High-Tech Video Wall Classroom Clicks Up Learning Curve
Most people have likely never seen a huge, three-dimensional model of a molecule spread out over 13 flat-screen, high-definition monitors. Until recently, chemistry students at La Sierra University used their imaginations to visualize the makeup of such tiny elements. They're now learning with a very high-tech alternative.
Room 231 in Palmer Hall, one of La Sierra's original older buildings, has morphed into a shiny, high-tech universe. The new room is now called the Interactive Digital Learning Collaborative. A bank of nine flat-screen, 18-megapixel video monitors looms above rows of modern chairs around matching, v-shaped computer desks. Two flat-screen monitors on each facing wall provide additional viewing opportunities and are linked to the bank of nine displays at the front of the room.
Specialized software allows teachers at a control computer to move high-resolution Internet or other digital images to some or all of the flat panel screens simultaneously, zoom in and out and perform other viewing functions.
Teachers can also wirelessly connect up to 12 laptops to the wall monitors, allowing the display of gigantic, moveable images. It is all the product of Hiperwall Inc. in Irvine, a spinoff of the University of California, Irvine.
The Interactive Digital Learning Collaborative has greatly aided learning experiences during General Chemistry II, said student Nathaniel Sullivan. "It allows a student see the complex molecules in 3-D on a huge display for easy analysis. Before students had to visualize mentally how atoms interacted to form these complex molecules," he said. "Once a molecule is on the screen the other students can help evaluate its properties together."
Hiperwall's video wall systems have been used for trading floors, command centers, the power industry and other venues. La Sierra's classroom is the company's first academic client. "Ours is the first installation of its kind anywhere," said Nate Brandstater, associate professor of chemistry who discovered the system at a technology conference. "Students who walk in this room and see this system, their jaws drop."
La Sierra University funded about half the cost of the video wall system with a federal education grant obtained through the office of U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Riverside). Donations covered the remaining cost.
La Sierra's new Hiperwall video wall system and the learning experience it is affording Sullivan and other students concludes Brandstater's six-year search for just the right technology to enhance the learning experience. "I knew immediately, this is exactly what I want," Brandstater recalled.
The 13 displays are integrated through an Ethernet network designed and installed by Neal Lawson, La Sierra's manager of infrastructure. 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," said Brandstater, "is to come up with as many wonderful applications of technology in the classroom as possible."