Academics and Research / Magazine

CourseMedia brings multimedia to the classroom

Professor Kim Axline in front of screen displaying CourseMedia

Kim Axline, assistant theater professor, is one of many DU faculty members using the CourseMedia system in their classrooms. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

George Jetson would feel right at home teaching at the University of Denver these days.

He wouldn’t expect to conduct his class with chalk, chalkboards, dry erase boards (and the smelly markers that go with them), overhead projectors and those clunky slide carousels. And at DU he wouldn’t have to, because those relics are landing on the endangered species list.

Taking their place is something much more modern — some might even say futuristic: CourseMedia.

A product of DU’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), CourseMedia makes lesson-planning a snap (or a click). Now instructors simply go online and browse a huge digital collection of more than 56,000 photos, historical images, videos (including full-length movies and YouTube content) and even music clips to sleep-proof their lectures.

The idea sprouted in 2003, when art history faculty collaborated with the CTL to digitize slides of artwork used in old carousels that were beginning to break down. (Kodak stopped making slide projectors in 2004.) The school ended up with thousands of digitized slides, but no easy way to project them in classrooms.

That’s when Joseph Labrecque, DU’s senior multimedia application developer, and senior education web developer Alex Martinez began tinkering with what would become CourseMedia — an easy way to search, gather, organize and deliver digital content on laptops and desktops and in classrooms.

Professors can enlarge photos to see specific elements, add notes that appear beside images and even record their own personal narration.

And it’s only at DU.

“Other schools have image or video collections, but they don’t have anything like this that I’m aware of; this was built specifically for DU,” says Labrecque, adding that DU does allow a few other schools to use the software via license agreement.

At first, the system was used mostly by art history professors, but today it’s used in several disciplines and in more than 300 courses.

Susan Sterett, associate dean of arts, humanities and social sciences at DU, uses CourseMedia regularly and believes it improves
learning.

“It’s important to offer multiple ways of learning because some teaching methods stick with students better than others,” Sterett says. “Some students might remember and relate better to a film clip over just reading.”

One example: Sterett was able to find and load a film within seconds via CourseMedia to show her sociolegal studies class a documentary called Rain in a Dry Land, which depicted life for Somalians living in a refugee camp before they came to the United
States.

“A lot of our students work with refugees when they come here, but I wanted them to see how they lived in camps before they arrived so they can better connect with each other,” Sterett says.

Sterett says she wants to dispel the thought that professors are “pulling out 20-year-old lecture notes” for their classes today.
“That isn’t reality anymore,” she says.

And the CTL isn’t resting on its laurels; it’s now working on a way to let students pull up content on their phones and other
mobile devices.

“That way they can study on the bus, or even while they’re [out],” Labrecque says.

And that’s something George Jetson’s boy, Elroy, would surely appreciate.

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