Please note: This older article by our former faculty member remains available on our site for archival purposes. Some information contained in it may be outdated.

Author: David T. Damery, email:
Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management , UMass, Amherst
Building Materials and Wood Technology Program


  3. Laboratory User Base
  4. Existing Computer Facilities
  5. Computer Course Requirement for Building Materials and Wood Technology Students
  6. Changing Skills – Changing Needs
  8. Early Efforts
  9. Fall, 1996 – Spring, 1997
  10. Fundraising
  11. Design and Budget
  12. Installation
  13. Hand-me-downs and volunteerism
  14. Success
  15. A look into the Future
  17. Justification and Need
  18. Course Enrollment
  19. Course Objectives
  20. Prerequisites
  21. Credits
  22. Grading
  23. Classroom Website
  24. Use of E-mail
  25. Student Feedback
  26. Student PowerPoint Presentations
  27. Conclusion



Over the Summer and Fall of 1997 the Dept. of Forestry & Wildlife Management raised funds, designed, purchased, and installed equipment for an instructional computing lab with 16 networked PCs and an SVGA LCD projector.

The experimental course BMATWT 290A Building Materials Computing and Telecommunications was developed, simultaneously, with a goal of creating the “paperless classroom.”

A case history of the project, fundraising, design, purchase, and installation of the lab, along with successes, failures, and student feedback on the experimental course are presented.

The presentation provides practical lessons in both developing and using a PC classroom for instruction. Experience in providing syllabus, class readings, lecture notes and presentations, assignments, quizzes and grading are presented along with feedback from two student surveys, at midterm and end of course.

From management, fundraising, installation, and operational issues, to details of classroom management and use of alternative active learning methods, the objective of this case study is to summarize key successes, and obstacles in a teachers first efforts at conducting an electronic classroom.


Laboratory User Base

Holdsworth Hall is home to the Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management. In 1996 the program consisted of 22 faculty members and over 600 undergraduate and graduate students. In addition the program houses federal and state Co-operator offices for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. All programs participate in outreach and extension functions reaching a broad base of citizen and professional groups.

Figure 1 illustrates the student make-up of the Department.

Existing Computer Facilities
The user base described above was served in 1996 by 8 Mac Classics, 3 386 PCs and 2 486 PCs. Only 2 of these machines featured Internet connections. A separate lab with several computers devoted to GIS functions was used by a number of faculty and graduate students.

Computer Course Requirement for Building Materials and Wood Technology Students
As part of the major curriculum BMATWT students are required to take at least one computing class. COMPSCI 105 was the class of choice for most students. Enrollment in COMPSCI 105 has been limited to either Freshmen or Seniors and we found students having increasing difficulty in enrolling in this class. Furthermore, students are being called on to develop and use computer skills in their “every day” curriculum. It was becoming unacceptable for students to wait until their senior year to undertake a “basic” computer class.

Changing Skills – Changing Needs
Increasingly, we have observed students arriving in our program with better and better basic computer skills. Most are proficient in the use of a Word Processor and many have experience with Spreadsheet and Database programs. Hence the need to have a “more advanced” computer course with specific application to the Building Material and Wood Technology profession.


Early Efforts
Over the period 1994-1996 various faculty developed a conceptual design for state-of-the-art, classroom, distance learning/conference center. The end result for the estimated $500,000 project was a failure to raise funds.

Fall, 1996 – Spring, 1997
A much scaled back plan was put forward in the fall of 1996 to target classroom and student use with a modest laboratory containing:

  • Approximately 20 networked PCs

  • Networked printing capability

  • Internet access

  • LCD projector acceptable for classroom use

Beginning in Fall, 1996 and running to Spring, 1997 funds were raised through industry solicitations by the Building Materials and Wood Technology program. Several corporate donations were received and a matching amount was provided by the College of Food and Natural Resources. In addition, Dept. of Forestry and Wildlife Management budgets were used including two years of equipment budget from the Departmental Computing Committee and additional Departmental Student Lab fees were allocated. Two Forestry faculty members also made significant contributions to the laboratory.

Figure 2 shows the sources of funds used on the project.


Design and Budget
What could we get for the money we had raised? Needs fell into the following categories:

  • Computer workstations

  • LCD Projection

  • Networking infrastructure

The budget allowed provision of 16 PCs, a low-end LCD projector and the required networking equipment and wiring to ensure Internet connection and networked printing capabilities.  A classroom to house the equipment was chosen and layouts envisioned, and roughly sketched out.

With funding secured, the purchase phase began with review of available technology and P.O.s cut for the required hardware. Upon arrival, volunteer staff consisting of both Faculty and Students began the task of wiring, and re-organizing an existing classroom space, Holdsworth 302, to accomodate the new use.

Hand-me-downs and volunteerism
Fortunately for us, OIT was in the process of up-grading some of their existing computer laboratory space. They had a stockpile of used computer workstation furniture which were obtained transferred across campus and assembled in the laboratory space. Volunteer faculty and student work-study students made final connections, testing, and installation of networking software.

