Many chemistry professors can spend the better part of a lecture period explaining how salt dissolves in water. But at Indiana's Ball State University -- where dozens of classrooms were recently equipped with LCD projectors -- the process can be demonstrated in less than two minutes.
By projecting CD-ROM footage taken with high-powered microscopes, Ball State's professors add a powerful visual dimension to an otherwise abstract concept, says Duane Eddy, executive assistant to Ball State's president of information technology. "You can see the sodium chloride molecules being pulled apart and suspended in the water molecules," he says. "You can literally see what is happening." And, since basic concepts take less time to explain, professors can delve more deeply into their topics -- and worry less about glazed looks in their students' eyes.
Colleges and universities often brag about their ability to provide state-of-the-art instruction, but at Ball State, actions speak louder than student-recruitment brochures. In the past year, the university has spent significant sums on classroom technology, including $345,000 for 68 Panasonic PT-L592U multimedia projectors.
An unusual purchase
Increases in federal and state funding for education technology have resulted in a sales boom for some projector manufacturers. Panasonic's Karl Demanss says that more than 50 percent of his company's projector sales now come during the May-September education-market buying season. "Educators have the budgets to do this now," he says. "Before, it was almost unheard of."
Still, Demanss is impressed with the size of the Ball State purchase. "That's a remarkably large number for one facility," he says.
Ball State's efforts to incorporate modern technology into its classrooms and lecture halls began in 1982, when the university won a $2.5 million annual technology appropriation from the Indiana Legislature.
Two years ago, Ball State used some of that money to purchase its first LCD projectors and installed them in the university's largest lecture halls, which seat 180 to 400 students. "The rooms are used almost every hour of the day," says Eddy.
About 50 of the new Panasonic projectors, selected for their high brightness and SVGA resolution, are paired with Macintosh and/or Windows-compatible computers on portable carts. The computers are configured with Zip drives, CD-ROM drives and modems, and some also have an associated document camera, laserdisc player and VCR. The mobile projection systems are used in 30- to 45-seat classrooms with 15 x 20-foot screens and connections for Internet access.
The university offers formal training for instructors on how to create and deliver multimedia lectures.
The technology supplements -- and often replaces -- the use of television sets in class. "The TVs simply aren't big enough for a certain level of detail," Eddy explains.
Ball State anatomy professor David Pearson agrees: "It made all the difference in the world. The students get a nice clear vision of what you're trying to show them, and you can build your lecture. You don't have to give them all the information at once."
But Pearson admits that not all Ball State professors share his enthusiasm for the new technology. "The majority of them are leery of it," he says. Pearson explains that some of his peers question whether projector-assisted instruction is more effective than the traditional chalkboard approach.
Regardless of whether students learn more, there's little doubt they enjoy technology-enhanced lectures. Campus surveys suggest that students prefer the new approach to traditional classroom methods by a 10-to-1 margin, Pearson says.