Spaces: Andrews 103
Andrews 103 is officially the smartest classroom on campus. SLC recently renovated the space, integrating audio/visual, Internet, and computer technology with funding from the Leo Model Foundation, Inc. The College will create as many as 10 smart classrooms in the next few years, so we peeked into Ellen Neskar’s class, “Reading China's Revolutions through Literature,” to see how they work.
- The Class Neskar helps students understand the Chinese Revolution by studying literature— fiction and memoir—as well as historical sources like photos and documentaries. The variety of sources offers students different ways to engage with the topic.
- The material Text, photos, video, and Web sites can all be projected onto the screen. For a discussion about the formation of the Red Guard (a violent, radical movement of young people in the 1960s), the class read excerpts from contemporary newspapers and watched Communist educational videos. Neskar wants her students to think about what it would be like to grow up at that time, and understand why people their own age were swept up in this ugly movement.
- Control panel “I feel a little bit like Spock,” Neskar says when the control panel pops up out of the table. With the touch of a button, she can switch which media source is projected on the screen—her laptop, SLC’s computer network, the Internet, or a DVD or CD. “In the old days, using technology was a major distraction. Half the time you couldn’t get it to work. But this is effortless. I can show a piece of video, and it doesn’t break up the discussion. The harmony of the seminar class is maintained.”
- Back in the corner, the Multimedia Presentation System does the fancy technological footwork, coordinating the signals from the control panel, the various input sources, and the projector. It’s plugged right into the College’s network, so Neskar can access her own computer files.
- The projector A hidden network cable connects the presentation system to a receiver, which then converts the signals into video and sends them into the projector.
- Lighting Neskar is impressed with the room’s special shades and lighting that make it dark enough to see the screen but bright enough for students to see one another and their notes. This is especially helpful when showing a lot of photos, she says—there’s less risk of someone falling asleep in the dark.
- Ellen Neskar A medievalist specializing in 12th century China, Neskar spent four years in Asia and lived in Shanghai before the Tiananmen demonstrations. “Shanghai today is hardly recognizable as the same city—it used to be so poor,” she says.
- The Learning Brain Faced with the stark reality of famine, oppression, and brutality that characterized the revolution, students sometimes shut down or refuse to find a broader human lesson in what happened. But Neskar encourages them to realize that under the right conditions, people everywhere are susceptible to the allure of a dictator. “If students really understand how the Red Guard became the Red Guard, they won’t have to say ‘that was an exceptional moment, those people were crazy.’”
- Understanding the media Neskar wants students to realize that the Shanghai they see on the news is the same one they’re reading about in class. “They should understand that behind the “economic miracle” that’s taking place now, there’s a lot of tragedy and an incredible loss of life. And a huge number of broken people whose artistic and intellectual lives were destroyed. I want them to have a richer view of things.”