When professor Guillermo Bazan holds a lecture in a high-tech facility in UCSB’s Engineering Sciences Building, students in a classroom halfway across America are also in attendance.
This quarter, graduate students from both UCSB and Jackson State University in Mississippi are simultaneously enrolled in Bazan’s organic semiconductors and applications class via high-speed webcast technology that broadcasts the class between the two states.
Bazan, a professor of materials, chemistry and biochemistry, has wall-mounted cameras as well as voice-activated microphones dispersed throughout his classroom, and JSU students virtually attend Bazan’s course with the help of four video screens. One screen shows Bazan lecturing, two angle toward his UCSB students and the last focuses on his powerpoint presentations. All these videos are broadcast in the UCSB classroom as well as the JSU classroom, so students from either location can directly ask questions of Bazan or their peers.
Bazan said he taught this unorthodox class in order to simultaneously further research efforts in the blossoming field of organic semiconductors at both schools.
“These novel materials have tremendous potential for addressing problems associated with efficient solar cells, new types of displays and are extremely effective for increasing the sensitivity of biosensory assays,” Bazan said. “However, there is a lag between what is important in research and the classes being offered to students. We can provide our expertise in teaching this area of science and engineering to other schools.”
To offer the students at Jackson the opportunity to take his materials class, Bazan said he has had to make some adjustments to his teaching style.
“I like to use the blackboard and chalk,” Bazan said. “[Now] that is obviously not a good option. Instead, we have to adapt to the tools available for broadcasting the lecture.”
Michelle Senatore, a first-year graduate student in the Materials Dept., is enrolled in his class at UCSB and manages the video input on a computer in Bazan’s classroom. The learning curve for this Internet-age class took some getting used to, she said.
“It took a little time, maybe two or three classes, to let the students get used to having multiple screens to view and for the professor to remember to pause and ask JSU students for questions,” Senatore said. “But now I think everyone is comfortable with the setup. I’m sure both groups of students benefit from each other’s perspectives in this field of research.”
Ruomei Gao, an assistant professor of chemistry at JSU, supervises the students enrolled in Bazan’s course in Mississippi. According to Gao, students in Jackson benefit from Bazan’s expert knowledge – something they would otherwise not have access to.
“There is no expertise in this area from our department,” Gao said. “It gives our students the opportunity to attend classes taught by the top scientists at the least cost, which will help to enhance their confidence and ability to overcome challenges.”
In a press release, Bazan said he hopes videoconference classroom opportunities will grow because they promote national and international cooperation.
“This is definitely the way of the future for many reasons,” Bazan said. “It should be possible to coordinate classes whereby experts in different universities contribute to specific topics. The experience with JSU shows that it is possible to coordinate efforts within the U.S., but it also opens the opportunity for international collaborations in education and outreach.”