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Sept. 9, 2010 Volume 32, No. 3

Model classroom goes online

Dave Reilly speaks to class


Survey, task force findings guided 117 Strickland renovations

The growth of online courses offered by the University of Missouri proves you can take education out of the classroom. But for most of the more than 30,000 students enrolled at MU this semester, you can’t take the classroom out of education. 

That’s a problem for faculty, as well. An online survey of instructors last year found that many classrooms on campus lack the tools and flexibility needed to support new teaching methods, such as small-group learning and the integration of technology.

The university took a first step to address those concerns this fall, when the campus’ first “model classroom,” in 117 Strickland Hall, opened for classes. 

The classroom was designed to lower the physical and social barriers that inhibit interaction between student and teacher. With more of today’s classes incorporating multi-media presentations, 117 Strickland is outfitted with two retractable video screens and an Eno board, an electronic whiteboard used with a projector that allows instructors to save notes directly to an in-room computer.

Students can follow the action from 44 moveable desks, called Node chairs. A design that just hit the market this summer, the Node has a swivel seat and a 12”x22” fully adjustable tabletop (lefties that struggled with the traditional “one-armed bandit” will be especially pleased). The desks allow students to follow the instructor’s movements around the classroom. The carpeted floor makes it easier for students to quickly, and with less disruption, arrange themselves into small groups.

The renovation also extends outside the classroom to a nook with stand-up tables and a padded bench. “We were able to take some of the space in the classroom and return it to the hallway,” said Heiddi Davis, director of Campus Facilities-Space Planning and Management. 

Before taking on the project in Strickland Hall, classroom updates were “pretty standard renovations,” Davis said. But while MU’s classrooms are in large part clean, functional and well maintained, faculty wanted upgrades that encouraged a more interactive and less-disruptive relationship with their students.

“Faculty like tables, because they provide more working space and ability to reconfigure the room,” Davis said. “But when we renovate classrooms with tables, we lose a lot of space. Faculty wanted more flexibility for collaboration, but they wanted it to be easy.”

The ideas for 117 Strickland emerged from the findings of a task force created by Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies. With help from Campus Facilities and Educational Technologies at Missouri, or ET@MO, Spain’s office launched an online classroom quality survey that collected data from faculty for two semesters.

The model classroom is intended to be something of a template for future class renovations. However, centrally scheduled classrooms present challenges that discourage a one-size-fits-all approach, Davis said. Some faculty members lecture from a podium, others prefer to interact with small groups of students. Still others use a combination of the two. 

Moreover, designers can anticipate the educational content  of departmental classrooms and include certain design and technological features accordingly. That’s not the case for classrooms like 117 Strickland, which will host a dozen instructors this fall teaching subjects as varied as math and theatre.

“These rooms are used by a lot of different classes,” Davis said, “not all of which require the newest technology.”

The final tab for the renovation of 117 Strickland isn’t available yet, but Davis said the cost will likely be less than the $100,000 that was originally estimated. Feedback collected from faculty and students over the next few semesters will be used to guide future renovations, including the work that’s under way on Tate and Switzler halls.