April 20-26, 2001
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How teachers draw their students in
Using new technology brings major changes to arts precinct classrooms
Architecture team designs high-tech Wright model
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Shawn Evans
Matt Kelly
Drama department technical director Shawn Evans uses the new multimedia technology in his stage management class to better display and deconstruct visual material.

Using new technology brings major changes to arts precinct classrooms

By Jane Ford

It didn’t take long for the word to circulate in the University’s architecture and arts teaching community that two new classrooms fully loaded with state-of-the-art technology would be operational this semester.

The classrooms are already in much demand and three additional high-tech rooms will be added soon in that area.

Part of a Grounds-wide classroom improvement project called Visual Information Technology in Architecture, Art and Science (VITAAS), the classrooms in Campbell Hall and the Drama Building allow students and professors to move into the digital multi-media age. ITC equips the rooms with computer projection and DVD capabilities, video projectors, sound systems and combination overhead and opaque projectors capable of manipulating 3-D objects to be viewed from any angle.
VITAAS is planned and supported by the Office of the Vice President and Provost and ITC.

Several people in the School of Architecture and the departments of art, drama and anthropology have joined efforts to make the much-needed technology become a reality. “By collaborating and identifying our common needs, we were able to get a lot of resources for the arts precinct that otherwise we could not get,” said Kirk Martini, an associate professor of architecture who spearheaded the project.

“There’s a tremendous cultural phenomenon going on,” said Martini, who has incorporated a Web-based format into his teaching of structural engineering for more than six years. “Students in 1996 were disoriented by it. In 2001, it’s a different story. The students are much more willing to trust technology.”

Not only are students trusting the technology, they are exploring its many uses and pushing its limits. They present their research, not only to the professor, but also to the whole class. “It’s the first time everyone in the class looks at everyone else’s work and comments [on it],” said John Dobbins, professor of art and a self-described technology convert. The technology brings the studio concept of teaching into the lecture class and provides life-long learning skills they will take with them into any field, he said.

Aided by expertise gained through Grounds-wide initiatives such as the provost office’s Teaching and Technology Initiative and Lilly Teaching Fellowships, and with the assistance of the Robertson Media Center and the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, faculty members also are meeting the new challenges and opportunities presented by technology.

“Before this technology, more time was spent talking about visual elements without being able to see them,” said Shawn Evans, drama department technical director who teaches courses in stage management. “The multimedia enhancements to our classroom have enabled us as teachers to better display and deconstruct visual material.”

Faculty and students in architecture and the arts have embraced digital technology and its ability to improve their presentations. Kathryn Rohe, associate professor of drama, uses PowerPoint to create lectures for her costume design classes.

“The PowerPoint application allows me to manipulate images and, combined with the digital projection, it really improves the content and clarity of the course,” she said.

Employing these new ways to show old information, Rohe shows costume details and incorporates sound and video to enhance the character of the various historic periods. “The visual impact is great,” she said.

After class, Rohe puts the lecture on the class’ toolkit Web page and for the first time her students can view the images outside of class for review and study.

Although there is a significant amount of time required to create the PowerPoint presentation, content is easily updated and improved. “I feel I have more time to do additional research and constantly expand the amount of material I can present, as well as delve deeper into the topic,” Rohe said.

A major asset of the new classrooms is the ability to do large-scale projection of Web sites. More than five years ago, Marion Roberts, associate professor of art, began to create an instructional Web site using her many years of researching England’s Salisbury Cathedral. Her earlier attempts to project the cathedral site in a classroom were a disaster.

“The technology has advanced so much, now it is easy,” she said.

Roberts also is excited by the ease and ability to leap from one medium to another. She can begin a lecture using slides, supplement with a video or hold a slide on the screen while she projects images from her Web site.

Dobbins, whose interdisciplinary collaborative Pompeii Forum Project has received wide acclaim, says that the technology has not only transformed his research but also his teaching in the classroom. Using simultaneous representation of six or more slides, each may be viewed larger or smaller, and in some instances can be offered in a panoramic view to show the ruins of this city buried by an earthquake in AD 79. QuickTime videos provide tours of Pompeii with other scholars.

“It allows us to bring the evidence back with us in a way that is alive,” said Dobbins. “The site becomes a laboratory of a completed architectural and planning solution right here at U.Va.”
The impact also is significant for drama students and professors. The use of digital technology to build and operate the visual aspects of theater design and construction is changing, not only professional theater, but theater education as well.

“As a cutting-edge program in theater, the U.Va. Department of Drama uses technology on a daily basis as both pedagogical and production tools,” Evans said. He now uses the new technology in every class, relying on the University’s resources, including the Web, ITC’s instructional toolkit, and the Robertson Media Center.

The technology facilitates the transition from the theoretical to the practical. Using the new video projectors, Evans is able to show videos of past drama productions so that students in his stage management class can practice calling cues. This is a first step in Evans’ plan to create a stage management toolkit in which each show would have its own Web page with time-lapsed sequencing, giving students a comprehensive view of the life of a production.

Tom Bloom, drama professor, says that the technology allows students in his set design class to quickly move beyond the frustrations of their own drawing limitations, to problem solving and final design.

“Students are jazzed by it,” he said. “They are enthusiastic to show their work.”


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