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 New Krannert Classroom Equipment Makes World Seem Small

By Tim Newton

ON A WARM, muggy morning in June, the Ball Corporation Room in Krannert Center is busy with activity. Prof. Charlene Sullivan, finance, is teaching Advanced Corporate Finance to MSIA students, who are offering their comments about a case involving Eli Lilly stock.

In the back of the classroom, a large TV shows another group of students. They, too, are participating in the class, raising their hands when they would like to contribute. These students, though, are sitting in a classroom in Hannover, Germany, part of the German International Graduate School of Management and Administration (GISMA) program.

The real-time connection between the students in West Lafayette and Germany is possible because of a specially equipped classroom. The Krannert School spent about $175,000, including $145,000 on hardware and software, to create the unique distance-learning environment. 

Chas DeLa, assistant director for information technology for Krannert Executive Education Programs, has spearheaded the distance education classroom effort for more than a year. The room allows for the integration of three cameras (two aimed at the local students and one at the instructor), a videoconferencing view of the remote classroom, a desktop computer for instructors, a laptop for instructors, output from VCRs, CDs, or DVDs, 29 student microphones, and as many as five instructor microphones.

"During the last six months, Krannert instructors have made many comments about what they would like to see in a videoconferencing classroom," DeLa says. "We believe we have created a classroom where we can manage a class-based video-conference such that it maximizes the learning experience for the distant student, as well as for students who are here in the room, and for the instructor.

"Sullivan says she has seen advantages to teaching the course on two continents simultaneously.

"It's certainly an efficient way to serve the needs of our students, especially those in Germany, who otherwise would not have received this course," she says. "I also think new technology causes us to rethink what we've been doing in the classroom. It tightens up some bad habits we may have picked up during our normal modes of teaching.

"As she stands in front of her class, Sullivan has a computer monitor and document camera to her left. A touchpad in front of her allows her to control her teaching environment, while a small screen to her right shows her what is being transmitted to the classroom in Germany.

In an adjoining control room, multimedia specialist Hansel Monroy plays the role of a television director. With 11 monitors and several switchers at his disposal, he can help Sullivan maximize the technical capabilities of the classroom. As Sullivan speaks about the market rate of a bond, Monroy uses the "picture in a picture" feature to show her face superimposed in a chart filled with numbers. As students press buttons to activate their microphones in West Lafayette, Monroy helps the camera pan and zoom to close in on the individual speakers. He also records a videotape of the class, which will be made available later in the day on the Internet and also will be shipped to Germany. 

There is still no substitute for a live classroom setting. Even with this highly sophisticated setup, face-to-face interaction is required. Sullivan has already been in Germany this module to provide hands-on instruction for the GISMA students.

Today, though, television screens connect about 50 students as they discuss the details of the Lilly case. "The technology we added does as much as possible to put the distant students in the room with their instructor, and at the same time puts the local students and instructor in the distant room," DeLa says. "Virtually speaking, of course."

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