Visit to Denver University

Before Educause09 started a generous man called Joe Schuch (from Thorburn Associates Inc.) organised a campus tour of some new learning spaces for those of us who were interested at the University of Denver (DU). I took a lot of photos as the tour was really interesting and useful. Here are some quick observations that I noted on my iPhone. The images can all be found on this Flickr set. Educause09 is way too busy for me to clean this up any further (and my brain is still suffering from jet lag).

  • Reconfigure of classrooms may be possible but it won’t happen without ease of use (wheels).
  • Webcasting is possible in most classes at DU.
  • Hubs can be found in most floors for data/power (see images of a variety of types).
  • Wireless access is still problematic so they usually provide cable data too.
  • The importance of mobile technology is growing as is BYO computing.
  • “Idea paint” is used on some walls to allow writing space (see an image).
  • It can be hard for buildings to keep up with technology, so they must be designed to be flexible and adaptable as needs change. It is critical to allow for flexible movable furniture and non-defined learning spaces. Non-traditional models of teaching are being facilitated at DU. They find that they still need to allow for some managed restoration of spaces unless you have mature, responsible students.
  • Security devices are used on projectors to prevent theft.
  • Technology (& software) that you don’t need to teach people about is their aim: the users can just figure it out.
  • The space with high projectors is an experiment with a (previously) poorly used space that is mow well used, for many different purposes. DU staff said it was best if faculties can see and play with something first before deciding what they want!
  • Ports are provided in floors that can be walked over & wheeled over (see image).
  • DU Library is digitizing teaching materials for faculty but there are some rights issues.
  • Permaculture gardens are being put in around the DU campus as it is a dry environment. This is a long term plan.
  • They have a professor teaching students all over world on International Futures and have set up a special teaching space for him to hookup real time with students on campus and remotely (overseas) using a large-screen web cam system. His program needed a single port of access for all while waiting for a full web solution (see image).
  • Construction projects are being used to leverage the steps of technological progress. Idea paint is used on some walls in big classroom (see the image with the cool desks).
  • The Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL) program is in the university library. Julanna V. Gilbert is the Director of CTL and she accompanied us for our entire tour along with Jane Loefgren from the office of the University Architect. Julanna also gave us a presentation on their web-based tools that support learning at DU.
  • CTL have their own developers for Cold Fusion and developed the DU Portfolio Community (before Facebook was developed). It supports many communities, but content is not exportable to other platforms or systems. It is now a huge system that has evolved over eight years. 400 communities are using it and some departments use it as internal space as it has configurable privacy settings. It is written in Java uses an Oracle database (with the DBAs coming from the central university technology support department). It is not a course management program. It offers academic program assessment (not course assessment) as well as the community side. It is capable of collecting all forms of media that can be uploaded. It seems to be more popular with faculty, staff and communities but some students use it too. They can take their portfolio with them after graduating by keeping the space and they can add to it. The system started before online spaces were developed. A lot of research communities use it. It is much easier to use than blackboard and there is no need to teach people how to use it. (Blackboard is used at DU for course support.)
  • DU CTL also built DU CourseMedia – a media management system for multimedia including video, sound, images, etc. It was designed to be “no harder than buying a book at Amazon”. Anyone who wants to use these applications can use the system (but not the DU content). The DU Library helps with digitizing media, negotiating the ownership landmine and by adding (consistent, standard, necessary) metadata as “they know all that stuff”. The library thought that they should offer that service. They even hired an art historian at first when digitising images and then moved into film. The Library felt a need to provide content. (This is not part of the Colorado Digitisation Project.)
  • Lecture capture at DU is done through client via laptops, mostly to Blackboard. I think their system can encode up to six simultaneous streams. It is mostly used by the Business faculty academics. They went for an economical solution.

I am really grateful for the time and generosity of the staff and students of the University of Denver for providing us with this tour of their learning spaces. My images and words probably do not do them the credit they deserve.

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