The University Record, November 9, 1998

Faculty Perspectives


Costs of Teaching Technology in Classrooms

Report from the Budget Study Committee

Many University of Michigan faculty have expressed the desire to take advantage of up-to-date, state-of-the-art teaching technology in classrooms. Significant opportunities exist for improving teaching and learning environments by making better use of Ethernet connectivity, the Internet, high-speed portable computers, large-capacity storage devices, sophisticated new software and improved projection facilities. However, the vast majority of classrooms at the University are not currently equipped for these kinds of capabilities. Therefore, the Budget Study Committee decided to investigate projected costs, for classrooms of various sizes, to provide the necessary technology. Relevant information was requested from knowledgeable sources. What follows (mostly verbatim, with slight editing) was kindly provided by Jose-Marie Griffiths, Eric Rabkin and Carl Berger of University Information Systems, Information Technology Division (ITD); as well as by Henry Halloway, LS& A Assistant to the Dean with responsibilities for facilities and equipment; and by Richard Ridley and staff of LS&A Media Services.

The View from ITD

The costs of equipping a classroom with dedicated computer-mediated projection facilities are highly variable. Some of the obvious variables include type of computer, type of projector, type of sound system (if any), and physical location. For most purposes, a high-end laptop computer with built-in CD-ROM drive would be quite adequate. Such machines can be purchased now for about $3,000 ($2,500 to $6,000 depending on configuration). High-quality portable projectors can be purchased for about $6,000 ($2,000 to $20,000 depending on capabilities). Even in mid-size classrooms, LCD projectors now outperform monitors. Auditoriums would require projectors in the $12,000 to $20,000 range. Sound systems can cost anywhere from $0 (in a small classroom the computer’s built-in speaker is often adequate) to many thousands of dollars. Installation costs are also highly variable. If one wants overhead projection and built-in room sound, that will vary by room. Built-in projection has the virtue of lowering security costs (unattended computers and projectors tend to walk away), but built-in features increase installation costs. Built-in configurations also require specialized connectors that can run to several hundred dollars and have their own installation costs. Ethernet connections to the Internet should be available in most classrooms already, but, if they are not, the installation costs will vary with location and architecture. If one wants a desktop machine, the purchase cost may come down ($3,500 for a richly configured machine), but secure installation is mandatory.

The Budget Study Committee also raised the question of central versus unit-based responsibility for purchasing and maintenance. The University already centralizes purchasing. ITD is always willing to participate in negotiating favorable mass purchase or license terms, and often does so, especially with software. The responsibility to define the necessary systems, however, probably ought to stay within the units, whether those definitions are used directly by the units or by ITD, because the faculty of each unit are best able to determine their classroom needs and because ITD probably should not be in the position of allocating necessarily limited resources to one school or college or another on the basis of its own judgments about their classroom needs. Of course, ITD would be glad to consult with unit faculty about classroom configurations or put individuals in touch with others who can advise them. As far as maintenance goes, ITD already has a SITES organization that maintains ITD’s public sites and could do so for other sites. However, ITD is not currently budgeted for this and does not supply that service on a recharge basis, although if there were a collective expression of need ITD would seek a means to fill it.

As matters currently stand, units maintain their own classrooms except for video-conferencing, where both ITD and the Media Union have centrally available facilities that can be recharged.

With regard to setup and upkeep, some instructors like to come with their own portable equipment ready to connect to the projector, sound and network. Depending on the machine, this can be very simple or very difficult. Other instructors like to come with their work ready on a disk or small hard drive like a Zip drive. This may seem to solve the problem, as the basic machine, projector, sound and network connection are all set. But, again, this can be problematical, as the dedicated machine may not have a Zip drive, or the computer may have initial settings that are incompatible with the software the instructor brings. Here is where it is important to have schoolwide or Universitywide standards and guidelines.

The View from LS&A

Classrooms are divided into four categories:

1) Small classrooms do not require voice reinforcement. These may seat up to 30 or 40. LS&A generally installs an LCD video/data projector and a small audio system for the playback of program material. A VCR, audio cassette and CD player would be included in an equipment rack.


•124 East Quad $21,500

•3415 & 3409 Mason $27,400

•~$542 per seat plus labor & design

2) Medium classrooms holding up to about 120 people require a voice reinforcement system. LS&A installs LCD video/data projectors in these venues and generally incorporates the playback for program material into a voice system. Similar support equipment noted under item 1 would be included.


•260 & 296 Dennison $42,100

•G115 & G127 Angell $34,800

•2000 Chemistry $18,400

•~$208 per seat plus labor & design

3) Larger classrooms holding up to 300 people are normally auditoriums with projection booths. These rooms are equipped with higher level CRT video/data projectors, although this is changing as the quality of LCD projectors improves. These rooms may have the program playback system integrated into the voice reinforcement system, or in some cases may have a separate system. Often these rooms will have higher quality playback equipment and a wider variety of formats such as laser disks. These rooms will have two electric screens; often at least one will be a high-quality seamless screen. Systems in these venues would be installed by outside contractors.


•1528 CC Little $76,216 ($635 per seat plus design)

•1210, 1300 & 1400 Chemistry $186,000

•1360 & B844 East Hall $113,000

•~$312 per seat plus design

4) Very large auditoriums holding up to 500 people are equipped with high output light valve video/data projectors. Audio playback systems will always be separate and might include a Dolby surround sound system. In two of these venues, LS&A equipped the rooms with 35mm motion picture systems. These rooms will have a control system allowing the instructor and/or the operator to control systems from a central point. These rooms are equipped with large, very high quality screens. Again, installations are normally performed by outside contractors. The cost of 35mm film and Dolby systems is not included below.


•1324 East Hall $175,000

•1800 Chemistry ~$115,000

•~$342 per seat plus design

These numbers do not include screens that vary in cost. Replacing the Aud A screen cost $17,000. An inexpensive electric screen might cost $5,000 installed. Except for 1528 C.C. Little, these numbers do not include network connections ($3,050).

LS&A has not equipped facilities with built-in computer equipment for a number of reasons. Classrooms are accessible for extended hours and there is a security problem. Computer technology is changing quickly, so it is not feasible to keep each room equipped at the highest level, and faculty have a wide variety of needs requiring different platforms and configurations. LS&A therefore chose to issue faculty portable computers that meet their needs during the semesters they are teaching. This allows faculty to have a system set up in the way they desire. These machines can be issued to a different person each semester, with people having lower needs being issued older equipment. For people teaching in auditoriums and for those who do not need an individual machine, LS&A will deliver a portable computer to the class. These machines may have several peoples’ data on them and the user can bring data in via diskette, Zip disk or over the Internet. A typical cost for one of these machines would be $4,000.

LS&A has not adopted the use of monitors for instructional purposes except for specialized, unique situations. In side-by-side comparison testing with faculty, monitors have been judged too small with too low a resolution to present class material effectively.

A growing equipment inventory and the technical support requirements associated with bringing multi-media capabilities into classrooms generate increasingly higher demand for staff support. Staff are needed to engineer and construct each of the more complex, fully integrated and capable rooms; for delivery and setup of equipment; to assist faculty directly in using rooms with the largest, most complex installations; and to provide ongoing maintenance and service support. LS&A did not attempt to identify staffing costs in providing this information, but those costs are a real and significant component of expanding instructional technology.

It was not the intention of the Budget Study Committee to determine an overall cost to the University for upgrading all classrooms with modern technology. Rather, this report should be regarded as an attempt to promulgate information that may guide individual units, departments and faculty in their endeavors to take advantage of available resources and opportunities.

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