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Gates Hall

July 24, 2003

Wired to the hilt

  • Communication tools add versatility to classrooms

    Gates Hall
    Photo by Jon Silver
    In Gates Hall, students and faculty will have an array of electronic tools at their disposal, enabling lecturers to create multimedia presentations, or students with children to attend lectures from a remote location.

    The University of Washington made a case for a law school that pushes the envelope. Early technology planning drove the design team beyond the building envelope to the letter within, in search of versatility and student value.

    As a result, William H. Gates Hall addresses the motives behind the technology in each space, establishing the law school as the institute of choice for future generations.

    Gathering evidence

    A building is made flexible by defining its purpose. Not unlike the Socratic teaching method used in most law schools, we asked the university’s technology planning team a series of interactive questions to define connectivity at the new law school. Their response was both provocative and practical.

    Classrooms that double as a lecture hall and moot courtroom set a precedent for the flexibility of all building spaces. Designated distance learning rooms, wireless capability, and remote learning rooms for students with children reflect the planning team’s diverse interests and individuals — incorporating feedback from groups such as faculty, students, and campus information technology and planning staff.

    A spreadsheet of cost and equipment options was used to tailor technical capabilities to the purpose of each room, with infrastructure to support future connectivity.

    Classroom to courtroom

    Law students will transition from lecture participant to legal counselor by simply repositioning a podium in one of two classrooms (which also serve as moot courtrooms).

    Expected to function primarily as classrooms, these rooms will also serve as lecture overflow spaces. A two-way interactive system links the rooms, allowing students and speakers to communicate directly. The rooms can also connect to remote locations by video. An on-site master control room will connect all rooms and offer video taping and production capabilities.

    Presentations by Supreme Court members and other guests can be televised on the UW campus using fixed cameras that supplement UW-TV camera connections in the classrooms. Lecturers can integrate videotape, DVD, and PowerPoint applications. Network connections are available at three podium locations.

    By rotating the podium to face the “judge,” these rooms transform into mock trial or appellate courtrooms with technical capabilities that exceed that of most courtrooms today.

    Students will assume different roles in the trial courtroom, including judge, jury, witness, prosecution and defense counsel. Microphones for each participant link to voice-activated cameras located at the back of the room and at the witness stand, providing footage for future review by students and faculty.

    Counsel can present document evidence, including DVD or CD-ROM material, using document camera technology. The clerk can route the image to an LCD panel at the judge’s bench, where the judge can privately view the evidence and rule whether or not it is admissible. When advised, the clerk can then project the image to the jury on LCD panels recessed into the jury box — one panel for every two jurors.

    To communicate with counsel privately, judges can mute the audio system by activating a switch at their bench.

    The appellate courtroom has similar technical capabilities, but is set up for appellate court trials.

    The classroom/courtroom model illustrates how early technology planning can integrate dual room capabilities for optimal flexibility.

    Designated spaces

    Sometimes a room’s flexibility is defined more by its “narrow” design than its broad applications.

    A focus on business and international law at the law school called for a designated distance-learning classroom, with U-shaped seating and a microphone for every two students. This room can link to remote locations using technology specific to distance learning.

    The goal of this space is to provide both high-quality presentations and user flexibility. Instructors can transmit materials — from videotape to audio or Internet sites — using a “windowing” process that builds up to four separate images, or one large image with several smaller images. A monitor in the master control room mimics the instructor’s monitor, allowing a technician to offer assistance if needed.

    Voice-activated cameras will zoom in on the instructor and students, relaying audio and video to the near or far site.

    The instructor has primary control of the room’s audiovisual capabilities and can adjust curtains, lights, and the projection screen, with back-up control provided by the master control technician.

    Amenities add connectivity

    From campus-wide wireless access to a pro-bono law clinic, student amenities set this facility apart.

    A structured cabling system that supports gigabit Ethernet will provide students and staff complete mobility as they study, research, and work at the new facility.

    Students will have access to the Internet, reference materials, and files from anywhere on campus utilizing wireless access points that support both 802.11a and 802.11b frequencies. The 802.11b antennas will be upgraded to the newly ratified 802.11g radios when product becomes available by winter 2004.

    Students will provide free legal advice at the school’s pro-bono law clinic. Consultations can be recorded for future review via cameras, microphones, VCRs and televisions installed in the private interview rooms. Video/audio signals can also be routed to a faculty member’s office if a television is available.

    To accommodate students with children, remote learning rooms allow students to watch live presentations using an in-house cable distribution system while caring for their children. An LCD monitor with built-in television controls can broadcast the proceedings of any classroom.

    Each space reflects its own infrastructure, yet room controls are consistent throughout the facility.

    Communication and strategic thinking are the links between preparing a legal case and preparing a building. As we strive to uncover the purposes of each room, we build a stronger case for better buildings.

    Joe Leger is principal of technology consulting, and Michael Shafer is principal of audiovisual and broadcast consulting at Sparling, an electrical engineering and technology consulting firm.

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