Community College Tests Strategies for Effective Instructional Delivery

The Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology Department (ECET) at Queensborough Community College/City University of New York (QCC) works continuously to develop facilities and strategies for infusing multimedia instructional technology into its curriculum. Instructors there recognize that, besides acquiring the right technology, they must learn "how to deliver courseware that is consistent and persistent," says professor Bernard E. Mohr. Consistent in that teachers can present updated courseware in multiple classrooms. Persistent in that courseware becomes an integral part of the academic fabric. A Model Classroom Central to the department's instructional development is a model multimedia/networking classroom in which professors create and test instructional delivery strategies. This facility has 16 stations outfitted with Tri-Star Pentium computers containing sound cards, CD-ROM drives and removable hard disks. The stations are arranged in four tiers and angled amphitheater style so all students can see the instructor clearly. The instructor's computer system, meanwhile, is a more robust version of the student machines, with extra memory, a larger video display and larger hard disk. All 17 systems are connected to a local area network via 10Base-T cabling under the flooring and a patch panel at the rear of the room. Also at the rear of the room is a Hewlett Packard 4/si laser network printer. The primary method for delivering multimedia courseware and instruction is the CLASSNET 3 from Minicom Advanced Systems, Inc. of Holland, Mich. This device externally connects to all 17 monitors - totally independent of the local area network - allowing any station to view another. Each student station includes a Student Interface Unit, while the instructor's station has a Teacher Control Unit, with which he or she can broadcast any activity on the system to the student monitors. In addition, an instructor may observe any student's work in progress, then take over control of their keyboard and mouse. Opening New Approaches CLASSNET has opened a whole new approach to teaching. Periodically taking over student systems at key instances during a three-hour class session allows for the interjection of timely information in a multimedia format, keeping learners on track to reach their objectives. When one team runs into a problem that may serve as an example to others, the instructor broadcasts that team's screen to the rest of the class. Some benefits were unforeseen, as when the instructor's computer crashed one day during a lecture: "Having the ability to take over any system in the room allowed the teacher to switch to another system and continue," recalls Mohr. Instructors also use CLASS-NET's scan feature to monitor student activities and address difficulties before they develop into more serious problems. Over the years, instructors at Queensborough Community College have tried other approaches to multimedia instruction, including using projectors and large-screen monitors. But they concluded that a video distribution system like CLASSNET is more effective in meeting the challenge for consistent and persistent courseware. Finally, the integration of removable hard disks makes the department's multimedia classroom extremely versatile. "By simply changing hard drives, we can give the room a whole new personality," says Mohr. Future Directions Future classroom instruction will require applications and courseware containing full-motion video to be delivered on the LAN. By this summer, Queensborough expects to have all 17 systems connected to a Grand Junction 10/100 Mbs Fast Ethernet switch, providing sufficient bandwidth for full-motion video. The model classroom is also being utilized to teach teachers. For the past two years, instructors have conducted a series of Under-graduate Faculty Enhancement (UFE) summer multimedia workshops for science, mathematics, engineering and technology faculty. Support for the model classroom, multimedia courseware development and the Undergrad-uate Faculty Enhancement workshops was provided by several National Science Foundation Division of Undergraduate Education awards.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.