Communication Studies Adds High-Tech, Collaborative Classroom to Campus

Friday, November 15, 2013

by Amanda Sapio '13

When members of the Communication Studies faculty and Media Services engineer Justin Fowler first stepped into Merion 174, it was a stark white classroom containing the typical assortment of chairs, desks, a teaching podium and a whiteboard. By August 2013, Fowler and the faculty had redesigned the room into a collaborative learning space, complete with digital monitors, an advanced audio system and file-sharing software.

“Saint Joseph's is among the leaders in our region in creating collaborative learning environments such as this classroom,” says Aimée Knight, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication studies. “Having a resource this advanced will help students apply the concepts they learn in class to real-life contexts.”

News of the classroom’s unique design spread quickly. Other universities in the Philadelphia area have contacted Fowler to request a tour of the space in preparation for creating a similar classroom on their campuses.

The student experience was of the utmost importance throughout the classroom design process. Surveys were distributed to communication studies students that queried them about what an ideal communications classroom should include. Students emphasized the importance of natural light, high-tech monitors and software, comfortable chairs and a spacious environment.

The classroom includes eight television monitors, two projectors and eight Xbox systems. Two of the Xbox systems are in the “gaming corner” of the room, which is complete with couches, chairs and two television sets. The gaming section will be used for Videogame Histories and Rhetorics, a course taught by Tim Lockridge, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication studies, in which students study video games from a cultural and historical perspective and consider how they apply to contemporary culture.

The gaming consoles will also be used for Knight’s Digital Storytelling class, in which students analyze the use of storytelling through video games.

“I wanted the room to help further pedagogical collaboration,” says Knight. “We first started narrowing down the most important features needed for this room last fall. Justin Fowler’s intuitive design and technical knowledge helped bring our ideas to reality.”

With a background in audio/visual installation, Fowler recognized the importance of installing high-quality audio speakers in the classroom. He chose Brown Innovations Sound Domes, speakers that use a hemispherical design to centralize sound, helping it flow directly to the area where students work.

“I envision the concepts and technology utilized in this room being implemented in classrooms throughout campus in the future,” says Fowler.

Tidebreak, software that allows professors and students to collaborate wirelessly by sending media files on a shared display, is installed on all monitors in the classroom, making it the first space on campus to use this advanced, file-sharing program.

“The software we chose was important to us because we wanted the classroom to be as student-centered as possible,” add Knight. This is a learning space — a studio environment — and we want to ensure that students are never inhibited from beginning a project because we lack the requisite technology,” says Knight.

“The layout of the room is more conducive to group work than a regular classroom,” says Katie McLaughlin ’16, communication studies major. “The technology is also very interesting; I’m looking forward to using it for future projects.”

Merion Hall 174 is an ideal space for students interested in designing websites, multimedia composing and other creative mediums. For more information about the classroom, contact Knight at (610) 660-1885 or aknight@sju.edu



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