A couple of weeks into the Fall, 1997 semester the lab opened for both student and classroom use. As expected, birthing and growing pains have been experienced along the way including:

  • Scheduling difficulties

  • Inappropriate Use of computers

  • Control of access to room

  • Software Bugs/Anti-virus Protection

A look into the Future

Major concerns for the future include:

  • Staffing and Technical Assistance

  • Acquisition of Server

  • Equipment Depreciation and Replacement


Justification and Need:
The use of computing and telecommunications technology is expanding rapidly in the building materials industry. Retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers are implementing new technologies to keep pace with rapid changes and increasing competition in the global economy. They are:

  • Improving and speeding their communications (internally, with customers, and with suppliers).

  • Automating technical, office, and managerial tasks.

  • Researching technical, product, and competitor information

Exposure to and familiarity with emerging technologies is becoming a requirement for success in tomorrow’s work force. Computing and telecommunications skills are being required ever more frequently in communicating, researching, specifying, problem solving, and management decisionmaking.

The Building Materials and Wood Technology program has developed excellent industry ties and maintains an outstanding placement record with our graduates. Our industry associates continue to emphasize the value and desirability of computing skills for the career advancement of our future graduates.

Course Enrollment
The first class size was limited to 15 students and one instructor as there were only 16 available computers in the newly opened computer lab.

Course Objectives:
Hands-on experience with the Internet and PCs. Decisionmaking skills are developed using information age technologies to solve building materials problems. Theory is combined with hands-on using a variety of applications.

  1. To review basic computing skills including computing and telecommunications hardware and software basics. PC based office skills including: word processing, spreadsheet and database fundamentals are also summarized.

  2. To learn technology based problem solving techniques through exposure to several building materials industry specific applications. A combination of classroom/lecture, group problem solving, and individual hands-on computer experience is used.

  3. To overcome fear of technology based solutions, and to encourage innovative approaches to management decision-making problems in the building materials industry

Course Topics covered are given in Table 1.

Table 1 – BMATWT 290A – Course Topics – Fall, 1997

  • Course overview – Introduction to Computing and Telecommunications

  • Review of basic computing skills: E-mail, word processing, resume writing, and business letters

  • Presentations: The art of communicating, PowerPoint & Term Project

  • Review of basic computing skills: Spreadsheet, and Database exercises

  • Introduction to telecommunications – Overview of telephony, FAX, WWW, email, & EDI

  • Introduction to Bar-coding and UPC system and their use in Building Materials Industry

  • Forest Growth Simulation and FORTOON software

  • Woodworks – Software for Wood Design

  • TJ Beam – Trus Joist Beam Sizing

  • Material Take-off and Construction Bid Estimating

  • Pricing and Promotion – Spreadsheet/Internet

  • PowerPoint Project – Presentations

Prerequisites: Basic computer skills or permission of instructor.

Credits: Three

Grading was based on ten homework assignments, two exams, a term project PowerPoint Presentation and class attendance and participation.

Classroom Website
The course was developed trying to provide as much classroom materials, instruction, and testing as possible without using paper. A website was developed which provided the Class with on-line:

  • Syllabus

  • Readings

  • Lecture Notes

  • Assignments

Use of E-mail
Correspondence with students outside of the classroom including changes, and updates to readings, and assignments as well as the handing in and return of assignments were handled by e-mail. All students were required to obtain an OIT (Office of Instructional Technology) computing account.

Student Feedback
Course evaluations were given at the midpoint of the term and at the end of the course. Highlights of the mid term questionnaire is given in Table 2. The highest rated course segment at the mid-term was the section on structural design. The lowest rated segment was an independent research project on the uses of UPC barcoding and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). Overall students seemed pleased with the course content.

Table 2 – Mid-Term Student Survey Results

Students were asked to rate the following statements on a 1 – 5 Scale (1 = Disagree Strongly, 5 = Agree Strongly)

Statements Average Score

1. The course is meeting my expectations  4.54

2. The section on E-mail was useful  4.31

3. The section on Resumes was useful  4.38

4. The section on Spreadsheets was useful 4.17

5. The section on Databases was useful 4.00

6. The section on UPC, EDI was useful 3.85

7. The section on Forest Mgt. was useful   4.38

8. The section on design was useful  4.92

9. My computer skills have improved greatly 4.23

10. I feel this course will help me in my career 4.77

The end of term course evaluations also indicated the course had value. On a 5 point scale, with 5 being more, and 1 being less, students rated their learning from the course a 4.21. Overall they rated the course a 4.00 on a 5 point scale.

Student PowerPoint Presentations
As a final project for the course all students were required to prepare and present a 10 minute PowerPoint presentation on some aspect, product, or service of the Building Materials Industry. All presentations were professionally prepared, however some truly stood out in their level of interest, and delivery. Student presentations were put onto the Course Website which has sparked several comments/inquiries from a nationwide Internet audience.

With a modest vision, enthusiasm, and a willing volunteer faculty base a lot can be accomplished in a short time frame and with limited funds. The computer lab is seeing exponential use by both faculty and students. The long term challenges of adequate staffing, technical support, hardware/software enhancements, and meeting a replacement fundraising schedule remain.