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Wallenberg Hall to house state-of-the-art technology

On July 24, 2001, Bob Smith, director of technical services at SCIL, stood on the dirt basement of Building 160 and looked up to the sky. "There was nothing but the rafters left," he said. Three weeks later, about a year after demolition had started, the building was filled with a steel frame designed to support state-of-the-art technology on four floors.

During the planning stages of construction, Smith said the goal for the project was to "build the best socket we could afford. There was no point in building in the best technology available in 2001, because it was going to change by 2002. The name of the game was to build an infrastructure that would support whatever technology develops over the lifetime of the building."

The 50,000-square-foot building has been designed to adapt to pedagogies that develop over time. It will be equipped for real-time audio and video communication and will offer teaching tools such as whiteboards that can store information written on them during a class and then put it on the Web for downloading later by students in their dorms.

"These classrooms are specifically designed to be used by anybody in the university," Smith added. "To the extent that we can make [the technology] invisible, we think we can make it a lot more accessible. That's the big agenda behind all this."

Wallenberg Hall will become the fourth largest classroom building on the Quad. The basement will include a café, five foreign language teaching rooms and two media authoring rooms where students can, for example, edit film projects. The upper floors will feature a variety of classrooms, performance spaces, meeting rooms and research areas. In addition to SCIL, which will manage and operate the building, Wallenberg Hall will house the Stanford Humanities Laboratory and Media X, a new center for "interdisciplinary research about interactive technology." These centers will be located on the fourth floor, which has been designed with walls that can be moved to create different kinds of work spaces ­ a feature that will allow researchers to use the space creatively.

The floor also includes a prototyping space that has been designed so that researchers can build a classroom and monitor it from the outside while it is being used for teaching. "It's supposed to be a big barn that we can build things in," Smith said. The space will allow researchers to study classroom dynamics -- something of particular interest to a residential university. While other universities have used technology to improve distance learning, Stanford is equally interested in how it can enhance the classroom experience. "There is something special that goes on in the social proximity of people in a classroom," Smith said. "What can we do with technology that enhances that, that turbo-charges that encounter?"

Professor of English Andrea Lunsford, director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, is one faculty member eager to explore what Wallenberg Hall will offer. Almost every undergraduate passes through her program, which teaches writing in a collaborative environment using network-linked computers. Unlike composition classes of yore, which treated writing largely as a solitary exercise, Lunsford said, collaboration helps students in the early stages of writing and later during revision. "Students learn better in groups," she said. "If you have to defend your ideas, they generally get better."

Lunsford will use Wallenberg Hall this fall to test a pilot program in multimedia writing and rhetoric that will be introduced into the undergraduate curriculum in 2003. "What we traditionally think of writing is now deeply mediated by sounds and images of all kinds," she said, adding that it is the kind of communication seen everywhere except in college. "My goal is to have students be comfortable with traditional written text, oral performance and multimedia presentation. That's the wave of the future."



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