Cutting-Edge Technology Revolutionizes Learning

You will still find blackboards in college classrooms; still hear the scratch of chalk across the surface. But, as in many other cases, technology has and continues to revolutionize how we learn. Drexel University’s Center for Graduate Studies in Sacramento, CA, which opened in January 2009, is a story about the wisdom of careful planning and the role that technology played and will continue to play in fulfilling the Center’s educational mission.

A New Model

Officials at the University originally thought they would develop a standard graduate center when they elected to begin a program in Sacramento, and proceeded with plans in that direction. Meetings with area business leaders, however, caused them to change course. These meetings revealed a key issue facing many companies — leadership succession. Many Baby Boomers will leave senior positions within many organizations in the area in the near future, and minimal thought has been given to training the next generation of leaders.

“The information that we gained during our meetings was extremely valuable,” said Tobey Oxholm, senior vice president for Drexel University and dean and chief executive officer for the Center. “The revised plan that we developed and ultimately implemented ensures that we are giving the community and individuals what is needed.”

A team of 30 staff members, faculty, and administrators worked on the revised plan. All courses are leadership-focused and blend substantive knowledge with practical skills.

“Our program — what and how we teach — is based on the demographics of our current students and those we are trying to attract,” said Oxholm. “Our students are an average of 37 years old, have been in their careers for 13 years, travel frequently, and have other responsibilities. We needed a program to address their often full schedules and travel requirements in a way that would minimize obstacles for them.”

The Center holds classes at night, and will add weekend courses beginning with the fall semester. Drexel needed an environment that was corporate in nature, comfortable, and that would facilitate learning. Because of the Center’s hours for classroom work, officials also saw an opportunity to use the facility for other purposes during the day to generate revenue. It was clear that this desire, coupled with teaching needs, necessitated a key ingredient to help achieve success. That ingredient is technology.

The Center’s Home
“Knowledge today is global, electronic, and instantaneous,” Oxholm said. “Professors can teach from anywhere in the world to multiple sites. We knew that our technology had to accommodate this requirement.”

Staff members from several University departments were involved in the Center’s planning and design, and personnel from STRATUS, a division of Heery International, also assisted in the planning process. “We needed a location that we could occupy for a number of years and that would give us flexibility,” said Stephen Leesman, executive director of operations for Drexel. He and others from the University conducted extensive site research in the city, and the University finally selected 20,000 sq. ft. of space in One Capitol Mall near the Tower Bridge and the Capitol building, and with efficient access to Interstate 5. A five-year lease with an option for an additional five years ensures that a move will not occur in the immediate future.

Technology Facilitates Learning

Drexel invested $1M in the Center’s technology and the investment is evident everywhere. “We had three main requirements for our AV capabilities,” said John Morris, chief technology officer and the Center’s director of operations. “We needed flexibility, which is why we are wireless throughout the building; the ability to accommodate face-to-face interaction between a teacher or presenter and their audience; and systems to provide for broadcasts between our location and off-site venues.”

The Center has three classrooms and six seminar rooms of varying sizes, and the equipment in every room is accessed through a single touch-screen located on a podium. Interactive SMART boards and touch-screen monitors provide electronic ink, capture, and whiteboard capabilities, and each room also has an integrated CD/DVD/VHS player.

“Our capture technology is very important,” Morris said. “Students are encouraged not to take notes, but to devote their energy to participating and to listening to others.” Every classroom features Echo360 capture technology, which is also available on one roll-about videoconferencing cart. The system provides both ad hoc and scheduled capture. All information that is shared in a classroom is posted to a deployment server within an hour after a class is over. Students can efficiently access all information at anytime, anywhere.

The electronic 94-in. diagonal touch-sensitive whiteboards double as interactive whiteboards and projection screens. Users employ a finger or dry marker to control computer applications, overlay electronic ink, write notes, access charts or images, search the Internet, play videos, or to save their work. Interactive pen displays are also found in every classroom, and replace or mirror the podium computer monitor.

The Center’s high-definition videoconferencing systems are equally impressive, are built into three classrooms, and are available via roll-about carts in six conference/seminar rooms. The equipment is sophisticated yet easy to use, and allows participants to feel as if they are in the same room even through they may be separated by thousands of miles. Videoconferencing is facilitated by a fully featured, live virtual presentation system that includes audio, video, application sharing, and content display.
Individuals who are not technologically savvy don’t have to fret about using the Center’s equipment. Morris and his staff are readily available to provide training or assistance during classroom time.

Four Master’s Degree programs are currently offered at the Center. This will expand to 11 programs this September, which will increase the student population from 53 to more than 200. Officials also expect meeting use by corporations, government agencies, and others during the day to increase as word spreads regarding the Center’s technology, which is among the most sophisticated in the city.

To learn more about Drexel University’s Center for Graduate Studies, visit http://sacramento.drexel.edu/facilities.

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