Setting the stage for a veritable revolution in classroom technology, Sam Houston State University has opened its first multimedia computer laboratory.

Located in the Newton Gresham Library, the lab heralds a new era for SHSU. Plans call for campus-wide integration of multimedia technologies and other innovative alternatives to traditional classroom instruction.

"This state-of-the-art facility demonstrates the university's strong commitment to addressing the advancing technological needs of students and faculty," said Kenneth Craycraft, dean of SHSU's College of Education and Applied Sciences and chair of the university's Technology Implementation Committee.

"Multimedia applications promise to play an indispensable role in classrooms and boardrooms alike," he said. "Our Multimedia Center provides all of the tools necessary for exploring and mastering this important and pervasive technology."

In a nutshell, multimedia computer applications allow the integration of various media -- video, sound effects, voices, text, music, animation, art and photography -- into compelling interactive presentations that can be used to educate, entertain and inform. By combining media, knowledge can be communicated with an impact and clarity transcending traditional teaching techniques.

"The technology really enhances the subject matter for the students," Craycraft said. "When the applications are effectively applied, knowledge, in essence, becomes multidimensional."

Located on the library's main floor, the $300,000 Multimedia Center places 70 high-performance multimedia computers at the disposal of SHSU students and faculty. In addition to supplying the means for producing dazzling multimedia presentations, the computers allow patrons to access the library's newly acquired CD-ROM collection.

The lab was made possible, in part, by funds from a $1.58 million Texas Education Agency grant to SHSU's Center for Professional Development and Technology, an initiative linking the college of education with Texas public school professionals. The grant provides the potential for "a dramatic restructuring" in the way teachers are prepared for public school classrooms.

Additional funding, to prepare the library space that houses the lab, was provided by SHSU.

While the lab is primarily designed for educator preparation, Craycraft said he expects it to have "a ripple effect" far beyond that.

"You'll find training sessions dealing with the 'Across-the-University Writing Program' and web site development, as well as basic programs dealing with everything from improving classroom instruction with multimedia applications, to developing lesson plans and units of study for public school children."

Creation of the Multimedia Center involved campus-wide input and cooperation. Richard Wood, director of the Newton Gresham Library, contributed much needed space for the lab, which is located in the library's former reserved reading room. David Burris, the university's computer science coordinator, helped design the lab and assisted Jim Stevens, SHSU's Computer Services director, and his team of technicians in implementing the project.

The lab's 70 computers were custom built from component parts by SHSU computer technicians. The machines are equipped with 100- or 120-megahertz Pentium microprocessors and 1.2-gigabyte hard drives. In addition to microphones and CD-ROM drives, each unit is loaded with web browsing software for Internet access. Lab patrons will also have access to the library of software maintained on SHSU's computer network.

The Multimedia Center is the first SHSU computer lab to feature Microsoft's Windows NT operating system. This summer, Stevens said, all SHSU computer labs will be converted to the new system. It allows "more industrial-quality applications with more management capabilities" than the Windows 3.1 system currently in use.

The opening of the lab also sets the stage for realizing SHSU President Bobby K. Marks' goal of applying multimedia technology to classroom instruction.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the learning experience is much better for students when technology is applied in the correct way," said Marks.

"I think it is probably the most exciting thing that's happening today in higher education and I want Sam Houston State University to be a leader in this activity."

In keeping with Marks' mandate, the lab will be utilized for professional development workshops designed to acquaint and instruct faculty members on the intricacies of multimedia development.

According to Burris, faculty training is the first important step toward the "institutionalization" of multimedia technology. Once instructors begin developing multimedia presentations for the classroom and for class-related applications on the Internet, he said, the technology will quickly become the standard mode of operation.

"You are institutionalized when students begin to expect multimedia access and integration in every course they take," Burris said. "It becomes second nature to them. They are not being taught the technology, they are not consciously using it. They just use it for everything."

Once integrated media use is the norm in the classroom, the stage is set for a whole new wave of alternative teaching technologies combining standard classroom instruction with intensive use of Internet-accessible resources. This, Burris said, is the direction higher education is heading.

"Every school that has integrated multimedia technology into their classrooms has said that they are able to accomplish far more in the classes than before," he said. "Students reach a point very quickly where they will only sign up for technology-enriched classes. They don't want to just see somebody lecture."

To facilitate the anticipated demand for lab access, the Multimedia Center is divided into two large computer rooms separated by a windowed wall. The arrangement allows for classes and seminars to be conducted on one side of the lab while the rest of the lab remains open for general multimedia use. A committee, chaired by Wood, oversees lab operations and arranges scheduling. Lab hours follow the library's regular seven-day schedule.

"This is not a general computing laboratory," Wood emphasized. "The 'walk-in' side of the laboratory is expressly reserved for students and faculty who are working on multimedia projects."

The Multimedia Center is staffed by a Computer Services lab assistant who can help patrons with technical troubleshooting, as well as librarians who can assist with CD-ROM selections.

Currently, the library's CD-ROM collection contains over 200 popular titles purchased at the request of SHSU faculty members. By this fall, Woods said he expects the collection to swell to over 400 titles.

Ultimately, he added, the library will be equipped with peripheral multimedia tools such as cameras and accessories needed for digital video applications. Other plans call for the introduction of video conferencing technology.

"It is our goal to ensure that students and faculty have the tools and training they need to exploit the incredible opportunities afforded by multimedia technology," Craycraft said. "This center is a major step toward addressing the technological needs of the 21st century."


Media Contact: Phillip Rollfing

April 14, 1997