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New IU Southeast Graduate Center provides high-tech, collaborative work spaces

Mar. 6, 2013

Many MBA students expect to be in a board room after receiving their degree. At the new IU Southeast Graduate Center, MBA students are in a board room for class.

new grad center IU Southeast

“Our students are highly technologically advanced, and we have to provide a space that meets their needs,” said Lee Staton, manager of IT communications and special projects.

The board room is just one of the high-tech classrooms being put into place at the brand new Graduate Center at Water Tower Square in Jeffersonville. The unique configuration allows students to learn in a fresh way and provides the latest in educational technology and classroom design.

“The faculty tell us that the way of teaching is changing a little bit,” said Jim Wolfe, IU Southeast’s physical plant director, who has been working with a team to design the space. “It is moving to more collaborative efforts.”

Changing teaching methods

The IU Southeast Graduate Center is employing a classroom design that makes use of the emerging trend of flip teaching.

Flip teaching is a method gaining ground in classrooms across the country. The idea is for applied learning to happen in the classroom, while students spend their time after class on readings and preparation. A far too simplified way of describing it is lectures at home, homework in class.

It’s a theory that can work extremely well, according to Joe Hollingsworth, a professor of computer science and the head of IU Southeast’s Institute for Learning and Teaching Excellence (ILTE). The ILTE is designed to assist faculty with advancing and enhancing their teaching and learning.
Hollingsworth has been explaining the flip teaching method to faculty at IU Southeast and believes it is a beneficial practice for student learning.

Traditional teaching means a syllabus that instructs students to read before class. The problem, Hollingsworth says, is that many students don’t. The instructor then lectures on the subject, essentially repeating what the students should already know. The only time for analysis and applied learning then is outside the classroom.

The problem there is that many students need extra help with the applied learning portion, whether through group work with their peers or additional instruction from a professor. By moving applied learning to class time, students can complete collaborative group work with a professor there to answer questions, allowing for a better form of understanding.

It may take some time for faculty -- most of whom consider themselves lecturers -- to get used to a new method, but Hollingsworth thinks it’s worth it.

“There’s an increase of work,” he said. “There’s also fear that ‘I don’t know how to do this’ or it’s too much.”

Many IU Southeast faculty members already are applying this method of teaching, and Hollingsworth would like to see more. Luckily, the Graduate Center lends itself to this type of practice.

But applying this method of learning requires a variety of efforts. Faculty is certainly an important part, but having the right space to learn is imperative.

A new kind of classroom

At the IU Southeast Graduate Center, the campus has created four distinctly different classrooms: the collaboration classroom, the Node room, the board room and the traditional classroom. Each is designed for a different teaching style.

The collaboration classroom is the most complicated of the rooms, and the most advanced in the terms of technology, according to Lee Staton, manager of IT communications and special projects.

The room includes four round tables that each seat six students and hold six touch-screen computers. On the wall next to each table is a large flat-screen monitor that has the ability to display any of the six students’ work. The instructor has a podium in middle of the room and can control all monitors.

This type of design allows for group collaboration, gives all the students access to the professor, and also allows the professor to highlight any group or individual work for the entire classroom.

Node room, IU Southeast Grad Center

The IU Southeast Graduate Center has created four distinctly different classrooms: the collaboration classroom, the Node room, the board room and the traditional classroom. The Node room, pictured above, is named for the brand of desk installed in the classroom, an individual desk chair on wheels.

The Node room is named for the brand of desk installed in the classroom. The Node chair is an individual desk chair on wheels. The seat is flexible and swivels, the desk has storage space beneath the seat, a flat desktop surface, and a cup holder.

This kind of furniture is useful for creating groups of any size, as they can quickly be moved around the room. Like a more traditional classroom, the instructor has space at the front with a large white board and projector system.

The Node furniture was tested in two classrooms on the IU Southeast campus in spring 2012. Professor of Mathematics Kim Bonnaci used the chairs with her students.

“Overall I liked them,” she said. “We went from eight tables with four students at each table to 32 Node chairs. The students loved the upgrade, even the tiny things like the cup holders.”

The third classroom is the board room. Furniture is arranged to form one large table in the center of the room like you find in corporate board rooms across the country. It can seat up to 18 students at once or be separated for additional seating if it is required.

The main focus of this room is the 80-inch touchscreen monitor at the front of the room. The multi-touch system allows the instructor or students to direct attention to their work as if they were leading a corporate meeting or presentation.

The final classroom is a traditional classroom with rows of tables and chairs and space for an instructor at the front. The University is looking at providing Verb furniture in this classroom, which is a unique brand that provides tables in a chevron shape so that students can more easily see each other if they are working in groups.

The Graduate Center opened for the fall 2012 semester, but furniture was still being moved in after classes began. When completed and used, students and instructors will then be able to provide feedback to the campus.

“This is definitely a test-run,” Wolfe said. “If it’s successful we can look at expanding into campus a little more.”

Inviting spaces

The overarching theme is to make classrooms more inviting for students.

“Every classroom has different needs as far as collaboration and the need for technology,” Staton said.

That means looking at furniture for comfort, IT needs for students who bring their own devices, and even colors in the classroom. Research has shown that different colors have a different effect on the mind. For example, reds, oranges, and yellows can stimulate the brain, while blues and greens have a calming effect.

“The idea is bringing more colors into the classroom that awaken the mind,” Wolfe said.

For IU Southeast, Wolfe said the trick is finding something bold, but not too bold. The campus is looking for a color palette that will perk up students and encourage thought. Then, an accent wall in classrooms could be painted that different color.

Learning space design is an emerging trend across primary, secondary, and higher education. IU Southeast needs to be competitive in design with other universities in Indiana, Kentucky, and across the nation, as well as keeping up with more advanced high schools so that students maintain the same comfort level.

“Our students are highly technologically advanced, and we have to provide a space that meets their needs,” Staton said.

Wolfe agreed. “Our responsibility is to provide a useful space,” he said. “It’s finding out how (professors) are teaching, how they want to teach, and how students are learning.”

For Bonnaci, who used the Node chairs in the spring semester, the experience was enlightening. She has been practicing aspects of flip teaching, particularly the focus on collaboration, and saw how the Node furniture and design impacted the way her students were engaged during class.

“It really lends itself to that type of learning very easily,” she said.

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