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DeBartolo Hall home to ‘experimental’ classroom

Christian Myers | Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A new experimental classroom, B011 DeBartolo Hall, is redefining the classroom experience, and yes, anyone can write on the walls.

Room B011 is the result of multiple groups on campus working together to create an innovative, imaginative and active learning environment. Several divisions within the Office of Information Technology (OIT), the Office of the Registrar, Academic Space Management, the University Council of Academic Technology (UCAT) and the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning collaborated in the design and funding of B011.

Jason Railton and Tim Cichos of OIT’s Technology Enhanced Learning Spaces division designed the room based on recommendations from the various groups and similar classrooms at schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Minnesota and the University of Michigan.

According to Brian Burchett, manager of OIT’s Technology Enhanced Learning Spaces division, the goal is for the room to be as flexible as possible and to encourage active learning.

“The idea of active learning is that students need to be participants, not simply people who receive information,” Burchett said.

The room features multiple viewing screens, eight Macintosh computers, a touch-screen control panel for controlling what appears on each screen, multiple sets of keyboards and mice, and a document camera.

The computers and screens can be connected in any way — one computer screen can be displayed on all viewing screens, each viewing screen can display a different computer screen, or any arrangement in between.

All four walls are painted with a dry—erase paint that allows students and faculty to write anywhere around the room. Also, all of the tables and chairs have wheels, allowing for a variety of seating arrangements to make use of the display screens and writing space around the room, Burchett said.

The room can be used in many different ways, including as a giant white board, all depending on the needs of a particular class.

“The point isn’t that we want people to use gobs of technology. We just want a room that allows faculty options, even traditional teaching methods,” Burchett said.

During the fall semester, the classes in B011 gave feedback on the room’s features and corresponding changes were made over Christmas break.

According to Burchett, the faculty teaching in B011 this semester completed an application process. Each of them submitted a proposal for how they would make use of the room’s adaptability in their respective class.

The room is currently being used for an Irish Studies course, multiple foreign language courses, a first year composition course, a multimedia writing and rhetoric course, and a mechanical engineering course, among others, Burchett said. There are at least two or three classes in the room every day.

There is also an opportunity for faculty to request the room once or twice for a specific class activity though there class is held in a different room.

Sean O’Brien, assistant professional specialist in Irish Studies, teaches an Irish Studies course in B011.

“We are using the tools in B011 to follow Ireland’s current economic and political crisis. With its open format and multiple configurations of computers and displays, B011 is an ideal space to follow events in Ireland as they unfold this spring,” O’Brien said.

The multimedia writing and rhetoric course taught by assistant professional specialist Erin Dietel—McLaughlin is making use of the multiple display space and display options the room affords.

“The classroom feels much more authentic to my more decentralized teaching style and to the learning process itself. The students just plain seem to be more engaged, more lively and more curious in this room,” Dietel—McLaughlin said.

There will be an open house in Room B011 in the basement of DeBartolo Hall on Friday from 2 to 5 p.m.