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February 14, 2018

Renovated classrooms enrich students’ learning experience

Written By: Staff

Renovations to the two primary classrooms in the Materials Science and Engineering Building are supporting the department’s efforts to enhance student learning by enabling more active and participatory learning opportunities.

For professors to deploy innovative learning technology and techniques like “blended” learning—which combines traditional lecture formats with more in-class opportunities for students to work together in small groups and actively apply the concepts they’re learning—a classroom with rigid rows of desks all facing the same way isn’t ideal.

So in addition to giving the rooms a facelift in summer 2017, the materials science and engineering department outfitted the renovated spaces with new chairs and free-standing tables that can be easily rearranged, allowing professors and students to configure the rooms for a variety of teaching approaches and activities.

“With these renovations, we wanted to allow students to work together in teams and on problems and projects and to give faculty the flexibility to switch back and forth between different formats for instruction in the class,” says Beckwith-Bascom Professor and Materials Science and Engineering Chair Paul Voyles.

Materials Science and Engineering Professor Don Stone says that by making the classrooms more versatile, the revamps have made these spaces more useful for professors and students alike.

“Faculty in the department enjoy working with small groups of students while teaching, and these more flexible spaces enable closer interaction between the instructor and students and more individualized attention as students work on problems,” Stone says.

The department converted one of the rooms, MS&E 235, from a lecture room to a laboratory space, essentially doubling the department’s instructional laboratory space. Undergraduate enrollment has increased significantly in the past few years, and this new instructional laboratory space allows the department to better accommodate its growing number of students while maintaining and improving the critical hands-on laboratory activities and skills.

The building’s primary lecture space, MS&E 265, also received major upgrades in the renovation. Students can now easily arrange tables and chairs around any of the several new computer monitors mounted on walls around the room, forming convenient workstations for group study and projects. And new charging stations installed throughout the room make it easy for students to keep their devices powered during long study sessions.

The renovations are earning high marks from students. “It has been a big improvement,” says senior Jon Gessert. “The rooms look brighter and more inviting, and the new chairs and tables are quite good. The monitors and tables make great group workstations, and the space can be reorganized to fit nearly any academic or extracurricular need.”

The department also sought to create an inviting space for students to study together outside of normal class hours. All materials science and engineering students have 24-hour access to the building, so it was important to create a space in which they could work together even after the building closes at night, Voyles says.

“That’s particularly important to creating a welcoming and engaging environment for new students from different backgrounds who might not have other social connections to their classmates outside of class,” Voyles says.

Gessert, who is president of the Materials Advantage student organization, says the new spaces are perfect for studying in small groups or alone. Materials Advantage also holds its monthly meetings in MS&E 265, and he says the changes make it easier to prepare for a variety of speakers or events in the space.

“I think the existence of this kind of space in MS&E, both for club activities or studying, is critical,” Gessert says. “Having free space dedicated to MS&E alone helps build connections between students in the department, even if they don’t share the same classes or years in school.