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Feb. 24, 2016
A new classroom at Northwest Missouri State University is giving some students and faculty a preview of how the University’s future instructional spaces could appear.
In Colden Hall Room 3700, the days of instructors lecturing from the front of a room and a single projector screen behind them are gone. So are the stationary wood or metal desks.
Dubbed by Northwest faculty and staff as the “model classroom,” the reinvigorated space is outfitted with three projectors aimed at screens on three different walls. Modular desks and tables include power stations and storage pockets for markers and other classroom tools. Modern chairs roll for easy movement throughout the classroom.
The room comes with the large white boards that are standard in most of today’s classrooms and replaced chalkboards years ago. But another bonus of the model classroom is the smaller white boards that hang on the walls and desks, ready for every student to pull one down as needed.
When students entered the classroom for the first time in the fall, it was unlike any they had seen before. And word about the unique classroom is spreading on campus.
“When I walked in, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is awesome,’” Lilly Tighe, a junior marketing major from St. Joseph, said. “The environment builds students’ motivation. It builds how they feel about the classroom, and I just think it’s so vital that the classrooms have this life to them.”
Even the walls contrast from the traditional classroom most students envision. The model classroom features two light-colored walls and a green accent wall with a fourth wall of windows.
“The first thing I noticed is not all the walls are the same color, and that sounds small but I think it’s inviting,” Jordan Lanning, a senior business management and marketing major from Richmond, Missouri, said. “It is easier to pay attention when it’s not a vanilla classroom.”
Students enjoy the flexibility of the room, and some say the setup prompts them to change where they sit each time they come to class. Students can’t pretend to hide in the back of the room, either – because all sides of the room are created equal and all of the students are facing a screen regardless of the room’s orientation.
“We move throughout the space together with our students, and student learning takes center stage,” said Dr. Joseph Haughey, an assistant professor of English and one of nine faculty members teaching in the classroom, said. “Students love it. They are engaged because the emphasis is on how we all interact together. We all face each other as we work, and the furniture moves to suit learning. Nobody has to squeeze him or herself into a one-size-fits-all, rows-of-desks-facing-forward kind of classroom.”
The classroom is more vibrant and spurs collaboration. Each day in the classroom provides a different experience for instructors as well as students.
“It’s a malleable space and it conforms to what you bring to it,” Associate Professor of English Dr. John Gallaher said. “But you have to bring something to it as well. It doesn’t make you do something; it allows you to do different things.”
Northwest upgraded the classroom through a partnership with Scott Rice Office Works in Lenexa, Kansas, which works with educational institutions to outfit classrooms and test learning environment options at a reduced cost. Through the partnership, faculty and students using the model classroom also are participating in an evaluation of its features.
The model classroom, though, is just one piece of a broader initiative at Northwest to transform learning environments on its campus. Last fall, the University placed new furniture in 12 other classrooms in Everett Brown Education Hall, Martindale Hall, Valk Center, Wells Hall and the University Greenhouse.
Now Northwest is identifying other classrooms to be reconfigured and investing about $300,000 annually to enhance academic facilities. Feedback about the model classroom and other academic spaces is shaping how other learning environments will be furnished, and the University’s Learning and Teaching Center is developing programs to educate faculty about maximizing learning outcomes in the new environments.
“That idea – that learning spaces should be flexible and promote collaborative learning – really is the long-term vision at Northwest, and we are working to continue to create spaces engineered to adapt to how students learn, as opposed to traditional, outdated modes that force students to the room,” Haughey said.
Additionally, Northwest is partnering with Ayers Saint Gross, a Baltimore-based architecture and planning firm, on the development of a comprehensive master plan that will be unveiled this spring. The finished plan will serve as a guide to Northwest’s growth, incorporating all aspects of campus life in an integrated approach that includes research, teaching, recreation, student housing, student life and improved connectivity to the surrounding community.
“This is changing the learning environment on the campus,” Northwest Provost Dr. Timothy Mottet said. “Rather than being an institution committed to teaching, we are an institution committed to learning.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468