World's most sophisticated electronic classroom

November 18, 1999

"Information technology promised to empower us and simplify our lives. In reality, we can all attest to the fact that the opposite is true," says Jeremy Cooperstock, the designer of McGill's intelligent electronic classroom.

"Modern presentation technology, for example, has made teaching in today's classrooms increasingly complex and daunting. Whereas fifty years ago, the only concern a teacher had was running out of chalk, faculty now struggle constantly to perform relatively simple tasks, such as connecting their computer output to the projector, switching to a video tape, and even turning on the lights! Technology's capacity to improve the teaching and learning experience is evident, but so far, its potential remains largely untapped." Professor Cooperstock, from the McGill Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Centre for Intelligent Machines, and his research team have decided to change that. They have recently developed and installed a distributed control system in the MC13 classroom that responds to instructor activity by automating control of the room's technology. "For example," specifies Professor Cooperstock, "when an instructor logs on to the classroom computer, the system infers that a computer-based lecture will be given, and automatically turns off the lights, lowers the screen, turns on the projector, and switches the projector to computer input. If the class is taking place during daylight hours, the shades are also lowered. The room also features an electronic document camera, VCR, digital tablet, and electronic whiteboard. Using the technology in this classroom, instructors can effectively ignore the low-level details of device control and concentrate entirely on giving an effective lecture."

In addition to automating the device control, the classroom is wired to record a digital version of any presentation, including both the audio and video, as well as the instructor's slides and notes written during the lecture. The lecture capture system makes use of our presenter tracking algorithm, which follows the instructor's movements, even in front of the projected video screen, thereby obviating the need for a professional cameraman. The recorded version of the lecture is then converted into a set of web pages, in which every ink stroke written by the instructor is linked to the position in the video when that stroke was generated. Students can review the lecture any time after class, randomly accessing portions of the lecture as desired. Again, all of this is handled automatically by the control system. The only requirement of instructors is that they confirm they want the lecture recorded.

McGill University

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