How to connect students in one class, from two lecture halls

Speakers from Rutgers University to lead UB Tech 2020 session on a project that uses videoconference technology to link two lecture halls on different campuses

In two lecture halls located five miles apart, students at Rutgers University-New Brunswick can simultaneously take the same course taught by one professor and engage in collective class discussion.

Rutgers connected the lecture halls at the far reaches of two of its campuses in New Brunswick with videoconferencing technology three years ago. The synchronous learning spaces were created to alleviate the level of traffic congestion driven by students attending classes at the university’s four campuses.

“Rutgers has one of the largest transportation services in the country,” says Matt Wilk, associate director for technical services and operations at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Nearly 9,000 students take a university bus each day to attend class at one of the campuses in New Brunswick, he adds.

While videoconferencing is typically used to connect conference rooms and smaller classrooms, Rutgers’ immersive lecture hall project is one of the largest in the country, Wilk says. Since the two 140-seat lecture halls were renovated, at least two other immersive classroom spaces have been developed at Rutgers.

The synchronous spaces at Rutgers’ Busch campus in Piscataway and the Cook-Douglass campus in New Brunswick each have 40 microphones on the ceiling to carry sound back and forth to each location. The design also allows the professor, shown in a life-size projection on a screen at the front of the room, to see students in both spaces and speak to anyone in either class.

“What makes this unique from other distance learning classrooms or videoconferencing spaces is that the professor appears in the other room in a life-size environment. It’s not a talking head,” Wilk said.

Professors are required to alternate teaching from each lecture hall to give both groups of students an identical learning experience.

Overall, faculty report that the linked spaces create a more interactive environment for the students than if they were teaching in a mega-sized lecture hall with up to 500 seats.

“The faculty feel it’s easier to reach the students in a smaller room,” Wilk says. “There’s a closeness with the students and they get a lot more interaction with them.”

Wilk is one of three presenters in the UB Tech® session Transporting Ideas, Not People, with Immersive Synchronous Lecture Halls. Also presenting will be Tim Van Woeart, senior project supervisor, and David Wyrtzen, associate director for faculty training and outreach, both from Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

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