Symonds Lab: Classroom of the Future

CONTACT: Philip Montgomery
PHONE: (713) 831-4792


On the second floor of Rice University’s
Fondren Library is The Gardiner Symonds Teaching Laboratory, an
unusual experiment challenging education through architecture and

The lab, which will be dedicated on May 2, is a model classroom
of the future. Designed to hold about 20 students, it incorporates
two large-screen projectors specially made in California, 14
Macintosh workstations, Internet connections and other high-tech
features, including numerous cameras and a sophisticated sound

The Symonds lab is the most recent manifestation of Tony Gorry’s
vision of combining education and technology. Gorry, vice president
for information technology at Rice, envisioned the lab as a marriage
between teaching and the most advanced technology on campus.

The lab was built from proceeds of the Symonds Family Fund,
which Gardiner Symonds, a Rice trustee from 1966-71, established in

The lab environment is “capture ready,” which means everything
from a lecturer to a computer display can be recorded, reproduced or
broadcast elsewhere on campus or anywhere in the world on the
Internet, said Kevin Long, director of the electronic studio, who
the technology in the lab.

The architectural design is also a star. Mark Wamble, assistant
professor of architecture, designed the lab, which consists of about
3,200 square feet including a support area, an entrance vestibule, a
classroom and a conference room.

Wamble foresees a future work force based upon self-organizing
and collaborative teams, a concept already familiar to progressive
corporations. With that in mind, he designed the lab to prepare
students for the emerging work place of the future.

Still the high technology and the architectural design were only
part of the final goal, which is to explore the boundaries of
teaching.”It appealed to all of us because we knew [the Symonds lab]
challenged traditional authority relationships in the classroom,”
said Daniel Sherman, associate professor French studies and history
and one of the first members of the faculty to use the lab for a

Sherman, who has 12 students in his class, typically begins a
session by having the students break into small groups and either
write essays or create computer images based upon Renaissance
paintings which can feed into the group discussion.

“It is important for the students to work together,” Sherman
said. “Something about this room promotes interaction between the
students. It is much more informal than lecturing or even leading a
discussion. It has been one of the most enjoyable courses that I’ve

The small class size, the architecture and the technology offer
a window into the direction of teaching in years to come, Sherman
said.”I hope that it’s the wave of the future,” he said.

Tony Gorry, Kevin Long and Mark Wamble are available for
interviews. To schedule interviews, contact Philip Montgomery at the
Rice News Office at 713-831-4792 or E-mail


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