Classroom 2000:
Inventing a Future for Education

Gregory D. Abowd
College of Computing and GVU Center
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332-0280


It is becoming increasingly possible to embed more and more powerful computational devices into the very fabric of our everyday lives. Various emerging disciplines such as wearable, ubiquitous or perceptual computing suggest that in the near future we will have intelligent environments able to provide extremely personalized computational services when and where we want them. One of the leading visionaries in ubiquitous computing, Mark Weiser, has stated that the ultimate purpose for research in these areas is not simply to push the frontiers of our technical capabilities, but to establish human-centered services that will drive the penetration of this technology into everyday life.

Research in the Future Computing Environments Group at Georgia Tech is focussed on this human-centered application of future computing technology. This brief abstract describes one of our major projects, Classroom 2000, a large-scale experiment to determine how ubiquitous computing can impact teaching and learning. We will provide an overview of the project objectives and progress and then directly address some of the themes of this NAB workshop on Human-Centered Systems.

Overview of Classroom 2000

In a traditional class, the instructor either writes on a blank chalk- or whiteboard or uses an overhead projector to display prepared information that can then be annotated. The problem with using whiteboards or annotating overhead slides is that the student is forced to copy everything the teacher writes into their own private notebook. This problem can be partly addressed by providing students printouts of the teacher's prepared material, either before or after class. However, this approach loses a lot of the information that is provided only during the lecture itself. This value-added information includes additional annotations that the teacher writes on the board and questions and answers generated through discussion with the teacher.

By introducing an electronic whiteboard, we make it possible to preserve the record of class activity and potentially remove the burden on the student of taking copious notes. While some students feel that they learn best by taking notes during a lecture, this is not true for all students. Furthermore, as we continually expand the capabilities of a teacher to present richer and more complex material, we are only making it harder for the student/scribe to keep up. Removing the note-taking burden can free the student to spend the time in class paying attention, understanding the material being presented and engaging in discussions that further clarify important topics. Classroom 2000 is an experiment in creating classroom environments in which the room is equipped to take notes on behalf of the student, capturing the classroom experience for later review. We have developed tools that automatically link teacher generated presentations with audio and video and we are examining what impact this has on both teaching and learning practices.

We distinguish the approach of Classroom 2000 from other valuable work in multimedia courseware development. The production of multimedia courseware is a time-consuming task. It may take years of effort to produce a high-quality course module. One of the objectives of the Classroom 2000 project is to reduce the content-generation effort by viewing the traditional classroom lecture itself as a multimedia authoring activity [Abowd et al. 96]. In a classroom setting, there are many information streams present in addition to audio and video recordings of what we hear and see. The teacher typically writes on some public display, such as a whiteboard or overhead projector, to present the day's lesson. It is now common to present supplemental information in class via the World Wide Web, if sufficient network connectivity and display technology is available. Additional dynamic teaching aids such as videos, physical demonstrations or computer-based simulations can also be used. Taken in combination, all of these information streams provide for a very information-intensive experience that is easily beyond a student's capabilities to record accurately, especially if the student is trying to pay attention and understand the lesson at the same time.

Over the past 18 months, we have experimented with providing easy-to-use audio and video capturing tools, electronic whiteboards and instrumented Web browsers to enable the capture of a lot of what naturally occurs in a typical university lecture. We have provided support for 19 separate graduate and undergraduate courses offered in Computer Science and Mathematics at Georgia Tech. Interested readers can take a look at a number of these classes online. We have constantly modified the components of the system as we have received feedback on its continual use by students and teachers. The insight we have gained through constant use over the past 18 months has been invaluable. We will relate some of that experience here with respect to specific issues being addressed by this NAB workshop on Human-Centered Systems.

Information, Organization, and Context

One justified reaction to the capture capabilities of Classroom 2000 is that it is only exacerbating the information overload problems that are all too familiar. While it is true that we are capturing far more information than previously done in an educational setting, we are taking measures to provide useful ways to access that information. Ben Shneiderman expresses a goal of future human-centered research quite elegantly in his position paper to this workshop:

Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand

In our work, we have investigated two different ways to achieve Ben's goals [Brotherton et al. 97]:

Communication and Collaboration

As students and teachers begin to rely on the artifacts produced by Classroom 2000, we can begin to expand beyond the temporal and spatial boundaries of the conventional classroom. Lectures from the past can be easily summoned up for use in the present. Student reactions to those lectures can be recorded as a way to give advice to future viewers. We are also investigating ways to support modification of notes after a class. There is a natural development of study groups in most universities. How can products of Classroom 2000 support the informal study group? One answer, among many, is that study groups need not be taking a class at the same time any more. Another answer is that we are providing tools for a student to produce even better post-lecture summaries that can be shared.

We are also experimenting with various electronic devices to support student note-taking during the lecture. Simple networked, pen-based units can allow for students to produce simple indexes into a lecture for future use. Real-time feedback to the lecturer is also possible.

Human-Centered Design

It is very important to understand that our research method in Classrooom 2000 is to live in the environment that we are building in order to better understand how it is used. This allows us to continually iterate the design of our tools to better meet student and teacher needs. More importantly, we are deeply influenced by the words of two well-known innovators in the history of interactive technology: Classroom 2000 is our invention of the future of education. We are not so bold as to declare this the only possible future, but it is clearly a way we can use ubiquitous computing technology to our advantage in the classroom. By implementing this vision and using it continually for the past 18 months, we are seeing how it can be used in ways that were not predicted in advance. Whereas some might object to this apparently technocentric approach to computing, it is quite the opposite. Yes, we are interested in introducing new devices into the classroom and it is true that a lot of time the availability of a new piece of hardware pushes us in the direction of introducing it into the classroom. But the introduction of technology is always tempered with a critical judgment of whether the technology will support or enhance the application at hand. In the case of Classroom 2000, we have been very eager to introduce handheld, pen-based units for the students because they are affordable and provide a relatively natural way to support the note-taking activity.

Social Informatics

We have been conducting informal ethnographic studies of both students and teachers exposed to Classroom 2000. At this point in our research, it is much more important that we understand how people are using Classroom 2000. We see no reason to push for controlled experiment until we have a better idea of long-term use of the artifacts produced in class and after class.

There are some very interesting social issues that emerge in this project, however:


See the Classroom 2000 publications page to access all relevant writings on the project and to find references to related work.

1. Gregory D. Abowd. Ubiquitous Computing: Research Themes and Open Issues from an Applications Perspective. Georgia Tech Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center Technical Report, GIT-GVU-96-24, September 1996.

2. Gregory D. Abowd, Christopher G. Atkeson, Cindy Hmelo Ami Feinstein, Rob Kooper, Sue Long, Nitin ``Nick'' Sawhney and Mikiya Tani. "Teaching and Learning as Multimedia Authoring: The Classroom 2000 Project". Proceedings of Multimedia '96, November, 1996.

3. Gregory D. Abowd, Christopher G. Atkeson, Jason Brotherton, Tommy Enqvist, Paul Gulley and Johan Lemon. Investigating the capture, integration and access problem of ubiquitous computing in an educational setting. Submitted to CHI'98 conference. September 1997.

4. Jason A. Brotherton, Janak R. Bhalodia and Gregory D. Abowd. Automated Capture, Integration, and Visualization of Multiple Media Streams. Submitted to IEEE Multimedia'98, October 1997.

Gregory D. Abowd
Last modified: Sun Nov 2 17:00:35 EST 1997