“Lecture theatres have become much brighter – it's like a happier place.”
So says commerce student Razeen Adams about the fresh paint jobs in his lecture halls. The paint jobs are one of the fruits of the ongoing Classroom Renewal Project, which aims to revitalise the aesthetics of all major classrooms and equip them with high-quality audio-visual and information technology equipment.
The project is run by a number of UCT departments, chiefly Information & Communication Technology Services (ICTS) and Properties & Services (P&S), who have been working closely with the Disability Unit and the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT). Since 2013, they've been working to improve and standardise the university's centrally bookable classrooms.
In addition to physical upgrades to desks, seats, carpets, walls, ceilings and so on, there've also been design upgrades, such as reconfiguring walls to allow teachers more flexibility. For instance, some classrooms now allow lecturers to use a projector and chalkboard simultaneously, rather than being forced to choose between the two.
Some classrooms have been improved by adding more Wi-Fi access points, hearing loops for hearing-impaired students and lecture recording facilities. Then there are dual data projectors, PCs, document cameras, height-adjustable lecterns, lapel mics … and the list goes on.
Mohamed Siddique Parker, an engineering student, finds the document camera particularly useful.
“The lecturer can still interact with you while they're writing down something. So they can get a response from students if they ask questions,” said Parker. “Unlike when they're writing on the whiteboard or chalkboard – and their back is to the students. The other nice thing is that when it's on the screen, it's normally very bright, so it's very legible.”
Adams (he of lecture-hall happiness) was also impressed with the extra wireless network points in lecture theatres.
“There are a lot of those, so we have Wi-Fi connection basically anywhere around campus now. For the wireless, it used to be slower. It's much better now to be in a lecture. If I have my iPad, I can download the slides in the lecture and follow along.”
A law student, who did not wish to be named, commented on the teaching walls before the upgrades were completed.
“Lecturers got very frustrated because every time they wanted to write on the board, they had to lift the projector screen up, switch the projector off so that the light didn't shine onto the board, and then had to switch it back on and lower the screen to use the projector again, which was very time consuming,” said the student.
With the improved teaching walls, this is no longer a problem. Lecturers can use both a projector and chalkboard at the same time. Separate lighting has also been provided at the front, so the projector side can have lights off while the board lights are on.
The lecture-recording feature, introduced by CILT, is a particularly big hit with students. In an ICTS survey, 87% of students described lecture recording as “important”.
One student, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “All lectures should be recorded. It makes learning so great. … [The lecture recorders] are important, especially when there is vast content and it's hard to write down. Many lecturers don't upload completed slides and this makes getting all the notes challenging.”
“The upgraded classrooms are definitely an improvement over the old ones, and have made it so much better to learn,” remarked the same student. “There are some classrooms that are in definite need of an upgrade, and hopefully these will happen soon.”
ICTS has also installed phones in upgraded lecture venues, so classroom support and campus security are always on hand.
Story Yusuf Omar. Photo Michael Hammond.
A comprehensive look at the upgrades and how to use them effectively.
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