University of Pittsburgh
November 7, 1999


Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 8, 1999 -- The first thing visitors to the University of Pittsburgh's Frank Mosier Learning Center (FMLC) might notice is the high-tech, interactive audiovisual system, or the computer keyboards and monitors—minus the computers—at each of the 15 tables.

But there is more to the "Classroom of the Future" than hardware, according to Alan Russell, chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering, who will help dedicate the room officially on Friday, November 19, at 3 p.m.

"We want to optimize the faculty's ability to use 'active learning' and promote the type of teamwork that is found in most professional engineering assignments," said Russell. "The 'active learning' pedagogy is being promoted by the National Research Council as the most effective way to enhance learning of technical skills and to improve students' ability to apply these skills."

To promote active learning, students are grouped into teams and are connected with each other and the professor, via computers. The FMLC is being used by every class in the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department this fall, except for the two classes that require special labs.

Each of the 15 tables in the FMLC has two computer keyboards and two thin-screen LCD displays, enough to accommodate two teams of two or three students at each table. To cut down on fan noise and space constraints, all the student PCs, Gateway 400MHz Pentium II PC computers, are in an adjacent room.

The instructor operates the "master" computer, a Gateway Intel 450MHz Pentium III, and controls not only which applications are available to the students during a given class, but what images appear on each team's monitor, using a touch-sensitive screen.

For instance, at the beginning of class, the instructor may select the display that appears on the master computer to appear on each team's monitor to help the students through a problem step-by-step. Or, the instructor might select a particularly innovative approach one team has incorporated in solving a problem, and share it with the class by sending that image to each team's screen.

The instructor can privately check the progress of any group by displaying the information on the team's monitor on the master monitor, or can share work with the entire class by directing the display to two high-intensity video projectors.

For some presentations, a video camera serves as a high-tech version of an overhead projector, and can display information on the two screens at the front of the classroom, or at each student monitor.

"The advantage the camera gives us is that three-dimensional objects can be projected," said John Murphy, a visiting professor of chemical engineering and part of the faculty task force that helped plan the classroom.

According to Murphy, the design of the FMLC was finalized after extensive benchmarking at other universities around the country, including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Massachusetts, Arizona State University, Duquesne University, and the programs of the "Foundation Coalition," a group of seven universities united to enhance engineering education.

Though the FMLC isn't the first of its kind, Russell believes this benchmarking has helped them create the finest.

"We incorporated the best ideas from other schools, and added many innovations of our own," Russell said. "Based on the benchmarking and feedback that we received from visiting colleagues, we feel we have the best facility in the country for active learning and promoting teamwork."

Frank E. Mosier, for whom the classroom is dedicated, is a retired vice-chairman of BP America, and a 1953 graduate of Pitt's Engineering School. He serves on the University's board of trustees, and on the School of Engineering's board of visitors.

-30- 11/8/99/shg

Editors--Full color photographs (jpeg format) of the Frank Mosier Learning Center in use are available at the University of Pittsburgh's News and Information ftp site: