Getting the Most Out of
Clemson Smart Classrooms

UCF-Dell Laptops in the Classroom Conference
February 2, 2000

William F. Moss 1
College of Engineering and Science
Clemson University
Clemson, South Carolina USA


Smart Classrooms
Student Smart Classrooms

Smart Classrooms

The College of Engineering and Science Pilot Laptop Program is an experimental study of the use of mobile computing in support of an active learning model of instruction. It began in the fall of 1998 when 105 Clemson engineering and science freshmen brought a prescribed Dell Latitude CPi laptop to campus and matriculated in a minimum of three special courses taught in newly renovated smart classrooms.

Today, the term smart classroom is generally taken to mean a classroom containing a technology lectern and LCD projector. The technology lectern typically includes some subset of the following:

In order to be effective, a smart classroom must be designed with care. Careful consideration must be given to:

Clemson currently has 60 smart classrooms. Each classroom contains a technology lectern made by the campus cabinet shop. These lecterns contain all the items listed above except for the laser disk, drawing tablet, and document camera although these items are available on an as needed basis. The photo gallery contains pictures of two smart classrooms in Martin Hall and one in Earle Hall.

Student Smart Classrooms

We call a classroom which has network connections at the student tables a student smart classroom. The first 23 pictures in our photo gallery contain several shots of one of the large (26' x 39') classrooms in Martin Hall. Before renovation these classrooms had a capacity of 60 students using traditional individual seating. Currently these classrooms have a capacity of 48. As you can see, the student tables are arranged in rows with an aisle down the center of the room. These tables contain flip up modules providing dual power and network connections. The wiring for power and network is routed through the floor and into the table legs and consequently is entirely hidden from view. Swing-out seating has been used to minimize the distance between the tables and maximize the seating capacity of the room. In photos 1-4 and 22, the speakers for the sound system can be seen. Photos 9-20 show various views of the lectern and its controls. Photo 21 shows the projector and lighting controls on the wall behind the lectern. The first bank of lights can be turned off and the second bank can be dimmed. The red switch controls the power to the projector and the right most bank of switches controls the electric screen.

Photos 12-15 show the document camera drawer that is built into the lectern. In one classroom a small Ibid drawing tablet has been installed for use by an instructor who is unable to write on the board. This instructor can sit on a stool behind the tablet. What she writes on the tablet is projected on the screen. When the tablet is full, its contents can be saved and the board erased and used again. The set of slides produced in this way can be recalled one-by-one in class and can be made available for download by students outside of class. Larger versions of this type of board can be used in place of a screen giving the instructor a white board with a memory.

Martin Hall has several small classrooms (26' x 29') that have a seating capacity of 36. One of these small classrooms has additional board space on a side wall, larger tables, larger spacing between tables, and chairs on casters. This rooms is shown in photos 24-29.

Photo 27 is a view from the front of Earle Hall auditorium which has a capacity of 64 and is used for physics, chemistry, and engineering courses.

After using the renovated classrooms in Martin Hall for three semesters, we can see the strengths and weaknesses of our design. In general, both faculty and students are pleased with the new classrooms; however, there are issues that remain to be resolved. The window blinds have vertical slats which leak too much light. Over the next few years, we plan to replace our 450 lumen projectors with 1200-1600 lumen projectors, which will make the light leaked by the blinds less of an issue. The smart (computer controlled) HVAC system is really quite dumb. It does not control the temperature well and is far too noisy. The table spacing does not allow the instructor to easily walk to every student; however, the seating capacity required dictated this spacing. Tables of four with swing-out seating limits group size to two or three. This type of seating makes it difficult for teams of four or more to hold meetings in class.

Our college has recently built two lab-classrooms with raised floors and tables seating four students. The raised floors provide some flexibility in the placement of the tables and allow the rooms to be reconfigured by moving the tables around. Over the next 12 to 18 months we plan to conduct experiments with wireless networking. With the approval of the IEEE 802.11 wireless standard in the fall of 1999, the possibility of using wireless networking has greatly expanded. Three Ethernet drops in the ceiling should be added to the specifications for smart classrooms at Clemson. These drops will allow the placement of up to three wireless Access Points in every smart classroom. The cost is insignificant. Clemson is a long way down the wired road. All faculty offices and dorm rooms have been wired. We have 15 student smart classrooms. As we continue to plan for renovation of our older classroom buildings, we wonder how many student smart classrooms we will need. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that our pilot laptop program is a college program not a university program. I raised this issue during a panel discussion on laptop programs at the AACE, ED-Media 1999 Conference in Seattle last June. The consensus was that 30% of campus classrooms should be student smart. Perhaps, wireless networking will solve this problem for us.

Over the next few months, we will try to determine if a wired-wireless hybrid network can meet our future needs. There is a trend toward putting Ethernet interfaces and modems on laptop motherboards. Wireless interface technology has not reached that level of maturity, so for the near term we expect to see wireless interfaces implemented as PCMCIA cards. Now consider a laptop with built-in Ethernet and modem and a wireless PCMCIA card. Preliminary discussions with wireless vendors indicate that users will be able to move back and forth between wired and wireless environments with at most the selection of the appropriate interface from a drop-down menu. At Clemson we do have a few laptop classes for which high classroom bandwidth is needed. The hybrid approach might give us the best of both worlds. Of course, the downside is the cost of another network interface, but prices are dropping.


Smart classrooms are becoming campus standards. In its first round, Clemson built 60. The demand to use them is high. Here are some of the uses being made of these classrooms in my sophomore laptop differential equations (DiffEQ) course and in my senior non-laptop advanced engineering mathematics (AEM) course.

Student smart classrooms provide additional opportunities for curriculum innovation. The traditional DiffEQ class consists of four 50 minute lectures each week, homework assignments (some graded), four hour exams, and a final exam. What do students in a traditional DiffEQ class retain from this course? Not much according to our engineering colleagues who teach junior and senior courses that use differential equations. We can't expect these students to have instant recall of everything that was presented in the DiffEQ course; it is a "use it or lose it" proposition. However, in the setting of an out-of-class project, these students should be able to figure what they need to recall about differential equations. It is our hope that by retaining a portfolio of Maple worksheets, this review process will be more effective. The traditional AEM class consists of three 50 minute lectures each week, homework assignments (some graded), three hour exams, and a final exam -- no MATLAB and no team projects.

Activities possible in student smart classrooms include


This study was sponsored by the Southeastern University and College Coalition for Engineering Education (SUCCEED) and the Pilot Laptop Program, College of Engineering and Science, Clemson University.

1 William F. Moss, Department of Mathematical Sciences, College of Engineering and Science, Clemson University.