No textbook required

iPad illustration used with permission of Teehan + Lax

The 40 Notre Dame undergraduates who signed up to take Project Management last fall were in for a bit of a surprise when they checked their course materials lists. Instead of a trip to the bookstore to pick up textbooks, they were instructed to show up to the first class with something lighter and, well, way cooler – an iPad, the much-hyped eReader device Apple had released just a few months earlier. "I was pretty excited about the opportunity to use the iPad," recalls Wes McGinnis, a then-senior majoring in management consulting. "But I was also a little anxious to see how it would fit in within that setting."

Also curious about how it would go was Corey Angst, the faculty member behind the unusual request. An assistant professor of management and a member of Notre Dame’s ePublishing Working Group, Angst wanted to see what would happen in an entirely paperless classroom. "We wanted to know whether students felt the iPads are useful and how they planned to use them," Angst said at the start of the pilot course, which was part of a unique, year-long study of eReaders. "I expected the students would rely on them to develop creative ways of collaborating with their teammates. They were able to share documents, timelines and to-do lists, and show sketches to their clients. The possibilities were endless."

The University-loaned iPads were a pretty big hit, according to the results of Angst’s research, which showed students actually liked them more for their interactive capabilities than as a substitute for a textbook. "It wasn’t the eReader function of the iPads that won over the students," Angst explained. "It was a host of other features that support learning."

Checking statistics, watching videos and the ability to instantly pull up information to contribute to discussions were among the tasks that earned the device high marks. "Those sorts of things made the class more interesting and dynamic and could never have happened in the past," said Angst, who surveyed his students after the course and found, among other things, that given the choice, the vast majority of them would opt for an iPad over a textbook in future courses. "They made our project more streamlined and efficient," said senior Gabrielle Tate. "I definitely had a much better experience in class because of it."

iPads in the classroom
Professor Corey Angst studied the use of eReaders in his Project Management pilot course.
Professor Corey Angst

Going seamless

Ron D. Kraemer

As the world becomes more and more device-oriented, Notre Dame is adapting quickly to the changing electronic climate. While offering a number of cutting edge bells and whistles, the University’s philosophy is largely built on the desire to make technology on campus accessible, reliable and, to some extent, invisible.

“One of our main goals is to make it so people can move seamlessly between their personal lives and their work or school lives.”Ron D. Kraemer, Vice President and Chief Information Officer

" The world of higher education today demands seamless touch points connecting teaching, learning, research, engagement, service and personal activities," says Ron Kraemer, Notre Dame’s vice president of information technologies and chief information officer. " One of our main goals is to help people move seamlessly between their personal lives and their work or school lives. We believe that people expect to use the same technology regardless of what they are doing and we want to support that. We think people will learn best if they’re putting the same tools into practice regularly. "

Kraemer says top-notch infrastructure and wireless networks are major priorities, along with working with faculty to help them be comfortable with using different devices inside and outside the classroom. Students, not too surprisingly, for the most part are already functioning quite well in the electronic realm. But some are getting a new perspective on their old, familiar gadgets.

Hacking the Wii

Wii Controller

It‘s not unusual to find gaming systems in Notre Dame residence halls, lounges and student activity areas. But Xboxes, Wiis and PlayStations typically are checked at the classroom door. Not the case in one innovative course in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, where students are not only allowed to tinker with a Wii, they‘re being graded on it.

Created by Aaron Striegel, an assistant professor of computer science, and facilitated by a collaborative team of faculty from engineering and psychology, the course gives students the opportunity to design and develop new applications for the Nintendo Wii. When the class began, students initially concentrated on creating new software for games – a natural inclination for a generation for whom gaming is second nature. Eventually, however, they branched out and explored the possibilities. “They created tremendously clever renderings of balance ranging from an airplane landing display to a game involving a penguin escaping a cave of polar bears,” Striegel recalls.

Students using a Microsoft Surface table

One group hit upon an idea that has the potential to offer exciting therapeutic possibilities for stroke victims. By programming a multi-touch Microsoft Surface to interface with a Wii remote and balance board, the team created an interactive tool that health professionals can use to gather data about a patient‘s physical abilities. “The System Interface Design course was my most enjoyable course I took last semester,” said senior Anne Flinchbaugh. “I had never had the opportunity to program using XNA and WPF to create games, let alone with a multi-touch surface, so this was a very new and rewarding way for me to approach programming.” Striegel hopes future classes will be able to extend the technology to applications for amputees and those rehabbing from sports injuries.

Technology on the Quad

While opportunities abound for high-tech academic work to have an impact out in the world, for the most part, it does begin in the classroom. At Notre Dame, that happens, among other places, in a cluster of buildings located on the southwest corner of campus in an area that’s fast becoming the University’s "Tech Quad." In the Mendoza College of Business, the IncITe classroom provides business students with slick collaborative space for group projects.

