New classroom improves technology

September 9, 2013 | 11 a.m.

Active learning classrooms hope to incorporate flexibility and student collaboration

News | Michael Urch

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HC 113 has been renovated into an active learning classroom that features PivoTables and AV/ teachnology councils. The classrooms are designed to encourage communication and collaboration between students. | Photo for The Clarion by Drea Chalmers

Most changes around campus may seem mundane. Parking lot lines have been repainted and Nelson has been given a facelift to keep up with building code. There is, however, one new classroom that offers something out of the ordinary.

Just north of the P.O. boxes is a classroom that is unlike any other at Bethel. With five separate three-table pods, monitors mounted on the walls and a technology-packed cart, it purposefully contradicts the stereotypically desk-filled, lecture-style appearance of a traditional classroom.

Referred to as an active learning classroom (ALC), HC 113 features a cutting-edge classroom design created to incorporate flexibility and media into a classroom. Some of the bells and whistles include one projector, five monitors, floor-to-ceiling whiteboard walls and one floating instructor station. The only items in the room not on wheels are the five Bethel-designed AV/technology counsels—developed specially for this project and christened as the Bethel PivoTables. “It will probably be the most desirable room on campus,” said Tim Powers, architect of the active learning classroom.

The PivoTable creation arose from a need to reconcile the trade-off between flexible furniture settings and the need to have hard-wired configuration for technological capabilities.

“Ours is the only [classroom] I've seen that provides tabletop power and connectivity while maintaining flexible furniture configuration and unobstructed sight lines,” said Mike Lindsey, a project manager at Bethel and contributor to the PivoTable. There was even mention of a patent.

By connecting laptops or tablets directly to the classroom, information can be shared electronically and viewed individually at each learning station. Additionally, the stations can be split into three three-person tables, and the furniture can be reconfigured to multiple combinations—including the traditional lecture format.

Perhaps even more impressive than the classroom itself is the level of collaboration that is behind this project. The University Classroom Oversight Committee (UCOC), a committee comprised of people from facilities management, IT, administrators, faculty and auxiliary services, has allowed minds from several different departments to interact and make informed decisions about creating the best possible
classrooms.

“It is significant that this project has been successful because so many different but interconnected areas have worked together well,” Barrett Fisher, the chair of the UCOC said.

Biology, chemistry, communications and education professors are using the classroom this semester. Sara Wyse, a biology professor and faculty development specialist, has been involved throughout the classroom’s development. Wyse has been training professors to take full advantage of the space.

”Education is our mission. To see Bethel make a commitment to that [mission] is really exciting and encouraging to me,” Wyse said.

The ideas that went into the classroom are new. The University of Minnesota has many ALC classrooms, and the pedagogy paradigm shift relies on research conducted by a host of state universities. Originally implemented by Universities in the discipline of physics, ALC classrooms desire to use classroom format to encourage a fundamental teaching philosophy. Traditionally, learning has been a passive process. Students have been recipients of knowledge communicated in a lecturing format. This flexible classroom format is to be a resource for the encouragement of more collaboration between students, more open dialogue between the professor and the students and a more active learning process.

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