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University uses residence halls for classrooms

Gene Noone | Wednesday, January 23, 2008

For the first time in the University’s history, a number of courses are currently being taught inside residence halls.

Lounges in O’Neill and McGlinn Halls are currently being used as classrooms for a variety of courses, including a literature University seminar, a “Great Books” seminar and several Portuguese courses, Vice President and Associate Provost Dennis Jacobs said.

Jacobs said the residence halls’ lounges would only be used as classrooms during mid-day hours, a time slot during which the University has had difficulty finding teaching space recently.

“There is tremendous demand on this campus for classes which meet anytime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, and Notre Dame does not have enough classroom space to meet the demand,” Jacobs said. “Therefore … the seminar spaces in O’Neill and McGlinn will allow additional courses to meet during the most popular time slots.

The administration, he said, first considered the possibility of holding classes in the dorms in November 2006. At that time, McGlinn rector Sister Mary Lynch and O’Neill rector Ed Mack pitched the idea to Jacobs and several faculty members.

“They proposed the idea that the study lounges in their respective halls be utilized as seminar classrooms during the daytime because students rarely use them for personal study space except at night,” Jacobs said.

The rectors eventually took their proposal back to their respective hall councils, which welcomed the plan. The suggestion then also received support from the Provost’s Office and the Office of Student Affairs, Jacobs said.

A benefit of teaching inside dorms, Jacobs said, is the increased integration of the campus’ residential life and its academic one.

“We would love to see more faculty and students interact informally outside of the classroom,” Jacobs said. “In the way that many students don’t always feel comfortable walking into the office of a faculty member, many faculty members have never set foot in a residence hall.”

Jacobs said he hopes this “pilot program” will begin to break down some of these barriers and formalities and help students and professors make residence halls a place where both informal conversation and intellectual dialogue can occur.

Although the program has only been in place for a week, students and faculty members seem to be responding well to it, Jacobs said.

Professor Diarmaid O’Doibhlin, who teaches Irish Prose Writing in O’Neill Hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., described his new classroom as “very comfortable and very nice.” He enjoys the residence hall setting even if it represents “quite a walk” from his office in Flanner Hall, O’Doibhlin said.

Although most residence halls do not have spaces that could serve as classrooms, Jacobs said the design of the new Duncan Hall includes a space that could function as both a lounge and a classroom, if the hall’s residents are in favor of it.