Until recently, chemistry students at La Sierra University used their imaginations to visualize the makeup of molecules usually depicted on the pages of textbooks. They now have a high-tech, three-dimensional alternative. La Sierra facilities staff last year completed the metamorphosis of Room 231 in Palmer Hall into the Interactive Digital Learning Collaborative. It includes a bank of nine flat-screen, 18-megapixel high definition video monitors stationed above 24 v-shaped computer desks.
Two flat-screen monitors on each facing wall are linked to the bank of nine displays, allow- ing images to “bleed” over from the monitor bank to the four side monitors. “When you get to three-dimensional shapes, it’s a really different experience than just sitting in a classroom getting a lecture,” says freshman biochemistry major Rowaid Kellow.
A software system allows teachers to use a desktop computer as a central control to search the Internet and show lecture notes, spreadsheets, images and other data in huge, high-resolution format on some or all of the screens. The system also allows the wireless connection of up to 12 laptops. The classroom technology is a product of Hiperwall, an Irvine, California-based company that creates software that streams images across banks of interconnected video monitors. Hiperwall typically designs its systems for trading floors, command centers, the power industry, broadcasting organizations, and other such entities.
La Sierra’s Interactive Digital Learning Collaborative is Hiperwall’s first classroom placement. Nate Brandstater, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry at La Sierra, discovered the Hiperwall system at a technology conference. “Every student who has walked in this room and has seen this system, their jaw has dropped,” he says.
“It has revolutionized my course, not just how I teach, but what I teach as well,” Brandstater says. “My students are interacting, solving problems, and visualizing chemistry in a way I haven’t been able to attempt before.”
Currently, five classes are taught in the video wall classroom: general chemistry, a survey course of the periodic table, biochemistry, a University Studies class on the religious, moral, and social aspects of chemistry, and bio-informatics and genomics. Additionally, biology research groups meet in the classroom weekly, and an archaeology interdisciplinary group occasionally uses the high-tech space.
Approximately 75% of the funding for the video wall project came from a non-competitive Congressionally-directed, $143,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The 13 displays are integrated through an Ethernet network. The video wall classroom, which includes a surround- sound audio system, may also function as a digital art gallery or conference center with video conferencing possibilities.
“The goal here,” says Brandstater, “is to come up with as many wonderful applications of technology in the classroom as possible.”