The AT&T Teaching Teacher at the University of Maryland (59k jpg image)


In the Fall of 1989 a steering committee was composed to design and construct an electronic classroom at the University of Maryland in response to a grant from AT&T Information Systems. I was assigned the role on the steering committee to assist in the evaluation of the room. This was a nebulous task with little in the way of guidance.

When the room neared completion, there was the question of who would start teaching in the room. Several of the faculty on the steering committee were eager to use the room for teaching computer aided design, business and management, and mathematics. I was reticent to jump in myself, however, for three reasons. First, if I was to evaluate the room, it might be best if I not be involved in the actual use of the room. Second, I was fully aware of how much work it would entail to teach in the room. Third, I was not comfortable with the software and hardware in the room. Everything that I had previously developed in the way of course materials was on the Macintosh(TM). The system in the AT&T Teaching Theater was MS-DOS(TM) and Windows(TM) 3.0. It would simply be too much of an effort to retool. Furthermore, in the Fall of 1991 I was teaching our cognitive lab course for the first time. However, midway into the semester several things had come to a crux.

First, I had purchased a copy of Spinnaker Plus(TM) (currently marketed as Object Plus(TM)) on an instructional improvement grant and found that it allowed me to convert HyperCard(TM) stacks to run in Plus in the Windows environment. Furthermore, I had been programming in object oriented stackware for several years and felt very comfortable in Plus. It allowed me to overcome the system barrier. I could generate all materials on the Macintosh and run them without change in Plus in Windows. Second, I was somewhat discouraged by the initial use of the AT&T Teaching Theater by other instructors. They tended to use the system in either specialized ways (training on one application program), disjointed ways (using number of programs but no integration), or not at all.

Finally, I could not restrain the urge to implement a number of ideas that I had about teaching in the electronic classroom that came from a paper that I wrote in the Spring of 1990 while on sabbatical at the University of Cambridge in the MRC-Applied Psychological Unit. In this paper (Norman, 1990), I summarized a number of the goals of the electronic classroom and proposed that the electronic classroom should draw on the model and the metaphors of the traditional classroom. This meant software that should support traditional educational objects such as syllabi, lecture notes, exams, class rosters, etc. I did not see that happening on its own. Consequently, I was compelled to take a stab at it myself.

In October I explained to my class in cognitive psychology that we had the opportunity to conduct the rest of the class in an exciting new classroom on campus. I explained that they did not need to know anything about computers and that they would not be tested on that aspect. They agreed to move. So I moved my class of 32 students into the AT&T Teaching Theater.

For the Spring of 1992 I scheduled the room for the ideal course, the Psychology of Thinking and Problem Solving and started to prepare materials for presentation in the classroom. Unfortunately, due to a peculiar sort of a computer system error in registration, the course was canceled due to lack of students. Apparently, every time someone tried to register for the course, they were told that the course was already filled! It was an incredible irony that a course in a computer classroom would be canceled due to a computer error. I was, consequently, assigned to teach an extra section of the introductory statistics course for psychology. Fortunately, I was able to teach this at the same time and to switch it into the AT&T Teaching Theater. This was to be quite a surprise for the students.

Finally, in the Fall of 1992 I taught the thinking and problem solving course for the first time and the statistics course for a second time in the teaching theater. Since then I have continued to teach all of my classes in electronic classrooms. This book explains the why and how I do it.

In the Fall of 1993 a second electronic classroom opened on the campus called the IBM-TQM Teaching Theater. A number of additional electronic classrooms are planned to open in the coming years, each an improvement and refinement over its predecessors. In recent semesters I have been involved in a number of experiments in distance education, multi-point collaborative video seminars, and the use of Internet and the World Wide Web for instruction.

This book draws heavily on my own personal experiences in the electronic classroom, informal experiments, and lessons learned. In addition, it is supplemented by the objective evaluations of 21 other courses taught in the classroom, as well as the literature of others experimenting and theorizing about the electronic classroom of the future. The word "future," however, is becoming the present quickly for those who are ready!

Prepare to enter the Switched-On Classroom!


A book like this, although written by a single author, is in reality the product of the effort and support of many people. I would like to acknowledge and give thanks to many. First to AT&T Information Systems for the initial grant for the room and to the steering committee listed below. Particular thanks goes to Walt Gilbert, the project director; Ellen Yu, the first coordinator of the Teaching Theater; Dr. Theodore Stone, the second coordinator of teaching technology; John Carroll, former systems administrator, C. S. Chang, current systems administrator; and Ellen Borkowski, formerly Ellen Yu returning as the current coordinator of teaching technology.

A number of graduate and undergraduate students were also instrumental. Special thanks goes to Leslie E. Carter and Diane Alonso, who, as graduate assistants, conducted early evaluations of the room and classes and to Mark Kovach, Josh Freidlander, and Laura Slaughter who assisted in video tapping classes. Also Scott Butler, Blake Sobiloff, and Ben Harper whose assistance and ideas were appreciated.

In addition, credit goes to the dozen or so pioneer instructors, who braved the waters along with me exploring new technology in the classroom. Thanks to the many students at the University of Maryland who suffered through the early stages of software development in the classroom and who worked, contributed, and collaborated in the building of education in the age of technology.

Finally, I give thanks and love to my wife, Karen, and to my children, Kirk, Katie, Karitsa, and Kaleb, who as home schooled students in their own electronic classroom in our house are contributing to the vision for the future.

Kent L. Norman

Steering Committee of the AT&T Teaching Theater (September 1991):

[Table of Contents] [Chapter 1]