Synchronous lectures: How Rutgers students are cutting down on travel

<p>Using synchronous lecture halls, professors can teach two classes from the same room. Students taking a class on Livingston can see their classmates in that same class on Douglass via projections on a screen.</p>

Using synchronous lecture halls, professors can teach two classes from the same room. Students taking a class on Livingston can see their classmates in that same class on Douglass via projections on a screen.

This semester marks the University's third semester using the Immersive Synchronous Lecture System, an innovative classroom style that allows faculty to teach in two places at once.

The system, which splits up a traditionally large lecture into two smaller classrooms, uses technology that allows professors to interact with two sets of students, according to an Inside Higher Ed article. The goal of the system is to reduce student traffic and the burden of transportation. 

Similar to the idea of a hologram, professors go about their everyday lectures while a collection of high-tech cameras and more than 32 microphones capture their image and voice — plastering a life-sized image onto a screen in a different lecture hall, on a different campus, according to NJ Advance Media.

Cameras display a full image of the other classroom onto large panels in each room, meaning that students on one campus can see their classmates on another. Whenever a student speaks, the video and sound system focuses in on them so the other classroom can hear and see what is happening. 

Students in the remote classroom participate less than those in the room with the professor — an issue that may be attributed to camera shyness — according to the Higher Ed article. These students are forced to look at and talk to a screen, which may attribute to feeling more self-conscious than being in a traditional classroom.  

Both rooms contain the same equipment, so a professor can lecture on Busch campus and the next day on Douglass campus without their students moving. 

Andrew Murphy, a professor in the Department of Political Science, taught Nature of Politics through a synchronous lecture in the Fall 2017 semester. 

He said the size of his class was reduced to 130 students instead of 250. While he still spoke to the same number of students, there were half as many in the same classroom and so his class no longer required a 300-person lecture hall. 

In synchronous lectures there is a higher demand for teaching assistants, as professors can only be present on one campus, Murphy said. They are trained to use the technology and engage students more — handing out papers and providing any kind of assistance. 

“There were things about it I did like," Murphy said. "I think that for a number of students it was helpful for them. Either to be in one place close to where they live or to have the flexibility if they were going to be on Douglass one day or Busch the other." 

Murphy said he will not teach the class again this semester, but that it was an interesting experience. He would take part in another synchronous lecture if the opportunity arose and supports Rutgers’ strive to tackle the adversities of student transportation with new, modern projects.

Another benefit of the lecture hall initiative is that it makes classes more accessible as the University attempts to take strain off of its transportation system, according to Higher Ed. As class sizes continue to grow, so does the demand on University and city transport. 

Zachary Malek, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, was a student in Murphy’s class at Loree Hall on Douglass campus, and did not have any major concerns about the new lecture style. Although he prefers a traditional setting, he did not experience trouble getting to class on time and understanding the material. 

“I had no issue with learning. I preferred the professor to be in person, but him being on a different campus did not impair my ability to learn,” Malek said.

The program ties into larger efforts by the University to modernize itself. Rutgers wants to be recognized among the nation's leading public universities through commitments to excellence in research, teaching and community, according to the University Strategic plan.

The synchronous lecture initiative falls under the plan’s technology focus, where the University plans to meet growing student and academic demands by implementing the most cutting-edge resources and systems, according to the plan.

“I think it's always beneficial to try new technology,” Murphy said. “It's always a good idea to be trying to think outside the box about if there are new ways to organize our teaching to help students navigate this very big and sprawling campus.”

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