Multimedia U

Today, in college classrooms, instead of the silence of students taking notes in notebooks, one may hear the soft tapping of laptop keys. Instead of students raising their hands to answer a question, many classes now require clickers. Technology in the classroom has been evolving at a rapid rate, leaving teachers and students sometimes running to keep up. Multimedia technology, which specifically refers to technology related to audio and video, is no exception. From SmartBoards to YouTube, colleges throughout the world are taking multimedia technology to the next level in hopes of triggering curiosity, excitement, and understanding in students.

To AV and Beyond

Raymond Kent, managing principal of the Sustainable Technologies Group and adjunct faculty at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, OH, notes that multimedia technology activates more than one of the senses for students. Students have to listen, watch, and possibly use their hands to interact with whatever technological set-up the teacher has provided. This approach can lead to higher information retention and greater understanding by students.

Ronald Berk, former professor at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in a study that multimedia technology, specifically videos, engages both sides of the brain and taps into verbal and spatial learning processes. This deep interaction with the brain can allow students to remember what they learn in class better and to understand the material in a different way.

At Cuyahoga Community College, the administration has spent millions of dollars changing the way the classrooms are laid out and the way technology is infused into the rooms. The technological changes have given faculty more flexibility and opened their eyes to new ways of doing things. For example, in one of the buildings at Cuyahoga, they have a new audio distribution system. Professors can record what’s going on in class and the audio file is linked to the recording studios in the building. Professors also have the option to edit those recordings in one of the five editing suites. Their fiber optics also allows them to do the same with video in the classroom.

Even though the system was designed and added in 2009, Kent asserts that it is still incredibly state-of-the-art as they have built on it over the last few years. “The key to designing a multimedia classroom of today or tomorrow is making sure you design the right infrastructure, flexible infrastructure,” says Kent. Since technology is constantly changing, whatever schools choose to put in their classrooms should be able to adapt to changes that are made.

At Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, IA, the AV Department is working hard to standardize a new projection system to adapt to the evolution of projection technology. Instead of projectors that require a laptop with cables, the professors at Kirkwood are using the iProjection app that works seamlessly with their new Epson projectors. Professors can now wirelessly link their iPads to the projector and project whatever visuals they have set up on that tablet. Allan Schau, the AV Services coordinator at Kirkwood, says that professors can use the iProjection app to fulfill about 70 percent of their projection needs.

Schau also notes that his department didn’t choose to move toward the iProjection app as a giant leap into a new technology. It was simply the next logical step based on the infrastructure they designed. Looking toward the future, they will be adding Apple TVs to supplement the flexibility offered by the iProjection app and allow professors even more opportunities to use the technology.


A common misconception is that, with multimedia technology, students are simply watching a video or listening to an audio file. Technology has created new ways that students can interact with academic material and collaborate with their peers.

A recent article from the Journal of College Science Teaching concluded that clickers, which are devices that allow students to answer multiple-choice questions without saying anything, give quiet students an opportunity to interact in class when they may otherwise just listen to the lecture. Along that same line, multimedia technology can also create an interactive learning environment. For example, collaboration tools like Prezi can help students create presentations. “It allows you to have this sort of back and forth and sharing of ideas and be able to share a presentation in a more dynamic way than a straight PowerPoint,” says Kent.

Standardized Vs. Custom

When Kent works on designing multimedia systems for colleges, he takes a look at what the professors are hoping to do in that classroom. “For multimedia technology, it’s really about communication and the ability of the teacher to use tools to communicate,” he says. He also asks himself what kind of technology will support and facilitate what the teachers want to do and how they want to communicate with students. “I’m not a big proponent of one size fits all,” he declares.

The upside to a custom approach to multimedia designs is that each teacher will have a system that works with what he or she hopes to do and within a certain skill level. Professors may be reluctant to use an iPad every day if they’ve never used one before. But a SmartBoard may be exactly right for their needs. Kent encourages administrations to look at the course material and see what the teacher’s methods are. It shouldn’t take the teacher 20 minutes to set up the technology during a 50-minute class.

On the other hand, custom designs can be incredibly expensive, and a standardized approach can add some consistency for teachers and students. At Kirkwood, Schau and his coworkers train faculty and staff on how to use the new technology since they hope to standardize the use of the iProjection app and Apple TVs across the campus. This kind of approach allows for a certain uniformity that teachers and students can grow to be familiar with.

Greening Multimedia Classrooms

Sustainability is an important factor that college administrations have to consider when putting in new technology. Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY, opted to put up MicroTiles, digital displays that can create a uniquely shaped screen, in their new student center in 2007. They considered not only the cost of the display, but the long-term effects it would have on the environment.

Kent mentions that more important than thinking about a “green” classroom is thinking about a “smart” classroom. Much of the environmental cost comes from devices being left on and running for extended periods of time. Smart technology, Kent insists, turns on when teachers need it to and turns itself off when not in use.

Each college’s administration has to decide what kinds of technology will not only be right for their financial and environmental situation, but also what’s right for their students and teachers.

Multimedia technology today has expanded to include devices that may have started out on the Starship Enterprise. In addition to Kirkwood Community College’s use of the iProjection app and Cuyahoga Community College’s expansive audio system, researchers at the University of Tokyo have created holograms for the classroom that students can not only see, but also feel. Technological innovations are popping up all over the world and giving professors more flexibility with how they can reach students. 

Jasmine Evans is a freelance writer who specializes in education topics.She can be reached through her site at