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USF officials say continuing to have classes at the mall movie theaters is a strong possibility.

The billboard outside the University 16 Theaters at University Mall not only posts the different movies being shown at the theater for the week, but also a greeting: “Welcome USF Students.” It is a greeting to premiere the new movie theater project that started at the beginning of the semester. The project is a trial run to see if the theaters serve as a good classroom environment and to help USF officials offer as many available spaces in classes as they can due to budget cuts. The review of the project seems to be a positive one.

Vice Provost Catherine Batsche, chairwoman for the University Mall theater project, said the project has gone well. She helped USF’s President Judy Genshaft come up with the proposal after reviewing a similar project the University of Central Florida had years prior.

“The faculty have been terrific and seem to be pleased with the (audiovisual) equipment, the classrooms, the parking and the general classroom environment,” Batsche said in an e-mail to various faculty members and student representatives.As of this week, the final numbers of students attending the movie theaters for class was up to 1,913.

“That’s up almost 200 from the first day numbers of 1,717,” Batsche said.

Batsche said the students have also been positive about the project.

“The students had a little trouble adjusting their schedules and trying to find the exact location of the classrooms,” she said. “But they also said something positive to balance their concern. For example, the seats are more comfortable, and they liked being able to go to the food court.”

Batsche said the university helped prepare the students for having class in a movie theater.

“We sent letters to all the students over the holidays and provided them with the shuttle schedule maps and parking directions,” she said. “We also asked them to check their schedules to make sure they had adequate time to travel back and forth to campus.”

But even with the maps and handouts, students still lost their way.

“About 60 students went to the upstairs theaters the first day, and so we posted some people up there to give them correct directions,” Batsche said.

A few students had told the administration that they were concerned about travel time with the back-to-back classes they had. But in most classes, Batsche said, the faculty was helpful in advising them with these problems.

She also said some of the AV equipment was not working properly, but that problem was fixed, as well.

In order to help the students take notes, the university purchased lapboards. The lapboards serve as a flat surface for the students that they can pick up before class and drop off after class.

“I was surprised to see the students’ response to the lapboards. They are taking them and using them,” Batsche said.

The cost for the movie theater project is still being calculated, and the final budget should be compiled within the next few weeks. Batsche said that some of the estimated costs presented in the proposal have decreased because there are now only 10 courses taught in the theaters, instead of the original 16 courses planned.

The original proposed amount for staffing expenses was $11,000, and now Batsche said those expenses are only going to be $5,000.

“The lapboards were $6.36 each, and we ordered 600 of them,” Batsche said. “I think that is lower than the estimate.” The difference between the estimate in the proposal and the actual amount spent on lapboards is $13,334.

Batsche said there were also some miscellaneous expenses that were not put into the proposal but were needed.

“We are having to build a storage container that is going to cost $2,000,” she said. “Also a cell phone for the staff who are there in case they need to contact campus for additional support or if there is an emergency.”

Batsche said there is no phone line in the theaters, and it was less expensive to get a cell phone than put in a phone line. Renu Khator, interim dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, has been working on the theater project, as well. She said that everything she has heard has been wonderful.

“I haven’t heard of any real problems,” Khator said.

Khator said she feels that the theaters give both the administration and the students more flexibility with classes.

“We can have our ranked faculty in front of more students,” she said. “More students will be in touch with the professor instead of having a class with a graduate assistant or an adjunct professor.”

An example Khator used was the World Geography course. Currently, there are 284 students enrolled in the course. She said one would not think World Geography would be very popular, but because of the teacher, Henry Aruffo, the theaters give the opportunity to have that many students in that class.

“We can give the maximum resources with the movie theater classrooms, which is more interaction with professors and with students,” Khator said.

Batsche said she feels that while the project seemed a little “offbeat” at the beginning, it now seems like a natural partnership for the university to pursue.

“We are going to wait another week to see how things go, but I can’t see why we wouldn’t continue this next year,” Batsche said.