical operations. With non-networked projectors we have to wait for professors to report a failure, then schedule a technician to diagnose and repair it, which can take up to four weeks, according to Gineitis.

Because the VPL-FX50 is IP-enabled, remote diagnostics change the support strategy from reactive to proactive. So, Gineitis can now continually monitor units through a browser in his office - checking on lamp usage, the condition of the power supply and other possible malfunctions. This helps manage material and manpower more effectively - a vast improvement given the tight budgets and small staff typical at universities.

Contact Information

Sony Electronics Inc.
(800) 472-SONY

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.