A Brief Look at Alter Hall
—Aaron Sullivan, Assistant Editor
If you haven’t yet had an opportunity to visit the new edifice gracing the corner of 13th and Montgomery, you really should head over and look inside; Alter Hall puts on an impressive show. Simply step past security and you’re in a spacious three-story atrium. Above you hovers a delicate and complex kinetic sculpture. Composed of dozens of small sheets of aluminum, each representing one of the countries recognized by the United Nations, the sculpture slowly rotates on the slightest current of air. Across the atrium, a 6,400-pound granite globe floats on a jet of water, slowly turning. And through a passage to one side, you’ll spot the longest stock ticker of any U.S. university encircling the undergraduate student lounge. In short, wherever you look, Alter Hall subtly and creatively advertises its global perspective of a world in motion.
As one of Temple’s most recent projects, Alter Hall was constructed with instructional technology literally built into its classrooms. The Herald contacted Darin Kapanjie and Katherine Nelson, both of whom teach in Alter, to ask how they’re using some of that technology in their courses this semester.
Certainly one of the most powerful tools available to them is TUCapture, which allows instructors to record, visually and audibly, entire class lectures. The ability to capture classes at Temple isn’t new, but Alter Hall was designed to make it as easy and effective as possible. Microphones in the ceiling capture the voices of the instructor and the students, eliminating the need for teachers to repeat student questions and freeing them from awkward lapel mics; sensors track the instructors’ movements as they walk around the classrooms, guaranteeing that the video cameras keep them in view. Students can then watch the lectures online at Blackboard or Course Compass, filling in missed notes or reviewing their own performance in class presentations. As Nelson points out, the ability to hear lectures a second time can be especially useful to students for whom English is a second language.
Kapanjie, who teaches calculus, is particularly pleased with the level of mobility he’s able to achieve in his classes, something that’s further enhanced by his use of a tablet laptop wirelessly connected to the classroom’s projectors. With his lecture notes called up on his computer, Kapanjie can dynamically interact with them by “writing” on the screen with a stylus and the changes immediately appear in front of the class. The effect is similar to what’s achieved using ‘old-school’ transparencies, but, with the wireless connection, Kapanjie can interact with his notes from anywhere in the room, or even hand his laptop off to students to have them demonstrate a problem. “I’m actively engaging the students all the time,” says Kapanjie, instead than being “stuck down at the podium.” He’s found that students feel encouraged to participate in class when they realize that these kind of interactions, as well as their comments and questions, are all captured along with the lecture.
Alter Hall has also made it easier for student’s to engage with one another outside the classroom. More than two dozen break-out rooms, equipped with computers, whiteboards, DVD/video players, and large plasma screens, are available for students to collaborate in. These sorts of facilities are especially beneficial for courses such as HRM-3580: HR On the Ground, which is taught by Dr. David Feeney along with input from Katherine Nelson and requires that teams of students be able to interact regularly with each other in a high-tech environment.
Indeed, HRM3580, which Nelson hopes will establish a template for future courses, is loaded
with technology, from Flip digital camcorders to Facebook pages. Nelson, whose other duties prevent her from being available “live and in person” five days a week, periodically attends office hours and classes digitally via Skype, an online telephone and video-conferencing program. “David hooks me up to the class using his laptop,” says Nelson. “I talk to the students in his office and then he ‘walks’ me up to the classroom where I meet with the whole class.”
Much of the technology used in Alter Hall can be deployed elsewhere. TUCapture is used in other buildings, Kapanjie uses his tablet computer in classes outside of Alter, and Skype is available online to bring anyone with an internet connection and a webcam into the classroom. But the construction and atmosphere of Alter Hall certainly make high-tech techniques easier to implement, and the building itself does an excellent job of showing off some of Temple’s slicker technological capabilities. Alter Hall will be officially dedicated at ribbon cutting ceremony on April 20.
Alter Hall’s kinetic sculpture designed by Los Angeles artist Brad Howe
If you'd like to know more about Alter Hall, or some of the technology mentioned here, visit the links below:
Pictures from the Alter Hall website: http://sbm.temple.edu/alter/