Facilities: The DEC Classrooms

Wini

The INI Distributed Education Center in the Collaborative Innovation Center (DEC@CIC) and the INI Distributed Education Center on Henry Street (DEC@Henry) in the INI building are unique distance-learning classrooms that allow INI students to interact with faculty and fellow students across the world. Importantly, the DEC classrooms make it possible for INI students located at international partner institutions in Greece, Japan and Portugal to earn degrees from Carnegie Mellon.

"It does leave me awe-inspired that my classmates are literally from all parts of the world," said student Kalpana Chatnani (INI, '09).

The DEC classrooms are state-of-the-art, carefully designed to make students feel like they are all in one classroom, with touch-button microphones, multiple monitors, an interactive digital whiteboard, and video cameras that zoom in on a student when a mic is activated. Sitting in class with students around the globe, INI students gain an international perspective they will use in their future careers when they address the challenges of the global information network.

“The DEC classrooms are very well equipped. In the three semesters I have been here, I have never faced any problems with it," said student Jugal Satish Kaku, (MS19). Jugal, who takes classes in Pittsburgh, noted that one difference was that the distant students are less interactive during class. "It depends a lot on the professor to encourage participation from the remote location.”

Before teaching in a DEC classroom, professors receive pointers on how to teach to the remote students who are relying on the video cameras and speakers as their eyes and ears in the classroom. It may be that the distance students need to be a bit more assertive when they have a question in class, due to their need to use a microphone to audibly catch the attention of the teacher, but the Carnegie Mellon students at both ends of the classroom view the global interaction as a success.

"Students in Portugal could see students at CMU (and vice-versa), they could interrupt the class and ask questions, etc. The experience was quite pleasant and it’s pretty much like we were there," wrote Nuno Loureiro (MS20) in his January 2009 blog entry about the INI's master's program in Lisbon.

Arvind Suresh (MS19), who described the INI as the "best place to work, learn, and even socialize," was less interested in the technology behind the learning than the people. “[The DEC classroom]'s not really very different from other classes, just occasional questions from other places makes it feel like a bigger classroom, nothing extraordinary. However, when the people from those places come to visit us in Pittsburgh, it’s a real pleasure!" 

Students at the international locations have a few opportunities to visit their Pittsburgh counterparts. Some choose to study in Pittsburgh through the INI Exchange Program during a summer or their final semester. The INI continues to look for ways to bring the students together, if not physically then emotionally. Fall 2008 brought the first global effort to create class mottos at the INI. Students were encouraged to collaborate across borders to create a class motto, and then students, regardless of their location, voted on their favorite, and it was printed on the class t-shirt.

As advanced technologies work to bring INI students and faculty together seamlessly across borders, the human element will remain an ever-important part of the academic environment.