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Engineering students pioneer computer-linked learning

A prototype classroom has been designed with mini-computers to maximise teaching potential and identify and help slow learners.

A lecture theatre with seats and benches at the University of Strathclyde has been given the interactive makeover, giving 113 students a hand-held computer. Students use the keyboard to ask questions and give answers, which appear on a big screen or are logged on a server, said the university's in-house architect Tom Hamilton.

'This enables the lecturer to record all the answers so he can pinpoint a problem student without having to pick them out in class,' he said. Hamilton worked on the design with the department of mechanical engineering, which discovered the idea on a departmental trip to a New York college. The project cost £160,000 to develop.

One of the department's teachers, professor Jim Boyle, said the scheme, natalie (new approaches to teaching and learning in engineering), was a lively cross between lecture, discussion and laboratory session enabling everyone to keep up. Lectures would include quizzes, problem-solving and interactive demonstrations. Communication through hand-held computers gave the lecturer an 'instant snapshot' of a student's understanding and progress. 'Gone are the days when a lecturer could stride into a room, deliver a well-thought-out 50-minute lecture and walk out again. We have more and more students from a wide variety of backgrounds, which means we have to be sure the whole class is progressing every step of the way.'

Hamilton said the department was working on a 'wireless' classroom with infra-red connections. Students would not have to plug in computers and would therefore have the mobility to use any space as an interactive learning area.

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