Med School's new home is wired for live, interactive learning

UC Davis medical students have a large new home, the Education Building and F. William Blaisdell, M.D. Medical Library. At more than 121,000 square feet, the building becomes the center of activity and education for the School of Medicine, and houses everything from offices for the dean to lockers for med students.

But its classrooms are very different from most on the main campus. Although the three types of classrooms in the new center have different uses, they share a versatile video communications network and help the school shift its instruction toward interactive learning done in small groups.

Two types of classrooms have similar equipment. The first type is auditorium-style (seating 60 students in some and 150 in others); the second is smaller, seating 12, 16, or 30. Like general assignment classrooms on the main campus, these rooms can play video and DVDs, as well as synchronize media from a lecturer's laptop.

Here's the difference: In the new building, students and faculty in any of these rooms can see and hear what is happening in another classroom, including audio-visual content. Each room has microphones and a wall-mounted camera. Users can confer live by video throughout the classrooms.

The remaining eight "classrooms," in the building's Clinical Skills and Assessment Center, are mock exam rooms designed to look and feel like a typical doctor's examination room. Each has two ceiling-mounted cameras and two microphones to digitally record the simulated exams.

The building will significantly improve the dynamics and quality of medical education at UC Davis, said Ann Bonham, a professor of pharmacology and internal medicine, and executive associate dean for academic affairs for the UC Davis Health System.

First, it unifies medical school classes in one location at 45th and X streets in Sacramento, instead of having some taught in Davis, some in Sacramento.

"Secondly, the new building is a dramatically improved venue for education. Our large lecture hall is now state of the art, with comfortable seating and advanced [audio-visual] tools, but more importantly, we have many more smaller, A-V-equipped classrooms," she said.

"Medical education is shifting away from heavy reliance on didactic lectures in large auditoriums to more interactive learning experiences in small group settings where patient case-based problems can be explored," Bonham said.

Rick Sprunger, a senior development engineer and supervisor in IET-Classroom Technology Services, helped advise the school on what A-V equipment to buy, helped choose the contractor who installed the complex system, and acted as a general consultant.

"The whole idea of the building was to have the technology set up so that you could move the signal around from room to room," he said. "You could be in one room and look in on other activities that are taking place in the building, either in real time or from the archives."

CTS has posted a full-time technician at the building to provide ongoing support for the technology. The building also enjoys a modern library, named for professor emeritus Blaisdell, and a central location on the medical school campus.

"It is a gorgeous building," Sprunger said.