IncITe Classroom

IncITe Classroom

Equipped with more than 40 laptop computers, nine screens on the walls and display touch screens at each table, the room is a model of interactive learning in higher education. "In the IncITe classroom, ideas, presentations and presentations-in-progress essentially can be floated above the group members’ heads like a dialogue balloon for everyone to view, comment on and change," explains Chaz Barbour, who manages technology in the space.

DeBartolo B011

DeBartolo B011

Just to the south, another showpiece classroom is nestled into the basement of DeBartolo Hall. Accommodating up to 32 students and featuring 12 screens and eight wireless Mac minis for each study group, plus advanced multiple image display capabilities for faculty, DeBartolo B011 opened last fall and already is a favorite among professors, who are exploring new ways to engage students and stay current. “I really like the excitement of it,” says Sean O‘Brien, a member of the Irish Studies faculty who teaches in the classroom. “I enjoy teaching in a fast-paced environment because I don‘t want any students ever to be bored. That would go very fundamentally against how I am as a teacher.”

Stinson-Remick Hall

Stinson-Remick Hall

Across the quad to the west sits Stinson-Remick Hall, a technological marvel that boasts 160,000 square feet of cutting edge learning space, including a nano technology research center, a 9,000-square-foot semiconductor processing and device fabrication clean room, and an undergraduate interdisciplinary learning center.

The "Other Dome"

Just across campus in the Jordan Hall of Science sits a true wonder in projection technology. Known affectionately to some as Notre Dame’s "other Dome," the Digital Visualization Theater, or DVT, boasts the biggest big-screen on campus. Measuring in at an astounding 50 feet in diameter, the interior dome serves not only as a state-of-the-art planetarium, but also offers students the opportunity to become totally immersed in any number of topics, from geology and biology to art and theology. While the screen does offer a dazzling view of the galaxy, its use is in no way limited to astrophysics and other subjects that might traditionally be presented in such a setting. Notre Dame faculty have used the theater to teach the scale of creation, to gain a larger-than-life perspective on sculpture, and to transport students back to the time of Galileo to put his observations in perspective.

"It creates an environment in which the students really wake up because it’s such a dynamic and immersive space," says Keith Davis, the College of Science astrophysicist who directs the theater. "That really enhances what the professor is trying to say and we’ve seen a huge increase in understanding that didn’t happen before." An innovative software program allows faculty members to easily create presentations on practically any subject with a direct path from their computers to the dome.

Audrey Marier ’09 presents her BFA thesis on classical music in the Digital Visualization Theater.

It’s a small world after all

Through technology, extraordinary travels are possible, whether it’s an intergalactic excursion in the DVT or a quick cross-country trip via videoconferencing. The possibilities for bringing the world to Notre Dame are particularly exciting for students whose fields of study are driven by performance and critique from coaches and experts both near and far. In the Department of Music, for example, one master voice class had the opportunity to sing for and learn from a renowned opera professor at the University of Southern California without ever leaving campus.

"Videoconference meetings are nothing new; that’s been going on awhile," says Georgine Resick, a professor of music who organized the event. "But coordinating musical activity, which is much more sensitive and more time-sensitive, is another issue altogether." A group of Resick’s students observed as two of their classmates performed for USC’s Cynthia Munzer, who watched, listened and critiqued their work. "I think this opens up a lot of doors for us to be able to experience master classes and work with other teachers who possibly could not come otherwise," said vocal performance major Josh Díaz. "It’s nice to get a fresh perspective from someone who’s never heard your voice before and get some different feedback." Coordinated by a team from Notre Dame’s Office of Information Technologies, this link-up was different from typical videoconferences because of its much larger bandwidth use. "It was about 30 times the size of a standard video conference," explains Tom Marentette, a video services manager with the OIT. "That means better quality picture and sound."

The Tech Track

Students using iPads

As Notre Dame continues on its high-tech trajectory, it does have some room to grow. "We’re probably mid-range right now," Kraemer says of the University’s current capabilities compared to other elite institutions. "This is newer for us here than at many of the universities against which we benchmark. The good news is you can move fast, so it isn’t like we’re years behind; we’re probably just a little bit behind, so we can catch up very quickly." Making sure campus is equipped with strong infrastructure and wireless networks will be a top short-term priority for Kraemer’s team. From there, the possibilities are endless. For students like McGinnis, who was surprised how much he missed his iPad after he turned it in at the close of Project Management, Notre Dame’s commitment to technology is a sign that it’s headed in the right direction and focused on what’s most important. "To me it just shows how dedicated the University is to finding innovative ways to provide the best education possible to its students."


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